With Tagovailoa out again, Dolphins’ playoff hopes falter

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa is again on concussion protocol, and the Miami Dolphins may not be able to live with his absence this time around.

Tagovailoa missed two games earlier in the season as he was knocked out in Week 4 in Cincinnati. Miami lost that game, and Tagovailoa lost both. Then he came back and Miami won five straight to improve to 8-3 and move into first place in the AL East.

The Dolphins (8-7) haven’t won since, and it’s unclear when they’ll see Tagovailoa on the field again.

Tagovailoa hit his head on the turf when tackled in the second quarter of Miami’s 26-20 loss to Green Bay on Sunday, but was not taken out of the game or evaluated for concussion. Miami coach Mike McDaniel said he wasn’t sure if Tagovailoa suffered a concussion during the game.

“As far as the game was concerned, no one was aware of any type of hit,” McDaniel said.

Teddy Bridgewater will practice as a starter this week in case Tagovailoa fails to play in time for New England’s divisional game on Sunday. McDaniel declined to name the starters.

“It’s too early to draw conclusions,” McDaniel said. “You just know that somebody comes into the agreement and you have to be ready to really do anything.”

Last season, thanks to a miraculous comeback and a bit of good luck, the Dolphins entered their Week 17 game against Tennessee on a seven-game winning streak, and despite a disastrous 1-7 start to the season, they still Retained the last AFC playoff spot. Then the Titans beat them 34-3, destroying their playoff hopes.

This year, the Dolphins got off to an impressive start but found themselves in an equally precarious situation. Miami is undefeated in November but winless in December, including a loss against Green Bay on Christmas Day. The Dolphins are once again in jeopardy for the final AFC wild-card spot.

“We’ve been learning hard lessons over the course of the last month of racing,” McDaniel said. “At some point, if we want to take the next step, we’re going to have to live with it or shut up.”

If the Dolphins win their final two games against the Patriots and Jets, they’re sure to make the playoffs, but they have other avenues.

They could make the playoffs with a Week 17 win over New England and the Jets’ loss to Seattle. If Miami beats New England and the Jets beat the Seahawks, division rivals will face each other for playoff spots.

If the Dolphins lose to the Patriots but beat the Jets, they will need New England to lose against Buffalo in the regular-season finale.

what works

Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill continued to make game-changing plays. Both had more than 100 receiving yards on Sunday. Waddle had a career-long 84 touchdown yards in the first half and an athletic catch in the fourth quarter that extended his high point to 16 yards. Hill’s four catches gave him 113 receptions on the season, breaking Miami’s single-season record.

How can I help you

The Dolphins didn’t have an answer to Green Bay’s defensive adjustments in the second half. After finishing 9 of 12 for 229 yards and a TD in the first half, Tagovailoa completed 7 of 13 attempts for 84 yards in the second half. Hill caught just one pass for 20 yards in the second half. It’s unclear whether Tagovailoa’s hit in the second quarter affected his game.

Stock up

DT Christian Wilkins had 5 tackles and 2 passes defended. His 86 tackles led all NFL defensive linemen.

inventory drop

Miami failed to maintain its drive during its four-game slump. Its momentum was stalled on penalties on Sunday.

“There were some really, really manageable penalties that were absolutely devastating,” McDaniel said. “It was hard to move the ball consistently.”

Injuried

Tagovailoa must go through the NFL’s five-step process to be cleared out of concussion protocol and play next week. … LB Bradley Chubb suffered a hand injury and FB Alec Ingold suffered a thumb injury. Both players will wear plaster casts, McDaniel said.

key number

65 — According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Dolphins have a 65 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s down from 72% last week.

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Visiting New England on New Years Day. The Dolphins beat the Patriots in the season opener.

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