Tua Tagovailoa's two-game absence left a void in Miami's offense that the Dolphins will be happy to fill with their usual starter in Week 7.
Tagovailoa said Wednesday that he is just happy to be back on the field. After missing multiple weeks due to the concussion he suffered on Sept. 29, Tagovailoa is preparing to start this Sunday for the Dolphins against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I'm just really excited that I can prepare and play this Sunday," Tagovailoa said Wednesday in his first news conference with the media since his concussion. "I think everyone is excited to go out there and compete against a really good Steelers team."
Pittsburgh is still soaring after scoring an unlikely win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend in a game in which the Steelers held the Buccaneers to just 18 points. With Tagovailoa back in the mix, the Dolphins will expect to score more than their Sunshine State neighbors did at Acrisure Stadium.
It's not a guarantee, given Tagovailoa has not played since he suffered a concussion in the first half of Miami's Week 4 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 29. During that time, the Dolphins were forced to go with Teddy Bridgewater and rookie Skylar Thompson, losing each game by a combined margin of 64-33. In that time, Tagovailoa, who cleared the league's concussion protocol last Saturday, could do little more than watch his teammates battle through their struggles.
"There's things that you can do in the locker room to keep the guys encouraged, to keep the guys going, motivated," Tagovailoa said. "But it sucks. As a competitor, I want to be out there with the guys. I want to be able to go out there and help our guys win games. That's a terrible feeling that I could only watch from the sidelines."
Tagovailoa was asked about his concussion, which was frightening to everyone watching him as he laid on the turf at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. Tagovailoa said Wednesday he doesn't have a complete recollection of what happened due to the injury he sustained.
"I wouldn't say it was scary for me at the time because there was a point where I was unconscious," Tagovailoa said. "I couldn't really tell what was going on. So when I did come to and kind of realize what was going on, what was happening, I didn't think of anything long-term or short-term. I was just wondering what happened. ...
"I remember the entire night up to the point where I got tackled, but yeah, after I got tackled, I don't remember much from there. Getting carted off, I don't remember that. But I do remember things that were going on in the ambulance and then when I arrived at the hospital."
Tagovailoa also said the support he received in the community following his injury was meaningful.
"I would say shoutout to my neighbors that live in the community that I live in," he said. "They were very, very respectful, very kind to have made some things. They brought over notes from their kids. Their kids would bring over candies, things that they would bake, things that they would color. I thought that that was super cool. I could feel the support and my family could feel that."
The Dolphins hope to protect Tagovailoa well enough to prevent any further injuries. It's a focus that matters more than the team's 3-3 record, although they'd likely admit they're in the best position to win when Tagovailoa is on the field.
To this effort, the Dolphins are emphasizing the importance of giving up on plays in which the likelihood of success is not worth the risk for Tagovailoa.
"I talked to him a lot sooner than this week. When we were -- when he'd come by the office and we just kind of talk about how things have kind of gone, there's risks in this game and you've got to be able to control the controllables," Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said Monday. "One thing for him is you love his competitive nature, but there is a time in a play where you have to kind of concede, and that's where he's kind of been focusing on because it's something that's not natural to him. He wants to break every tackle, and he doesn't like when plays don't work. Well, sometimes they won't.
"So that's something that he's mindful of, and I think that that's a consistency of all the really great quarterbacks that you think of, the guys that you look up to, the guys that kind of set forth the example of how to play the position, they do find ways to be available. And part of that is that concession, but that is -- all things considered, that's probably a good problem to have in terms of a competitor. You just need to be able to understand your importance to the team and how sometimes the best play you can make is a throwaway."
Miami isn't close to throwing away its season after six weeks. Tagovailoa will hope to get them back on track in his first game back this weekend.