Mike McDaniel defends decision to play Tua Tagovailoa

Mike McDaniel faces criticism over playing Tua Tagovailoa after going down with a second head injury in a week

He’s a “mad scientist,” the quirky “genius” of the 49er offense, the players’ coach with the funny press conferences. Mike McDaniel has been called a lot of things in the early days of the 2022 season. Most of this effusive praise has stemmed from the Miami Dolphins’ high-flying offense that started the season 3-0 and upended the preseason Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills. But it’s easy to joke around with the press when things are running smoothly.

On Thursday night, with the Miami Dolphins facing last year’s AFC Champions in Cincinnati, the Mike McDaniel honeymoon abruptly ended when Tua Tagovailoa was violently thrown to the ground. He stayed down for over ten minutes, his fingers awkwardly clenched as a possible neurological response to an obvious head and neck injury. A stretcher carried him off the field with the entire Dolphins team standing solemnly behind. Tagovailoa was transported to a local hospital with a Level-1 trauma rating.

The scene was frightening on its own. But in the context of last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills, where Tagovailoa re-entered the game after sustaining what clearly looked like a head injury, the second injury looks negligent. Last week a team doctor and an independent neurologist cleared Tagovailoa to play, and he led the Dolphins to one of their biggest victories in recent years. Miami initially listed the incident as a head injury, before revising to a back injury.

Between Tua’s obvious disorientation against the Bills after the hit, and the questionable doctoring (amending) of the reported injury, the NFLPA opened an investigation to determine whether protocols were violated. But the investigation didn’t come soon enough.

After Tagovailoa’s second head injury in five days, the Mike McDaniel fanfare has been abruptly replaced with harsh criticism at this careless disregard for player safety. McDaniel faced a muted response last week for putting Tagovailoa back in the game, but he had the shield of two medical professional opinions, and the major win kept critiques to a minimum. The NFLPA investigation would take a couple of weeks. And even if the union determined that protocols were breached, a 5-0 Miami with a (seemingly) healthy Tua may have deflected any sort of NFLPA reprimand.

But now, with Thursday’s traumatic injury, McDaniel faces a flurry of questions about the decision to play Tagovailoa coming off his “back injury” against the Bills.

Mike McDaniel defends himself, Dolphins over Tua Tagovailoa injury

McDaniel spoke to reporters after the game and downplayed the injury, calling it nothing “more serious than a concussion,” despite mountains of evidence showing the seriousness of concussions—let alone concussions that require a player to be carried off the field in a stretcher.

Fortunately, Tagovailoa flew back to Miami with the team, and appears to be recovering. But the Dolphins and McDaniel’s decision to play Tua on Thursday night requires intense scrutiny and an even more thorough NFLPA investigation. McDaniel stated after the game that player safety is of paramount importance. But his actions prompt suspicion. And his once budding reputation as a players’ coach now faces a grave threat.

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