Tua Tagovailoa was back in Miami on Friday, undergoing tests after he sustained head and neck injuries in Thursday night's game against Cincinnati.
The Dolphins quarterback was carted off the field on a stretcher after being tossed to the turf in the first half, went to the hospital and underwent X-rays and CT scans. Tagovailoa was discharged Thursday night in time to meet his team at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati wearing a neck brace and travel back to Miami after the Fins' 27-15 loss to the Bengals.
On Friday, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel told reporters that Tagovailoa was in the process of wrapping up an MRI, which he described as an extra precaution, and that he had no timetable for his starting QB's return to the field.
"Honestly, to be completely forthright, I'm not even really thinking about timetables or anything regarding him as a player right now. It's all about, really, Tua the person," McDaniel said. "What gets lost in all this is that there's human relationships, you know, these aren't just create-a-players, these are people that we mutually invest in and somebody I've grown very very close to. When it comes to head injuries and concussions, with things that severe, the only thing I'm worried about is the person first. Just worried about him getting healthy, getting all the testing done that he needs to get done and us working with him so that we can feel good about where that injury is at, and then we will cross the bridge in terms of timetables of however long. Really haven't even thought about that at this point."
Tagovailoa issued a statement on Friday afternoon following McDaniel's press conference.
"I want to thank everyone for all of their prayers and support since the game last night," he said. "It was difficult to not be able to finish the game and be there with my teammates, but I am grateful for the support and care I've received from the Dolphins, my friends and family, and all the people who have reached out. I'm feeling much better and focused on recovering so I can get back out on the field with my teammates."
Tagovailoa's injury Thursday night came four days after he exited Miami's Week 3 game to be evaluated for a head injury. The Dolphins QB was determined by a team trainer and an independent neuro-consultant to instead have suffered back and ankle injuries and was allowed to return to the game.
The NFL Players Association said Sunday it planned to investigate if proper concussion protocol was followed during the game against the Bills. The NFL on Wednesday confirmed a review was ongoing, but every indication was that proper protocol had been followed. The NFLPA released a statement Thursday night stating its investigation is ongoing and that its "concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery."
McDaniel reiterated Friday that he had "100 percent conviction" in Miami's handling of Tagovailoa's injury last Sunday and into Thursday night.
"I appreciate all the concern really because I care about the guy and I appreciate all the concern for the individual," McDaniel said. "What I was kind of referring to in terms of not changing anything I do is because the whole process for what happened in the Bills game was he was evaluated for a head injury immediately. That's what we brought him under the tent for, brought him inside for. He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals -- I don't pretend to be one -- but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever and he had a back and ankle issue. So, in terms of deciding whether or not to play a guy on a Thursday night game, I'm concerned about his lower back and his ankle and putting him in harm's way.
"This is a player-friendly organization that, you know I make it very clear from the onset -- my job as a coach is here for the players. I take that very serious and no one else in the building strays from that. When I'm talking about deciding whether or not to play, the only thing that would keep me from playing him would be something going against medical advice that was, that would be just completely abstract. On top of all that, I had no worries whatsoever.
"I'm in steady communication with this guy day in, day out, and we're talking about high-level football conversations about progressions and defense and recalling stuff from two weeks previous and then him having to reiterate a 15-word play call. All things, absolutely no signs. There was no medical indication from all resources that there's anything regarding the head. If there would have been -- of course.
"If there would've been anything lingering with his head, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there and put them in harm's way. This is a relationship that I have with this human being. I take that serious. I wouldn't have put him out there if there was any inclination given to me whatsoever that he was endangering himself from that previous game."
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills told NFL Network's Judy Battista on Friday that Tagovailoa had been checked for concussion symptoms throughout the week leading up to Thursday night's contest.
"Absolutely. I know that he was checked after [Sunday's] game, I know that he was checked the following day. In fact, every player who gets an examination on game day gets a follow-up exam the following day even if that exam was negative -- that's part of our concussion protocol. And then I know that this player was checked every day leading up to the game," Sills said. "So, again, a very comprehensive and thorough evaluation that consists of a prescribed set of tests outlined by our concussion protocol."
Tagovailoa entered Thursday night with a questionable designation with back and ankle injuries. He did not practice Monday and was a limited participant Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sills said it was "impossible to know" whether the severity of the injury Tagovailoa suffered Thursday night was exacerbated by the one he suffered Sunday, but that was a factor that the NFL and NFLPA wanted to understand in its review of the application of the concussion protocol during Sunday's game.
"Again, every injury to us is an important injury," Sills said. "Every injury is one we want to prevent. We're about reducing concussions across the board, and not only that, as you know, I personally and our league has gotten out front and said we want to reduce head contact overall as well. We think that's a very important safety goal. These are all things that we will review in the course of our review of that situation.
"When we reach the conclusions together with the Players Association, we'll be very transparent about that. We'll share that with you, with everybody that has an interest, and we'll also look to take away from this how we can improve to prevent this and similar issues."
As for Tagovailoa, McDaniel said the QB was in good spirits after reuniting with his teammates on the plane ride home. The coach said he and Tagovailoa sat together on the flight, talked about about how he was feeling for 15-20 minutes and then the 24-year-old signal-caller pulled out his phone to watch the comedy movie MacGruber.
McDaniel added that Tagovailoa asked when he could play again, to which the first-year Dolphins coach said he responded, "Stop this right now. Don't even think about a game. ... Let's worry about you and your head and being a healthy human being. We'll worry about playing football later."
Teddy Bridgewater will be Miami's starting QB, McDaniel said, if Tagovailoa is not cleared to play their Week 5 game against the New York Jets.
Before the Dolphins turned the page to their next game, McDaniel said Tagovailoa's well-being remained at the front of his mind.
"I don't think I'll ever be comfortable," McDaniel explained. "It will never feel normal for me personally and the type of person I am -- I know you guys are just starting to learn -- is that I will never be comfortable with player getting carted off the field. Ever.
"It's something you never want to be a part of. When I put myself there, this is what happens. It's not fun. I'm just really really really glad that I can hear normal Tua in his voice, and I know his teammates have talked and feel the same way."