By Tom Green
The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Dolphins 27-15 to end Miami’s undefeated start to the 2022 season.
After an electric opening, this turned out to be a sombre edition of Thursday Night Football, after a nasty looking head and neck injuries suffered by Tua Tagovailoa. A play in the second quarter resulted in him having to be stretchered off the field and taken to hospital for further checks that concerned many for the health of the 24-year-old.
We were told that Tua was awake and moving again before the game finished but it calls into question whether the concussion protocols were followed correctly last Sunday after his stumble against the Bills suggested he suffered a head injury before retook the field in the second half.
The professional game is supposed to better understand the dangers of second-concussion syndrome, which can lead to serious brain injury and even death. Prayers were offered across the league on social media and in the stadium as he was carted off after his head heavily collided with the ground in a tackle.
For now, back to the action.
With the NFL relaxing rules on alternate helmets being allowed, the Bengals rocked the long awaited white-alternate helmets for the first time and the Queen City held a white-out. I’m a sucker for new uniform combinations and boy does this all-white combination look clean?
More importantly, the Bengals opening drive was as clean as their new helmets. Burrow was all business, looking crisp and decisive, getting the ball out of his hands quickly with shots to Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and a couple to tight-end Hayden Hurst. Two defensive penalties by the Dolphins advanced Cincinnati to the nine-yard line, where Joe Mixon with help from a big push and surge from the Bengals O-Line opened his scoring account for 2022. Evan McPherson’s PAT was good.
The Dolphins offence replied with a strong drive of their own.
Tagovailoa kept up his hot start to the year, zipping passes of 20 yards and over to his elite receiver pair of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, eventually driving to the Cincinnati five. Tua then lofted a beautiful pass to the back of the endzone into the hands of RB Chase Edmonds on third and four, only for it to slip out of Edmonds hands. The Dolphins instead settled for a field-goal and Jason Sanders duly obliged.
A quick stop by the Miami D and the Dolphins soon had the ball back on their own 13. Tua fired a beautiful shot to Mike Gesicki for 28 yards and Raheem Mostert broke into a 21-yard rush as the Dolphins started getting into a groove, until an unnecessary deep heave into double coverage from Tua to Hill resulted in an interception by Cincinnati cornerback Von Bell.
The Bengals looked set to take advantage of the turnover, pounding the rock with Mixon and some smart rushing by Burrow leading them near the Dolphins red-zone. The Dolphins D held strong and forced the Bengals into making a decision on whether to go for it on fourth and one.
If you remember anything about the Bengals magical run of 2021, head-coach Zac Taylor was never afraid to put his trust in his offence on 4th downs and last night was no different. The Bengals handed it off to Mixon but the Dolphins denied him the yard he needed for a turnover on downs. The Dolphins added another three points after a 48-yard field-goal attempt from Sanders.
The Bengals were forced to punt away after a quick three and out, and then disaster struck.
Tagovailoa dropped back and was rolling left before getting caught and slammed in a twisting way to the floor by DT Josh Tupou. It led to some unsettling shots of Tua, clearly out of consciousness, arms stretched out with his fingers appearing in an unnatural position. It was a scary situation to witness and Tua was down on the field for over seven minutes as both teams took to the field clearly concerned for the well-being of the Dolphins quarterback.
Eventually Tua was stretchered away and taken to the hospital with head and neck injuries.
In came experienced journeyman Teddy Bridgewater, but with the wind truly knocked from their sails, the Dolphins drive stalled and Sanders 52-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Bengals rookie DT Jeffrey Gunter.
The Bengals explosive and big play ability shined as they extended their lead to 3-14 as Burrow fired a shot to Tee Higgins who proceeded to take it to the house for a 59 yard score. PAT good.
Teddy Bridgewater led the Dolphins on a solid two-minute drive to end the half, eventually finding Chase Edmonds for a nine-yard score with 15 seconds to go in the half. But in what seems like a ritual for TNF, Sanders missed the PAT for a scoreline of 12-14 at the half.
Neither opening drives of the second half led to scores as the defence began to control the affair, until Bridgewater hit a deep shot which bounced into the hands of Tyreek Hill for a gain of 64 yards and set up the Dolphins on the Bengals five-yard line. Miami couldn’t find the endzone though, settling for a one-point lead after another FG from Sanders.
The Bengals weren’t behind for long, as McPherson’s 19-yard chip shot took them back in front with 12 minutes to go in the fourth. This was followed by a quick three and out for the Dolphins offence, which was followed by an impressive 57-yard attempt by McPherson to extend the Bengals lead.
A pretty torrid night for the Dolphins got worse as Von Bell struck again for a pick off a pretty poor throw from Bridgewater. It ended a gutsy drive and even gutsier second half performance from the Miami defence. Burrow and the Bengals took full advantage of the good field positioning, ending when Burrow fired a 2-yard pass into the hands of Hayden Hurst for a 15-27 final score.
The reigning AFC Champion Bengals get back to 500 with a 2-2 record after an impressive performance in front of a national audience.
Joe Burrow was born for nights like these and while the Cincinnati offence is still suffering growing pains, the offensive line gave a much improved effort from what we have seen from Week 1 through 3. They allowed only one sack all night. I don’t think I was ever concerned about the fate of the Bengals after the rocky 0-2 start. This Bengals team has imperfections but so did the 2021 Bengals. They aren’t going to win 13 or 14 games, but they are going to be in contention come the playoffs and Burrow tends to get better as the season goes on. His starting receiving core is still the deadliest in the league. They could do with getting more production out of Joe Mixon. After four games, Mixon is averaging a terrible 2.5 yards per attempt.
Also of note, Von Bell doubled his career interception total tonight and might just have got himself the game ball from Zac Taylor for his efforts. The Bengals now prepare themselves for a huge Sunday Night Football matchup with currently the biggest threats to their AFC North crown: The Baltimore Ravens. I cannot wait for this game!
This was a tough night for Miami. Losing a game to the reigning AFC champs on a short week, where they had to leave for Cincinnati earlier than expected due to a quicker than originally forecasted arrival of Hurricane Ian in Florida this week. A hilarious name for a hurricane but I’ll try to remember the impact a natural disaster can have on the lives of the people affected by it.
It ended their undefeated start to 2022 but this might be for the best, as the loss allows the Dolphins to keep themselves grounded and get back to the grind before their Week 5 tilt with AFC East rivals: New York Jets.
What will really hurt though, is the potential loss of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and how it happened is a gut punch that will test the metal of rookie head-coach Mike McDaniel, who thus far has delivered beyond expectations in his first season in Miami.
For Tua, he really has taken a step forward this year and while he needs to be more accurate and cut out the interceptions on deep shots, he is playing with confidence and poise. It would be a heart-wrenching turn of events if, just as he is starting to understand how to be a productive NFL quarterback, it is ripped away by injury.
The Dolphins will have further questions to answer regarding their handling of the suspected Week 3 head injury that was reported as back injury by their medical team. Were they right to play Tua this week? I’m not qualified and am in no way connected to the team to answer that question, but I hope the people who are in this position can get the answers needed.
For now, let’s wish Tua a speedy recovery and continued health.