For whatever reason, the New England Patriots cannot seem to beat Tua Tagovailoa.
But this Sunday, they might not need to.
Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel announced Monday that Tagovailoa was placed in concussion protocol following Miami’s 26-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers. If he is not cleared by this weekend, the third-year quarterback would be unable to play Sunday against the Patriots in a game both teams badly need to win.
McDaniel told reporters he did not know whether Tagovailoa’s injury would keep him out of this game, and it’s difficult and irresponsible to speculate on concussion recovery timelines, which can vary wildly based on the player and the severity of the injury.
But this is the third concussion Tagovailoa has suffered this season. The first sparked widespread criticism and an NFL investigation, and the second sidelined him for two games. Despite the sky-high stakes this week, it would be appropriate and logical for Miami to take a cautious approach with their franchise QB.
If Tagovailoa — who is a perfect 4-0 against the Patriots since entering the NFL in 2020 — cannot play Sunday, the Dolphins’ next man up would be veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater, who’s started one game this season and played in three others. Bridgewater also suffered an injury during his lone start, forcing Miami to start seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson the following week.
The Dolphins are 0-2 this season without Tagovailoa in the lineup, losing to the New York Jets, 40-17, in Week 5 and the Minnesota Vikings, 24-16, in Week 6.
McDaniel expressed confidence in Bridgewater, a 30-year-old journeyman who’s started 64 career games across stints with Minnesota, New Orleans, Carolina, Denver and Miami.
“That’s one of the reasons you go and aggressively pursue a player like Teddy Bridgewater,” the Dolphins head coach told reporters Monday. “The team, I expect them to do what is pretty difficult for a lot of people, but no one really cares. This is something (where) we have all of our fortunes ahead of us, so it’s up to us to choose what we do with all the past experiences and move on to the next game, which in this case is the New England Patriots.”
Sunday’s clash between AFC East rivals is a massively important one for both teams. The Dolphins looked like playoff shoo-ins and division title contenders after their 8-3 start, but they’ve now lost four straight to fall to 8-7. Tagovailoa posted his four lowest completion rates of the season in those four losses and threw six touchdown passes with five interceptions, including three in the fourth quarter against Green Bay.
The Patriots also can’t buy a win of late, dropping four of their last five games. In Weeks 15 and 16, they rallied back from double-digit halftime deficits only to lose on devastating last-minute mistakes by offensive standouts: the Rhamondre Stevenson-to-Jakobi Meyers-to-Chandler Jones laterals against the Las Vegas Raiders and Stevenson’s lost fumble at the 5-yard line against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Had New England won either of those games — or its narrow seven-point loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving — it would be in good shape in the AFC playoff picture. But even with their mounting losses, the Patriots still have a shot at making the postseason with two weeks remaining.
Any path to a playoff spot for the Patriots, however, requires a Week 17 win over Miami. A loss Sunday would eliminate them from postseason contention regardless of how they fare against the Buffalo Bills in Week 18.
New England still will need to contend with the vaunted receiving duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and a Dolphins defense that, though statistically unimpressive, held Mac Jones and company to one touchdown in a season-opening 20-7 victory. But Tagovailoa sitting out would make that goal significantly easier to accomplish.