Tua Tagovailoa should not have been allowed to play.
And especially since the worst-case scenario unfolded in front of a national audience on Thursday night.
Tagovailoa laid motionless on the field, his hands above his head in a fencing response, after his head hit the canvas again against the Cincinnati Bengals in an ugly moment for the NFL.
“He was asking for me,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said postgame of his interaction with Tagovailoa following the play.
“And when he saw me, I knew that wasn’t the same guy I’m used to seeing.”
No one could have predicted Tagovailoa would have taken another blow to his head and brain — four days from what appeared to be a head injury on Sunday.
But the possibility he could was not measured enough.
DOLPHINS, NFL CRITICIZED: NFL players past and present blast Dolphins, league following Tua Tagovailoa injury
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Tagovailoa was failed by the Miami Dolphins, the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Tagovailoa even failed himself. Or maybe, the narratives surrounding him and his young career pushed him to the limit.
Tagovailoa’s ugly injury and exit from Thursday night’s game is another case of NFL players needing protection by their teams, and teams needing to protect their players. But what’s there to say about a player who wants to play on his own?
Just look at the reaction Tagovailoa received after he underthrew an interception in the middle of the field looking for star receiver Tyreek Hill during the first quarter in Cincinnati.
It was a reminder how Tagovailoa doesn’t have the arm strength like gunslingers Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. How he’s been prone to injury after ailments to his wrist, ankles, hip, ribs and now head during his college and pro careers. How the Dolphins flirted with trading for Deshaun Watson and tampered with Tom Brady as a free agent.
And how Tagovailoa’s performance in his first three games under a new, offensive-minded coach in McDaniel has been a revelation after two subpar seasons in a limited offense and a strained relationship with former Dolphins coach Brian Flores.
Tagovailoa knew leading the Dolphins to a win over the Bills would change how we view him in a football light. The Bills knocked Tagovailoa out for several weeks with a ribs injury during the 2021 season, and owned the Dolphins for seven straight games before Tagovailoa returned to last week’s game and threw the go-ahead touchdown.
But we all saw Tagovailoa shake his head as soon as he got up, stumble onto a knee and stopped from moving further by two teammates after he was pushed by Bills linebacker Matt Milano last Sunday.
The Dolphins, and Tagovailoa himself, said his back locked up, causing him to stumble. McDaniel reiterated Tagovailoa was cleared by an independent neurologist and team doctors during halftime and on the field for the second half.
The Dolphins improved to 3-0, and Tagovailoa earned the praise for his toughness by his coach, teammates and critics. The NFLPA opened an investigation into the Dolphins’ handling of the situation that is still ongoing.
“Player health and safety is at the core of the union's mission,” the NFLPA posted on Twitter after the Bengals-Dolphins game. “Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery.”
Leading up to the Cincinnati game, Tagovailoa was not in concussion protocol. He was not listed with a head injury; instead listed with back and ankle injuries.
And it appeared Tagovailoa was not affected by his head until he was wrapped up and tackled down to the field by Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou during the second quarter Thursday.
“I don’t think an injury from last week made him fall the same way this week,” McDaniel said, adding he has “absolutely zero patience for or will ever put a player in position for them to be in harm’s way.”
“That’s not what I’m about at all,” McDaniel said. “No outcome of a game would influence me to be irresponsible as a head coach of a football team.”
Tagovailoa had to play against the Bengals and their star quarterback Joe Burrow – the two quarterbacks forever linked since their college battles and the 2020 NFL draft.
The Dolphins were supposed to “Tank for Tua” or at least position themselves for the top pick in the draft. They failed. They wound up with Tagovailoa anyways, but seeing Burrow lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl in Year 2 wasn’t a sight to see.
A win over Burrow — after wins against Allen and Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson — would have done wonders for Tagovailoa and the national perception of him.
It would have proven the Dolphins right after their overtures for Watson and Brady.
It would have brought validation to his career, and the Dolphins’ decision to draft him.
Now, the narrative changes again.
To how Tagovailoa’s career could be marred by two hits to the head and brain in four days.
And how Tagovailoa, the Dolphins and the NFL responds after such a serious injury and an ugly scene on one of the league’s brightest stages.
“It was a gut punch to a lot of people,” McDaniel said of Tagovailoa’s concussion after the Bengals game. “I’m just very, very happy that it wasn’t anything more. I’m very happy with that. And I just want him to get healthy and right for himself and the football team, whenever that is.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tua Tagovailoa injury is ugly scene for NFL on Thursday Night Football