By MITCH STACY The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained neck and head injuries after being slammed to the turf on Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals and was stretchered from the field.
The Dolphins said Tagovailoa was conscious, had movement in all his extremities and was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further evaluation. The Dolphins said after their 27-15 loss to the Bengals that Tagovailoa was expected to be released from the hospital and fly home with the team.
Tagovailoa was chased down and sacked by 6-foot-3, 340-pound Josh Tupou with about six minutes left in the first half. He was spun around and thrown to the turf. While on the ground, his hands froze in front of his face. He remained down for more than seven minutes before being loaded on a backboard, stabilized and strapped to a stretcher after his facemask was removed.
Dolphins players gathered around as Tagovailoa was rolled off the field and the crowd chanted “Tu-a! Tu-a!”
Miami coach Mike McDaniel said Tagovailoa called for him when he went down.
“I could tell it wasn’t the same guy that I was used to seeing,” McDaniel said. “It was a scary moment. He was evaluated for a concussion. He’s in the concussion protocol, but he’s being discharged.
“It’s an emotional moment. It’s not a part of the deal you sign up for. His teammates and myself were very concerned, but he got checked out and it’s nothing more serious than a concussion.”
Teddy Bridgewater, who replaced the injured Tagovailoa, said the Miami sideline went quiet when the starting QB was on the turf.
“Complete silence,” Bridgewater said. “He’s one of us. At the end of the day, it’s only a football game. In that moment, you saw how we feel about Tua. He’s our captain. He’s our leader. It was great to see the doctors handling the situation.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor had an emotional reaction to Tagovailoa going down, saying: “It’s a heavy moment. You hate to see that happen. It’s a tough moment for everybody.”
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow hoped Tagovailoa makes a quick return.
“It’s always scary when somebody goes out like that,” Burrow said. “It’s a dangerous game and something like that can happen at any time, but it’s always scary when it does. … Hopefully, he has a speedy recovery. I’m gonna text him after a bit and see how he’s doing.”
Reaction came swiftly from around the NFL. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson promptly tweeted with concern for Tagovailoa’s well-being.
“Praying for you Tua,” Wilson wrote.
The 24-year-old Tagovailoa was suffering from a sore back and was listed as questionable for most of the week ahead of the game.
Tagovailoa briefly left Sunday’s 21-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills after appearing to be disoriented by what the team originally said was a head injury after taking a hard hit from Bills linebacker Matt Milano late in the first half. He missed just three snaps and returned after halftime, a decision that prompted a joint review by the NFL and National Football League Players Association of what went into the decision to allow him to return to the game.
The team and Tagovailoa said after Sunday’s game the quarterback had a back injury that caused his awkward stumble and fall after he was slammed into the turf in the second quarter. The team said Monday that Tagovailoa was not in concussion protocol.
He said he “hyper-extended” his back after getting his legs caught under someone on a quarterback sneak.
McDaniel said Thursday that he didn’t think an injury from last week made him fall the same way this week.
After Tagovailoa’s injury on Thursday, the NFLPA tweeted: “Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission. Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”
Some criticized the decision to play Tagovailoa so soon after his injuries in Sunday’s game.
Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe tweeted: “That’s a serious injury. Tua shouldn’t have been out there with Sunday Thursday turn around. Sometimes players need protecting from themselves. Dolphins failed Tua.”
Before leaving Thursday’s game, Tagovailoa was 8 for 14 for 100 yards and an interception. Bridgewater threw a touchdown pass to Chase Edmonds with 15 seconds left in the half.
The play of Tagovailoa, who won a national championship at Alabama, has been key for the 3-0 Dolphins. He came into the game second in the NFL with 925 passing yards.
BURROW, BENGALS PREVAIL
Behind an overhauled offensive line coalescing in front of Burrow and a defense forcing turnovers, the Bengals are looking more like the defending AFC champions.
After losing their first two games, the Bengals have reeled off two wins in a span of five days.
They beat the New York Jets on Sunday, then turned around and took down Miami on Thursday.
Burrow tossed a late a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst to seal the win after Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell picked off Miami backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with three minutes left in the game.
“All day the protection was awesome,” said Burrow, who was 20 for 31 for 287 yards and two touchdowns. “I had all the time I needed in the pocket to find the guys I needed.”
Tee Higgins caught seven passes for 124 yards and a TD for Cincinnati (2-2)
Evan McPherson kicked two fourth-quarter field goals – including a 57-yarder – when the Bengals’ drives stalled.
“Joe was lights out,” Taylor said. “You had to beat man coverage. We had the guys to do it and the protection to match it and the quarterback who, that’s what he wants to see.”
Bridgewater threw an incomplete pass on Miami’s final drive to turn the ball over on downs with 57 seconds left.
Tagovailoa was 8 for 14 for 110 yards and an interception before his injury. Bridgewater finished 14 for 23 for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception in relief.
“It’s a tough loss,” Bridgewater said. “It’s tough walking away, especially under the circumstances.”
Tyreek Hill paced the Dolphins with 10 catches for 160 yards. Jason Sanders kicked three field goals and had one blocked. He also missed a point-after attempt.
“You’re going to lose games to very good teams if you lose the turnover battle and you’re kicking field goals instead of trying for touchdowns,” McDaniel said. “We had been executing. We didn’t today. You don’t get free passes against good teams.”
At halftime, the Bengals added two players to their fledgling Ring of Honor at Paycor Stadium.
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Isaac Curtis is regarded as one of the team’s all-time great receivers. The four-time Pro-Bowler played in Cincinnati from 1973-84 and still holds the Bengals record for average yards per reception (17.07).
Tackle Willie Anderson was considered one of the best offensive linemen of his era. Anderson played in 182 games (regular and postseason) for Cincinnati from 1996-2007 and went to the Pro Bowl four times.
They join last year’s Ring of Honor inaugural class: team founder/coach Paul Brown, quarterback Ken Anderson, offensive tackle Anthony Muñoz and cornerback Ken Riley.
Dolphins: Cornerback Xavien Howard left in the second half after suffering a groin injury.
Bengals: Tight end Devin Asiasi (UCLA) left in the second half with an ankle injury.
The Dolphins play at the New York Jets on Sunday, Oct. 9.
The Bengals play at Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 9.