Tagovailoa’s return still very unclear, even to his brother

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remained away from Miami Dolphins meetings on Thursday, yet another indicator that his latest concussion will keep him sidelined for this weekend’s trip to face the New England Patriots and possibly even longer.

Nobody knows when he’ll be back. Not even his brother.

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — speaking Thursday in advance of Friday’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina — told The Associated Press that he has offered his brother his opinion, but isn’t sure what will happen next.

“Everyone has their opinion,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “My brother, I know he works hard. I know he has a family now. I want my brother to be safe, but at the same time I know that he has a love and a passion for football. I feel like he is going to make the right decision. The biggest thing is staying safe, so that is something he has to pray on. I know when it comes down to it, he will make the right decision.”

It’s not even clear when a decision will await the Dolphins’ quarterback, or what that may be. He’s in the NFL concussion protocol. Teddy Bridgewater is going through practices this week as the presumed starter for Miami against the Patriots.

Taulia Tagovailoa believes his brother will play again, at some point. The Dolphins, despite losing four straight games to fall to 8-7, remain in the final AFC wild-card position with two games remaining.

“I just feel like he’s not going to stop playing football,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “I feel like every opportunity he has, he is going to try to play. I don’t know, it’s just ‘go until the wheels fall off.’”

Tua Tagovailoa sustained his second known concussion of the season in a Christmas Day loss to Green Bay. It remains unclear when exactly Tagovailoa got hurt; there is speculation that he was injured in the second quarter, with replays showing that the back of his head hit the turf with about 2:40 left until halftime. He had thrown for 229 yards at that point with a touchdown; he threw for 81 yards with three interceptions over the remainder of the game.

And hitting the back of his head has become an all-too-familiar, all-too-scary scene this season for Tagovailoa.

It happened on Sept. 25 when he briefly left a 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills. He missed Miami’s last three snaps of the first half after hitting his head, getting up and wobbling for a few steps.

The Dolphins originally announced that a head injury, but he was cleared to return to that game and later said a back injury was the bigger issue that day.

He was not formally diagnosed with a concussion from the Sept. 25 incident.

Four days later, he got hit again during a Thursday night game at Cincinnati and was taken off the field on a stretcher. As he lay on the turf, his fingers displayed what’s known as the “fencing response” that typically indicates a serious neurological issue. That time, he was placed in the concussion protocol, as some argued should have happened after the hit in the Buffalo game.

Tagovailoa’s situation at that point sparked quick and significant changes to the concussion protocols by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The most notable addition was that an abnormality of balance and/or stability would be a symptom prohibiting a player from returning to a game.

But if there was any such abnormality Sunday, it wasn’t noticed. Tagovailoa finished the game, and it wasn’t until Monday that the latest concussion was diagnosed.

“I would just say there was enough information there that we thought it was important for him to be able to go see the doctor,” Miami quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell said Thursday, noting that he did not notice something being off during Sunday’s game.

Bevell saw Tagovailoa on Thursday at the Dolphins’ facility. He was working with training staff and not doing anything football-related.

Bevell did not want to speculate on when Tagovailoa may play again.

“I don’t think we can even answer that question right now,” Bevell said. “I think it’s truly a day-to-day deal and then see how he’s reacting, see what the medical professionals are the ones that have say. That’s not a question I’ll be able to answer.”

For now, almost all the questions have no answers. There has been an understandable outcry of concern — even from Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, one of the Dolphins’ AFC East rivals, speaking on a podcast hosted by Kyle Brandt — about Tagovailoa’s long-term health and the impact that multiple concussions in a relatively short timespan can have on the rest of his life. Repeated head injuries are known to cause long-term problems, ranging from but not limited to headaches, memory loss and even an increased risk for dementia.

Taulia Tagovailoa said he intends to spend time with his brother after Maryland’s bowl game.

“I want him to always be safe, but at the same time play the game that he loves and do what he loves to do and see him happy,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “In life I feel like we all have to make those tough decisions, regardless of what he feels like doing at the moment. There are lot more years and a lot of more time too, because he’s still young.”

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed reported from Charlotte, North Carolina.

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