Aaron Rodgers’ advice to Tua Tagovailoa

When quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins met on the field after their teams’ NFL game on Sunday, Rodgers told the former Alabama All-American “to take care of himself” because he’d seen Tagovailoa take “some pretty vicious hits” this season.

On Monday, Tagovailoa entered the NFL’s concussion protocol after meeting with members of the Dolphins’ medical staff, although Miami coach Mike McDaniel said he couldn’t pinpoint anything that happened in the 26-20 loss that might have led to a head injury.

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Rodgers was asked about Tagovailoa during his postgame press conference.

“I just really appreciate the way he handles his business and his professionalism, just the way he goes about it and speaks about his teammates,” Rodgers said. “I think he’s got a good humility about him. He’s a good, humble kid – very talented. I enjoyed watching him play in college, and I just like the way he goes about his business. He handles things the right way with a lot of class and a lot of respect.

“I told him to take care of himself, too. He’s had some pretty vicious hits this year. But he’s a good kid. He’s got a long career in the league to look forward to. There’s days like this, but he still threw for a hell of a lot of yards, and they’ve got a lot of great weapons, and they’re still in the hunt as well.”

Tagovailoa completed 16-of-25 passes for 310 yards and one touchdown against Green Bay, but he also threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter as the lead got away from the Dolphins.

Before the game, Tagovailoa said it was going to be “awesome” playing against Rodgers, a four-time NFL MVP in his 18th season.

“I would say it’s special in the sense that I got to watch this guy ball ever since I can remember watching football in Aaron,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s not necessarily me versus him. That’s not how I see it. He’s got to go against our defense; we got to go against their defense. But it’s really cool.

“When we come off, I like seeing good football regardless of what it is. Obviously, we always want to win. But, man, I turn into a fan at times just sitting back and watching whether our defense is going off or the opposing team makes a couple plays. It’s cool to see. But having to go against someone like him and seeing him across the field ever since watching him on TV growing up, it will be awesome.”

This will be the third time that the NFL’s concussion procedure has been applied to Tagovailoa this season.

On Sept. 25, Tagovailoa left the game against the Buffalo Bills with two minutes remaining in the first half after hitting the back of his head on the ground on a roughing-the-passer penalty. When Tagovailoa wobbled getting up, he went to the locker room.

But Tagovailoa was cleared by a team physician and the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant at halftime, returned for the second half and rallied Miami to a 21-19 victory. Tagovailoa said after the game that he had been unsteady because he hurt his back on a quarterback sneak earlier in the first half.

Four days later in the NFL’s Thursday night game for Week 4, Tagovailoa again left the field after a sack. This time, he was taken off on a stretcher, and the evaluation did not send him back on the field, but to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

After leaving in the first half of the Dolphins’ 27-15 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Tagovailoa missed two games as he passed through the return-to-participation protocol – a five-step process.

Tagovailoa will have to clear the five steps again before he returns to game action.

The return process begins with symptom-limited activity. This is mainly a rest period, although limited stretching, balance activities and light aerobic activity are allowed. If a player does not experience an increase in his symptoms or show signs of a concussion on neurological examination, he can proceed to the next phase. That requirement holds step-by-step throughout the return process.

The second step is aerobic exercise, a graduated exercise program of stationary-bicycle or treadmill work, stretching and balance training. The player can also return to team meetings at this stage.

Upon demonstrating that he can participate in cardiovascular exercise without an increase in symptoms, the player goes to the third step, which is football-specific exercise.

Now the player can engage in strength training and practice with the team in “sport-specific exercise” for no more than 30 minutes.

A player at this stage of return will also undergo neurocognitive testing. If that test shows he has not returned to his baseline readings, as interpreted by a neuropsychology consultant, the tests will be repeated until he does, typically every 48 hours. A player cannot return to contact activities until clearing the neurocognitive tests.

The fourth step in the return process is termed club-based, non-contact training drills. Those drills are position-specific. In Tagovailoa’s case, that would mean throwing the football. The player then could progress to participate in non-contact portions of his team’s practice.

The final step in the return to game action is the ability of the player to engage in full football activity. If the player can do that without setbacks, then the club physician can clear him to return. But first, the player must be examined by the independent neurological consultant assigned to the team to get the final OK.

Miami has two games remaining on its regular-season schedule. The Dolphins visit the New England Patriots on Sunday and host the New York Jets on Jan. 8.

With an 8-7 record, Miami occupies the only unclaimed wild-card position in the AFC playoff field. The Patriots and Jets are among the four 7-8 teams trying to overtake the Dolphins.

Miami would clinch a playoff berth on Sunday if it wins and the Jets lose to the Seattle Seahawks.

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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

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