Five days out from their pivotal Week 17 matchup with Miami, the New England Patriots do not know who will be playing quarterback for the Dolphins.
Starter Tua Tagovailoa landed in concussion protocol following Miami’s 26-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, putting his availability for this week’s AFC East rematch in doubt.
There’s a chance Tagovailoa could be cleared in time for this Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium. But with this being his third concussion of the season, the Dolphins could — and, some have argued, should — take a more cautious approach.
Tagovailoa is a perfect 4-0 against the Patriots since entering the NFL in 2020. If he cannot play Sunday, the Dolphins would turn to journeyman backup Teddy Bridgewater, who’s started 64 career games for five different franchises but never appeared in a game against New England.
Bridgewater was injured on the first play of his lone start this season but saw extensive action in two relief appearances, going 14-for-23 for 193 yards and a touchdown with one interception in a Week 4 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and 23-for-24 for 329 yards and two touchdowns with two picks in a Week 6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Tagovailoa missed two games in October after suffering his second concussion. Bridgewater and seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson each started one, and the Dolphins lost both.
“They’ve played all three quarterbacks,” Patriots linebackers coach and defensive play-caller Steve Belichick said Tuesday in a video conference. “Not the same amount of play time, but all three of those guys have played this year. It’s a little bit up in the air whether (Tagovailoa) plays or not, so we’ve got to be ready for everyone here going into the game, and we’ll see how it plays out.
“But I wouldn’t say (Miami’s approach would be) drastically different in terms of the offensive scheme. Every player’s different and has different strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t know if they’re going to overhaul the offense just based on a new guy going in there. But we’ll see how it goes and be ready for all of them as best we can.”
The Dolphins looked like one of the AFC’s top teams at the start of December, but they’ve nosedived over the last month, losing four straight to fall from 8-3 to 8-7. They sit just one game ahead of the 7-8 Patriots, who must win Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Jerod Mayo, the Patriots’ linebackers coach and de facto co-defensive coordinator, pointed out that New England still will need to contend with superstar Dolphins wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle regardless of who starts behind center.
“We’ll see what happens with Tua,” Mayo said. “I would say they’re both very experienced quarterbacks at this point, especially playing in this scheme. But I would say it doesn’t change too much. They still have weapons all over the field. It’s still going to take a team effort to really slow these guys down. So whoever’s playing quarterback, we’ll be ready, and hopefully we can go out there and play at a high level.”
Miami took the teams’ first meeting back in Week 1, winning 20-7 at Hard Rock Stadium. The Patriots traditionally have had more success against the Dolphins in Foxboro, Mass., than they have in South Florida, but they’re 1-2 in their last three home games in this longstanding divisional rivalry.
New England can secure the AFC’s third and final wild-card spot by beating Miami and Buffalo in its final two games. The Patriots also could get in with a win over the Dolphins and a loss to the Bills, but that would require losses by several other postseason hopefuls.