The last thing Tua Tagovailoa remembers was getting tackled by Cincinnati Bengals nose tackle Josh Tupou.
After that, it wasn’t until he was at the hospital at University of Cincinnati medical facilities and some of the ambulance ride there when he regained consciousness following his Sept. 29 concussion suffered in the second quarter of that Thursday night loss to the Bengals.
“I remember the entire night up to the point where I got tackled,” said Tagovailoa on Wednesday, the first time he has spoken to the media since being taken off the field at Paycor Stadium on a stretcher and strapped to a backboard.
“After I got tackled, I don’t remember much from there. Getting carted off, I don’t remember that. But I do remember things that were going on when I was in the ambulance and then at the hospital.”
If anything, at least it distanced his mind from the reality of the frightening experience.
“I wouldn’t say it was scary for me at the time,” said Tagovailoa, who is slated to start for the first time since his concussion when his Dolphins take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium. “There was a point where I was unconscious, so I couldn’t really tell what was going on. When I did realize what was going on, what was happening, I didn’t think of anything long-term or short-term. I was just wondering what happened.”
But now Tagovailoa, after missing the Dolphins’ past two losses against the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings and having his head injury spark rule changes in the NFL, can safely get back to doing what he loves, playing football.
“It’s been a process. That’s for sure,” said Tagovailoa, who was cleared from protocol on Saturday but knew he would sit out against Minnesota. “Having to deal with interviews with the NFL, NFLPA, and then having to go and see doctors outside with second opinions. A lot of it has been stressful, but all of it’s done for player safety.”
Making that process easier for Tagovailoa, he said Wednesday his neighbors’ kids sent him cards, candies and baked goods while he recovered.
This week, Tagovailoa gets to prepare as the starter, although he said he already approached the previous week, which allowed him limited practices on Wednesday and Thursday plus a full-participation slate on Friday before his Saturday clearance, the same way.
Coach Mike McDaniel said he doesn’t need to see anything extra from Tagovailoa in the way he prepares.
“What I want to see is the same locked-in guy that I know, when he’s on it, he’s laser focused, he’s in his normal mood, but he doesn’t lose attention span at the task at hand,” McDaniel said Wednesday. “That’s what I’ve grown to love about the guy.”
Said star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who is on a record pace for receiving yards in a season despite catching passes from three different quarterbacks in Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson through six games: “Having Tua back is going to be great. His whole approach to the game, his mentality, his mindset. … I can see everyone in the huddle having a good time. We’ve been doing that the past weeks, but with Tua, it’s a different level. He comes into the huddle with his swag, joking, doing his thing.”
Tagovailoa’s first game back will be against his former coach, Brian Flores, who is now a defensive assistant with the Steelers.
Tagovailoa didn’t have a particularly friendly relationship with Flores when the two were together in Miami. When he looked back on his time with his ex-coach in the offseason, the greatest memory he offered was the day he got drafted.
When asked about Flores being on the other side Sunday night, he didn’t take a jab but, rather, expressed respect for what he — and the Steelers, historically — do defensively.
Will Flores’ familiarity with Tagovailoa factor in on Sunday?
“Yeah, of course,” Tagovailoa said. “I’ve been with him for the past two years, so he definitely knows what I like, what I don’t like. But then again, schematically, this is Mike’s offense. This isn’t the same offense that I’d been running while he’s been here for the past two years.”
And Tagovailoa’s return comes on the national stage, “Sunday Night Football” on NBC.
“It’s prime time, so that’s what excites me,” he said. “We’ll be the only game on Sunday night. That’s exciting. You dream of being in these kind of games as a kid, and we get this opportunity, so that’ll be fun.”