Bill Belichick hints he might've handled Tua Tagovailoa's concussion differently


Bill Belichick has been adamant over the past week in reminding people he's not a doctor and doesn't have the qualifications to assess injuries.

But Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's dramatic concussion during last Thursday's game against the Bengals and the quarterback's handling after an apparent concussion last Sunday -- he returned to the game after being cleared by a since-fired unaffiliated physician despite struggling to maintain balance -- has become a topic of discussion for coaches across the NFL, Belichick included.

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Though the Patriots coach wouldn't comment on Tagovailoa's situation too pointedly, he, like Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, suggested he might have approached things a bit differently.

During his weekly appearance on WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show" following Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers, Belichick said he "absolutely" has ruled players out when they've looked incapable of playing -- sometimes even after they've been medically cleared to return to the game.

"I've definitely done that before. Oh yeah," he said. "If I see a player that I think is not functioning properly that for some reason has not been identified, then absolutely I would [take them out]. I have done that. I would say not recently, but those are things that have happened at other points in my career.

If a player doesn't look he's functioning properly, we evaluate him with the medical people. But even if the medical people were to clear a player, we still go through a coaching clearance to make sure he's ready to play football and not just medically cleared. We've always had a secondary evaluation on that."

Some might point to Belichick's past mishandlings of players with head injuries, like those relayed by former Patriots linebacker and current NBC Sports Boston personality Ted Johnson back in 2007, to contradict that account. At that time, according to the New York Times story, Belichick went against the advice of the team's trainers and subjected Johnson to contact in practice, leading him to sustain another concussion shortly after the linebacker had suffered one in a preseason game.

On the other hand, one-time Patriots offensive line coach Rich Orhnberger shared a more positive view of the team's approach to a concussion he suffered in 2011, saying they prevented him from re-entering a game when he was "out on his feet" and put him on injured reserve for the season.

This past Sunday, the Patriots immediately removed Brian Hoyer from the game after he suffered an apparent head injury on a hard hit from Rashan Gary in the first quarter and ruled him out with a concussion swiftly, leaving Bailey Zappe to play the rest of the game.

Though it's difficult to say exactly what Belichick would have done had he been in another coach's shoes, he seems to be hinting it's more than possible for a coach to make the tough call Mike McDaniel didn't make last Sunday to keep Tagovailoa on the sidelines despite all of the in-game responsibilities coaches have.

Sometimes, as Belichick and his staff had to do with starting quarterback Mac Jones last week, sometimes you have to protect players from themselves.