When Houston’s quarterback returned to the field only minutes after a big hit left him twitching, it showed the NFL doesn’t care about getting concussions right
The lasting image of the 14th week of this NFL season won’t be the Bills and Colts romping in the snow or Cam Newton roaring through Minnesota’s secondary or Dak Prescott heaving touchdown passes over the New York Giants. The lasting image of a week that should be all about playoff runs is instead Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage lying on the turf, his head having been smashed to the ground, staring blankly in the air with his fingers twitching uncontrollably.
This should have been a sign that something neurologically was wrong with Savage, that he should have been whisked far from the field. And yet the Texans medical staff apparently let him back on following a cursory exam that took less than three minutes. It took two incomplete passes for someone on the Houston sideline to realize something wasn’t right and Savage was pulled from the game and taken under the stands for a more extensive evaluation. He did not come back.
What’s clear is the NFL’s procedure for handling concussions is not working. Asking team doctors to diagnose concussions in quick exams held in tents behind the bench is probably not the best way to decide if a player is healthy enough to remain in a game. It pits the eternal dilemma of a team’s lust for winning against a player’s safety and is the same kind of shoddy medicine that has gotten the NFL into a head trauma mess to begin with.
This is the third time this season that a quarterback has been taken into the tent with what seems an obvious had injury only to be sent back to the field after exams that seemed barely longer than an eye blink. Last month, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson dashed through a tent exam before quickly returned following a brutal hit to his chin and Indianapolis’s Jacoby Brissett returned to a game against Pittsburgh after wobbling to the sideline following a hit.
Savage’s return brought a swift reaction from Chris Nowinski, the founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Disgusted that the @HoustonTexans allowed Tom Savage to return to the game after 2 plays after showing these horrifying #concussion signs (is that a seizure?) after a head impact. I would not let my worst enemy go through the 2017 #NFL sideline concussion protocol... https://t.co/PeJr5ISAIJ— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) December 10, 2017
While most fans may not know of Nowinski he is one of the most important voices on football concussions around. A former football player at Harvard and a professional wrestler whose career was cut short because of concussions, he worked closely with Dr Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh pathologist who identified the link between head trauma in football and the degenerative brain condition, CTE. In fact, it was Nowinski who helped Omalu procure the brains of recently-deceased former players, speeding the movement to get the NFL to recognize CTE as a significant problem.
The final line of Nowinski’s text – “I would not let my worst enemy go through the 2017 NFL concussion protocol” – must sting. But his words have merit. Despite the glaring attention paid to repeated blows to the head in football games and long-term brain disease, the league is still not showing a desire to get things right.
It may be unfair to blame the team doctors who are nonetheless conflicted because of their arrangements with the teams. Since the doctors are on the sideline at games they don’t see the same replays we do on TV. They might not see Brissett go limp for a moment after being hit or see Savage’s twitching hands. But there needs to be better communication between them and those who do see these things. There needs to be more emphasis placed on keeping players from going back in games when it is clear those players should be heading to the locker room.
Football is a violent game. Those who make it their life’s pursuit know this. Anyone who signs an NFL contract today knows the risks. The information is out there. And yet at some point the bravado becomes foolish. Something has to be done to make sure the next Tom Savage does not go back into a game.
By the way, the Texans lost 26-17 to San Francisco on Sunday.
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 334 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco’s victory. It’s probably the last thing most people will remember from the day.
Fantasy player of the week
Carson Wentz. It seems especially cruel to reward the Eagles’ star quarterback on the day his season ended. But before Wentz presumably tore his ACL trying to dive into the end zone late in Philadelphia’s 43-35 win over the Rams, he was having yet another magnificent day. In what’s almost positively his final 2017 game, he threw for 291 yards and four touchdowns against just one early interception.
This should have been another game that helped him to the league’s MVP award ... until he was hit awkwardly as he tried to dive into the end zone for a third-quarter score. The play was called back for holding as he limped to the huddle. He did throw a touchdown four plays later but the damage had been done. He came out after that score and never returned. The Eagles did continue behind his replacement, Nick Foles, scoring on two field goals and a late touchdown to win the game and the NFC East.
Stat of the week
Fourteen straight, one of last 15, two of last 17, three of last 24. These are the marks of Cleveland Browns’ futility going back to early in the 2015 season. It’s as wretched a run as the NFL has seen in some time. Sunday seemed especially painful for Cleveland fans. For much of the day, the Browns were beating the hated Green Bay Packers and while the Packers were playing one last week without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they were still the Green Bay Packers and these were still the Cleveland Browns. They led by two touchdowns heading into the fourth quarter.
But then disaster struck as it always strikes Cleveland. Green Bay scored two touchdowns to tie the game and another in overtime to give the Packers a 27-21 victory and prolong the agony of the Browns, who are 0-13 this year and have lost 14 straight going back to last season. Thus ended a long week in which general manager Sashi Brown was replaced by former Kanas City general manager John Dorsey, presumably ending the team’s experiment with advanced metrics as a primary player-evaluation tool. Though given the way the Browns have played in recent years, none of their many approaches seem to have worked.
Video of the week
Who doesn’t love a football game in the snow? Early Sunday afternoon the matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts was not much to be excited about. But then the wind blew, the snow fell and everything was magnificent. The snow came down so hard before the game that fans in the stands could barely see the field let alone the scoreboard, which was just a distant glow in the fog.
Once the game began, players trudged through drifts that went high over their ankles. Dives to the turf were really plunges into snow. Groundskeepers had little hope of cleaning the snow off the field and simply tried to shovel lines every five yards to give some semblance of a field. And since everyone was having so much fun the Bills and Colts went to overtime – to almost the end of overtime, in fact – before the Bills pulled of a 13-7 victory on a 21-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy with 1:33 left in the extra frame.
Surprisingly, the teams actually combined for more than 500 yards of offense and Buffalo’s late victory also proved significant. Though the game seemed like something of a toss-up given the conditions, the Bills victory makes them 7-6 and keeps them in the running for a wild-card spot.
Quote of the week
“We really should have blown them out if we are being real about it.” – Jacksonville corner back Jalen Ramsey on the Jaguars’ 30-24 victory over Seattle
Jacksonville are definitely for real, if no one had understood that before this weekend. The Jags are now 9-4 and in first place by themselves in the AFC South after beating up the Seahawks. For most of the afternoon it was a fierce beating of a Seattle team that seemed to be coming together for a big playoff run. The Jaguars’ aggressive defense intercepted Wilson three times and built up a 27-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Two Wilson touchdown throws made the score closer, but the Seahawks couldn’t come up with one last scoring drive.
And they didn’t seem happy about it. At game’s end, as the Jags went into victory formation, Seattle’s defensive star Michael Bennett plunged at the knees of Jacksonville center Brandon Linder, which set off a huge fight that led to the ejection of two Seahawks. It was an ugly moment for Seattle but it was an ugly game overall for the Seahawks, who fell to 8-5. Ramsey was right: it should have been a blowout.
Elsewhere around the league
• Eli Manning regained his starting quarterback job with the Giants but he didn’t make New York much better in a 30-10 defeat to Dallas, who relied on three touchdown passes from Dak Prescott to improve to 7-6.
• Matt Stafford threw for 381 yards and led Detroit to a late touchdown to keep the Lions’ playoff hopes alive with a 24-21 victory over Tampa Bay.
• The Carolina Panthers are quietly 9-4 with a huge 31-24 victory over the NFC’s top team, Minnesota. Jonathan Stewart ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns while Newton broke of a 62-yard run late in the game to set up the winning score.
• Philip Rivers threw two touchdown passes as the Chargers beat a fading Washington team, 30-13.