The New England Patriots’ upcoming opponent is facing some major questions at the quarterback position: the Miami Dolphins had to place starter Tua Tagovailoa in the concussion protocol, leaving his status for the Week 17 clash in question.
Tagovailoa is in the middle of his best season to date, but his history of head injuries is a concerning one. He was first evaluated for a concussion in September, and later missed a pair of games the following month while in the protocol. Now, he has reentered it after showing symptoms following Miami’s loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
With Tagovailoa possibly forced to sit out the upcoming game in New England, the Patriots might see a different Dolphins quarterback. The No. 2 guy behind the starter is fellow former first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater, with rookie Skylar Thompson offering additional depth.
“They’ve played all three quarterbacks. Not the same amount of play time, but all three of those guys have played this year,” said Patriots linebackers coach Steve Belichick on Tuesday. “It’s a little bit up in the air whether he 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 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.”
When he has been ready to go, Tagovailoa has played some very good football in his first season under new head coach Mike McDaniel. Running McDaniel’s scheme and throwing to standout wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle has allowed him to take a significant leap in Year 3.
Tagovailoa has completed 259 of 400 pass attempts (64.8%) for 3,548 yards as well as 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Miami is 8-5 with him in the starting lineup, and 0-2 while he was out in October.
His likely replacement if he is unable to suit up on Sunday — Teddy Bridgewater — has not been as effective. Seeing action in four games with one start, the journeyman has gone 37-for-60 (61.7%) for 522 yards with three touchdowns and interceptions each.
“We’ll see what happens with Tua,” said Jerod Mayo, the Patriots’ de facto co-defensive coordinator alongside Belichick. “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.”
One difference between Tagovailoa and Bridgewater from a New England perspective is the level of experience.
Whereas the Dolphins’ regular starter has played four games versus the Patriots in his career — winning all four of them — Bridgewater has yet to suit up against the Belichick-Mayo defense. Despite being on his sixth team, the 30-year-old has ye to square off with the unit.
Regardless of who lines up under center this week, though, the far bigger story is Tagovailoa’s health — something expressed by special teamer Matthew Slater on Tuesday.
“I think everybody in this league has been rooting for Tua this year,” Slater said. “Everything he’s been through. It’s really unfortunate that he had to go back into the protocol. But we’ve seen players like that go through the type of season that he’s gone through, and have been able to rise above that. We salute that. We want to see all players healthy.”