Melissa’s Monday Musings Week 14: The Good, The Bad and The Concussed

In many ways Week 14 was the most enthralling slate of action this season. Saints-Falcons, Vikings-Panthers, Rams-Eagles and Ravens-Steelers all felt like playoff games. It was also one of the most disturbing weeks, which for the modern day NFL is saying a lot…

When Ryan Shazier laid motionless on the field last Monday night, the realities of football dramatically illustrated in Shazier’s teary-eyed teammates forming a prayer circle, it only reinforced that I don’t want my kids playing any football other than flag. The reminders that football is brutal and not designed for normal human bodies seem to be coming fast and furious this season. This week saw the magical MVP run of Carson Wentz probably cut short when a dive toward the end zone likely torn his ACL. While Wentz’s injury is far less severe than Shazier’s they both highlight the inherent danger of the sport. How any play can be your last for a season. Or a lifetime. How in the NFL it too often is.

When Tom Savage laid on the ground with seizure-like tremors after a blow to the head on Sunday, my older son was spooked to the point that I doubt he’ll be asking me to play any kind of football. I was spooked. We all were because Savage’s concussion exposed yet another mistake in the NFL’s deeply flawed “concussion protocol.” Savage was stunningly allowed to play another series before his nose started to bleed and he was finally pulled from the game.

How the hell does this sheer negligence happen with a ref standing over Savage? On last week’s podcast, my very timely guest, ESPN Injury Analyst Stephania Bell, examined some of the pitfalls of the concussion protocol, including human error (Perhaps the ref didn’t see Savage shaking.) and failure of players to report (Savage wasn’t exactly waving a flag. How’s that Russell Wilson investigation going, by the way?).

Between lawsuits, highly publicized cases of CTE and the film Concussion, the public has a more heightened awareness of brain injuries. Five years ago networks wouldn’t necessarily show close ups of every helmet-to-helmet collision to survey the after effects. The attention on concussions and efforts to get concussed players off the field are a positive, even if they are reactions to lawsuits and public outcry. But the current version of concussion protocol is not only not good enough, it’s dangerous.  There are too many layers of severe error, starting with the players who know they are only valuable if on the field. Savage is just the latest example.

There is no magical solution. As Bell said on the pod, in many ways concussion awareness is ahead of the medicine. But until a magic helmet transmitter that can detect concussions through brain waves is developed, the NFL has to do a better job investigating the breakdown in its protocol. While the league is figuring out the culprit, the rest of us will keep ingesting disturbing information like this one: 110 of 111 NFL players were found to have CTE.

The Good

– The Steelers pulled out a stunning 39-38 win Sunday night over their division rival to set up an epic battle against the Patriots next week for the no. 1 overall seed. Ryan Shazier’s absence was felt both emotionally and physically. The top ten Steelers defensive front was sluggish, missing tackles and allowing the Ravens running game to come to life. A breezy third quarter 18-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins doesn’t happen with Shazier in there. At least not so easily. Luckily for Mike Tomlin and company, the Killer B’s are having a historical run. Ben Roethlsiberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown lead the league statistically at their respective positions, and the offense has scored at least 30 points in 3-of-the-last-4 games.  With Wentz out, I’d love to see Brown get more buzz for MVP. He has been absolutely impossible to cover on all aspects of the field this season.

– Jimmy Garoppolo, with his ability to read a field and arm strength, is getting most of the credit for San Francisco’s back-to-back wins. Garoppolo has certainly been spectacular, and the 49ers are in the luxurious position of crossing franchise quarterback off its list. Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling has been equally spectacular all season. His playbook is both shrewd and complex with a healthy combinations of misdirection plays, screens and deep balls. San Francisco finally has the quarterback who can execute it. Wait until they get some receivers.

– Cam Newton’s stat line in a 31-24 win over Minnesota was not exactly mind boggling (137 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). But he orchestrated two plays that reminded us why he’s so special and should be higher up on quarterback lists. One was an 18-yard touchdown throw to Devin Funchess in the third-quarter that required so much patience and precision. The other was a late fourth quarter 62-yard read option that showcased Newton’s physicality and elusiveness.

– Jalen Ramsey’s stellar season continued Sunday against Seattle. On one particularly brilliant play in the 2nd quarter, Ramsey perfectly tracked a Russell Wilson deep ball to Doug Baldwin for an interception. I’m starting to wonder if  Ramsey has a third eye.

The Bad

– Everything was terrible about ejected Seahawk DE Quinton Jefferson’s attempt to enter the stands after a Jags fan hurled food and other items at him. Both deserve loads of blame but the fans were the instigators, booing and taunting Jefferson as he was entering the tunnel. The food hurling should result in banishment from EverBank Field, and the Jags should hire a few new security guards. What an ugly look for everyone involved.

– Don’t want to write too much about Wentz’s injury since the MRI results are still upcoming. But the dejection in Philadelphia and the league as a whole is eerily reminiscent of Derek Carr’s Christmas Eve nightmare last season. Like Carr last season, Wentz is the NFL’s most exciting young quarterback and his loss means Lombardi is off the table. Nick Foles is certainly a step up from Connor Cook (who took over for Carr) and the Eagles defense has been stout but without Wentz the Eagles must drastically lower their expectations, especially in the stacked NFC .

– Speaking of Carr, the Raiders’ offense only mustered 281 total yards against the Chiefs’ 30th ranked defense. Because this game was hardly an anomaly, the Raiders need to start considering changes.

– The Browns. Need I say more?

– After the Bengals got smoked by Chicago 33-7, Marvin Lewis said, “I think the effort, you know, I don’t say there’s anything wrong with the effort,” he said. “Our ability to complete the task, we didn’t get done.” Nothing wrong with the effort? Seriously? Did Lewis not watch the game?

The Bizarre

– Fox analyst Mark Shlereth, who on the SF-Hou game asked new 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo about what he learned from Tom Brady. “Quarterback is not a position, it’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle,” Garoppolo said

OMG, TB12 is a pyramid scheme!

– This halftime act during the Jets-Broncos game is mesmerizing. I can’t look away!