For a while, we'll worry about Tua Tagovailoa every time he puts himself in harm's way.
The last time we saw Tagovailoa play football before Sunday night, he was knocked unconscious in a scary scene. It led to a debate about player safety that's still ongoing.
That's why, when Tagovailoa scrambled in the first half on Sunday night and didn't slide when he saw Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush in his way, it was time for everyone to hold their breath. The same thing happened when he ran on third-and-eight and put his shoulder into defensive back Tre Norwood.
But Tagovailoa is going to have to play football. He popped right back up from hard hits by Bush and Norwood. His rebound from a concussion suffered in Week 4 was the biggest story of the Miami Dolphins' 16-10 win over the Steelers. The defense carried the win, with two interceptions in the final minutes, but Tagovailoa was the big story.
Tagovailoa played fairly well in his return, though there were signs of rust. He was sharp early on, getting the ball out quick and orchestrating the Dolphins' offense. The second half was a struggle, as the Steelers defense dug in. His night would have turned out much worse had it not been for multiple dropped interceptions by Pittsburgh.
For many, it was simply good to see Tagovailoa back. It was especially good for Dolphins fans to see him lead a win and get the team back on track after a three-game losing streak.
Dolphins start hot then stall
The way the Dolphins started the game, it seemed like they could score at will on the Steelers defense.
Miami got a touchdown and two field goals on its first three possessions. After a punt, it picked up another field goal. The Dolphins would have rather had touchdowns instead of settling for field goals, but the offense was moving. They led 16-10 at half. Tagovailoa played well in the first half.
Then Miami's offense stalled. The Dolphins could have tried a field goal to take a nine-point lead early in the third quarter, but went for it on fourth down. Dolphins running back Chase Edmonds was stopped short of the first down and the Steelers took over on downs. That fourth-down decision led to yet another debate about analytics, and late in the game the Dolphins would regret not taking those three points.
The Dolphins defense had to carry the team while the offense was stuck. They didn't allow much to Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. The first five Steelers possessions of the second half ended in punts. Three of those possessions were three-and-out.
Miami couldn't put the game away. The Steelers couldn't take advantage, but kept getting chances deep into the fourth quarter.
Steelers had chances
The Steelers kept getting chances to win the game because the Dolphins weren't moving it. Pittsburgh came into the game with a 2-4 record but they have battled hard most of the season. Mike Tomlin's team played hard on defense, didn't let Miami pull too far ahead and then hoped to make a play or two to steal a win at the end.
Finally the Steelers put together a drive into Dolphins territory in the fourth quarter, still trailing 16-10. They got inside the 20-yard line in the final four minutes. But an illegal shift penalty on third-and-one pushed them back five yards. A holding call cost them another 10 yards. Then Dolphins safety Jevon Holland stepped in front of Pickett's pass on third-and-16 and got a huge interception.
The Steelers got it back after that, taking over at their own 13 with 2:31 to go. Pickett, Pittsburgh's first-round pick this year, had a shot at redemption and his first huge moment as a pro.
The Steelers got into Dolphins territory on a nice fourth-and-four pass by Pickett to Pat Freiermuth. Less than a minute remained. But Noah Igbinoghene picked off Pickett in the end zone, getting both feet down to close out the game. Pickett is a rookie and he'll learn from his mistakes.
The Dolphins are 4-3 and it feels like their season can get back on track. They'll have more confidence with Tagovailoa back.