When Two Stars Being Removed From N.F.L. Playoff Games Counts as Progress

In a season dominated by the N.F.L.’s efforts to play a full schedule throughout a pandemic, many other health points have been overshadowed, notably concussions, a problem that has dogged the league in years previous.

The subject returned to the forefront over the weekend when two of the league’s greatest gamers — the winners of the final two Most Valuable Player Awards, no much less — have been knocked out of their divisional spherical playoff video games with concussions. The N.F.L. obtained kudos for following its personal participant security guidelines, which have been developed after years of criticism that not sufficient was being performed to stop head hits.

Yet as is so typically the case, hits to the pinnacle that weren’t penalized garnered simply as a lot as consideration. They counsel the league is much from eliminating the helmet-to-helmet hits that have led to so many concussions.

Most spectators, although, usually tend to bear in mind the situations when star gamers go away video games and don’t return, principally due to their impression on the staff’s probabilities of successful and since they’re the rationale followers watch the video games within the first place.

The first star participant knocked out of a sport got here on Saturday in Buffalo when Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson slammed his head on the turf after he was thrown to the bottom by two Bills defenders. Jackson grabbed his helmet and lay on his again as trainers rushed out to look at him. He was taken to the clubhouse for examination and didn’t return.

On Sunday, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had his neck twisted by a Cleveland Browns defender as he was dragged to the bottom. Mahomes wobbled as he stood up, and two teammates had to hold him upright till trainers may stroll him off the sphere. Mahomes, too, was taken to the clubhouse and dominated out of the sport.

While followers of the Ravens and the Chiefs would vigorously disagree, others — particularly the critics of the league who have lengthy accused it of turning a blind eye to move accidents — may think about Jackson and Mahomes’s elimination a welcome sight.

“The handling of Lamar Jackson’s and Patrick Mahomes’s concussions shows progress,” Chris Nowinski, chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, wrote on Twitter. “15 years ago: They may not miss a play. 10 years ago: Smelling salts on the bench & return. 5 years ago: 4th quarter comeback. Today: 2 top QB’s treated responsibly.”

Indeed, the N.F.L. has targeted extra on head hits in recent times. The league has strengthened guidelines in opposition to hitting quarterbacks and gamers who decrease their helmets to provoke contact. There have been 125 roughing-the-passer penalties called this season, a 40 p.c soar in comparison with 2016, based on the N.F.L. Penalties website, which tracks infractions. This season, there have been 37 fouls referred to as for unlawful use of the helmet, yet another than in 2019, the N.F.L. mentioned.

There have been 224 reported concussions last season, a decline of 4.7 p.c in comparison with 2018. The league has not but reported full concussion figures for this season, however they’re prone to decline once more as a result of there have been no preseason video games and lots of groups canceled some practices to attempt to restrict the unfold of the coronavirus.

Many concussions, although, go unreported, both as a result of medical doctors and neurologists on the sport failed to identify them or as a result of the gamers masked their signs.

Then there are the cases in which gamers smack helmets, no penalty flag is thrown, and no medical doctors intervene. That’s what occurred late within the first half of the Chiefs-Browns matchup. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a protracted move to receiver Rashard Higgins, who ran a number of strides and dived for the pylon on the objective line. Just as his outstretched arms and the ball have been about to achieve the objective line, Chiefs security Daniel Sorenson launched himself at Higgins.

Replays confirmed Sorenson lowered his helmet and crashed it into Higgins’s head. Higgins fumbled the ball out of bounds in the long run zone, a touchback, ending the Browns’ probability for a landing and giving possession to the Chiefs at their 20-yard line.

Sorenson was not penalized for main with his helmet, and the Browns have been unable to problem the play as a result of helmet-to-helmet hits should not reviewable. But the noncall, and others prefer it, didn’t escape discover by soccer insiders.

“The number of ‘player safety’ penalties not being called by @NFL officials this entire weekend is concerning & unsettling,” Scott Pioli, a former director of player personnel for the New England Patriots and an analyst for CBS and NFL Network, wrote on Twitter. “A LOT of leading with head penalties not being called on defenders AND ballcarriers all weekend. Why have we abandoned the rules for the playoffs?”

With the Chiefs advancing to the A.F.C. championship sport, Mahomes’s restoration will stay a subject of curiosity. After Sunday’s sport, Coach Andy Reid mentioned his quarterback “got hit in the back of the head and kinda knocked the wind out of him and everything else with it.” But he added that Mahomes was “doing great” and handed some checks, with out specifying what they have been.

According to N.F.L. guidelines, Mahomes should relaxation till his signs are gone and his efficiency on neurological exams returns to regular. He can then step by step improve the quantity of train and stretching. Assuming he has no setbacks, Mahomes can then resume some actions, together with energy coaching. That would result in noncontact soccer actions like throwing and working. If all these hurdles are handed, he might be cleared by an unbiased neurologist to take part within the subsequent follow or sport.

Players, although, can move these checks and never report lingering signs, like reminiscence loss or complications. “It’s tough as a player to know what to report,” Nowinski mentioned.

In the previous 5 seasons, the median variety of days it took a quarterback to return from a concussion was seven. With that in thoughts, Mahomes might be again on the sphere when the Chiefs play the Bills on Sunday.

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