On Monday, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn missed his second consecutive game as he recovers from a concussion. On Sunday, one-fourth of the games featured a starting quarterback who was knocked out of action with a concussion. At least nine other players suffered similar head injuries in Week 10 (making it a typical NFL week), but they’re virtually an afterthought.
Quarterbacks get the most money, publicity and protection, topped with outsized portions of credit and blame. They’re often the face of their franchise and marquee attractions in the league. So their absences are much more noticeable than, say, Raiders tight end Brandon Myers, who Sunday suffered his second concussion this season.
There’s no need to change the billing for Oakland’s upcoming game versus New Orleans. But Sunday’s game at FedEx Field is no longer a showdown between Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, just as the Monday night game might not be able to market Chicago’s Jay Cutler against San Francisco’s Alex Smith.
Because of a trio of head-ringing collisions, it’s now RG3 versus less-scintillating fellow rookie Nick Foles and perhaps journeyman Jason Campbell against the obscure Colin Kaepernick. The anticipation for those alternate matchups, particularly in the eyes of TV executives, has taken a hit similar to the blows that sidelined Vick, Cutler and Smith.
The slew of injured signal-callers brings to mind the NFL commercial in which a woman says her little boy loves to play football. She asks New England quarterback Tom Brady what the league has done to make the game safer. “We’re doing a lot,” he says.
He points to a league executive-type who cites “new rules to better protect our players.” Someone in a white lab coat chimes in next, mentioning that the NFL and players’ union are dedicating “more than $100 million for medical research, as well as supporting the development of better and safer equipment.”
Unfortunately, no rule change — aside from a switch to two-hand touch — would have stopped Cutler from being knocked silly by Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins. Helmet-to-helmet hits are outlawed, but words on paper are no match for the split-second physics of speed, mass and changing angles when two bodies collide.
Smith apparently was injured when he failed to slide before St. Louis linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar whacked him. In Vick’s case, the ground can’t cause a fumble but it can cause a (brain) scramble. That’s apparently what happened when Vick’s head struck the surface on back-to-back plays against Dallas.
As painful as it might have been, Brady should have conceded to the woman that the NFL can only do so much — though some would argue “not much” is a more accurate reply.
The aforementioned rule changes can help players after the fact, with new and improved concussion protocols for returning to action during a game or in subsequent weeks. But the moment of truth, when padded bodies slam into one another or crash to the ground, remains as dangerous as ever. And the damage always isn’t evident right away.
Smith had blurred vision when he threw a touchdown pass 12 plays after Dunbar’s hit. Kaepernick took over on the next series and finished the game. Cutler took seven additional snaps before intermission, including one play in which he ran the ball and was popped again. Campbell played the entire second half.
The NFL said all three teams handled their situations properly and followed the correct procedure, while highlighting the players’ responsibility to self-report, too. Still, Cutler clearly was “shaken up” and “foggy” during a lengthy replay review after Dobbins hammered him. The fact that he was allowed to continue playing shows that the NFL still has work to do on its process, which is supposed to include independent specialists not beholden to individual teams.
The Cleveland Browns were pilloried last season for allowing quarterback Colt McCoy to return in a game against Pittsburgh after suffering an obvious concussion. The Bears were cleared of wrongdoing in Cutler’s case, but they erred on the side of negligence, not caution.
Quarterbacks have their set of rules intended to protect them, not solely because they’re so vulnerable in the pocket, but also because they’re so valuable in TV ratings and crucial to a team’s success.
It might be time to create a set of enhanced concussion rules for quarterbacks, removing them from action (at least temporarily) sooner rather than later after significant blows.
If they’re truly special, mandate a series or two on the sideline for a thorough evaluation before they’re allowed to return. That actually would make them more like players at other positions, routinely subbed in and out during games.