MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he's glad to be back after a long process to clear concussion protocols.
"It's been a process," he said on Wednesday during his first comments to reporters since his injury. "That's for sure. 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."
Tagovailoa last played in a Sept. 29 loss at Cincinnati, when his head slammed to the turf and he suffered a concussion. He missed the next two games and the Dolphins fell to 3-3 after winning their first three.
Now that he's cleared concussion protocols, Tagovailoa is expected to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said he wants Tagovailoa to be in his "normal mood" and as "locked in" as he always is.
"That's what I've grown to love about the guy," McDaniel said. "That's why he's been able to have some success in a completely new language and system. And that would be my expectation for this week because it is not the Tua Dolphins."
Tagovailoa echoed a similar sentiment.
"I've just got to be myself," he said. "I'm not the savior of this team. I don't just come in and we start winning games. It's a team deal."
In that Thursday night game against Cincinnati, Tagovailoa took a hard hit from Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou and was slammed into the turf.
Tagovailoa's hands immediately froze with his fingers flexed awkwardly in front of his facemask for several seconds. He was stretchered off the field and taken to the hospital.
Tagovailoa said he remembers everything from that night up to the point he got tackled. He doesn't remember being stretchered off the field, but has flashes of being in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
"I wouldn't say it was scary for me at the time," Tagovailoa said. "There was a point where I was unconscious, so I couldn't really tell what was going on."
That was four days after Tagovailoa hit the back of his head on the turf from a hit by Bills linebacker Matt Milano. He wobbled as he tried to get back to his feet and was allowed to return to the game at the start of the third quarter. The team later said he had a back injury.
The two incidents prompted significant changes to the concussion protocols by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. They added that an abnormality of balance and/or stability would be a symptom prohibiting a player from returning to a game.
Tagovailoa made his return to the field as a limited practice participant last Wednesday, and after completing the return-to-play steps required by the NFL, he was medically cleared on Saturday.
Tagovailoa was off to the best start of his career before the injury. He'd thrown for 1,035 yards and eight touchdowns, including 469 yards and six touchdowns in Miami's Week 2 rally over Baltimore.
Serious injuries are also not new to the third-year quarterback.
At Alabama, he had a procedure for a high ankle sprain in October 2019, which caused him to miss one game.
A month later, Tagovailoa dislocated his right hip against Mississippi State, which prematurely ended his college career.
In his pro career, Tagovailoa has dealt with rib fractures, a thumb injury and a fractured middle finger on his throwing hand.
He said he's not typically the type of player to throw the ball away or give up on plays.
"Learning from that," Tagovailoa said. "Learning if it's not there, it's OK to throw it away. The longevity of me being able to be the quarterback of this team and not try to make something out of nothing."