While you’re waiting for a big Monday night…
• Week 4 of 2022 will forever be remembered for what happened in its first game, and how Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion impacts the NFL going forward. And if you need proof that it’s a very real flashpoint in the league’s sticky concussion history, there are three tangible things I can point to that illustrate it.
First, as far as I can tell, there was only one player who was evaluated in-game for a head injury on Sunday—Chiefs saftey Justin Reid—who wound up reentering a game. There was also some delay in catching Bucs tight end Cameron Brate’s head injury, but once he was pulled from the game, he didn’t go back in. And it sure doesn’t seem like a coincidence that, three days after the Tagovailoa incident, teams across the NFL would err on the side of caution.
Second, very real change is already taking place, with significant shifts coming to the concussion protocol. The most noticeable one will be the removal of qualifiers from the handling of gross motor instability as a symptom—before, only if gross motor instability was linked to a head injury would a team be required to sit a player; now, all gross motor instability will qualify (meaning, for example, Julian Edelman probably would’ve have been pulled from Super Bowl XLIX). These changes will likely be enacted in the coming days.
Third, my understanding is there was a good amount of communication over the weekend between the league and its designated unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants, who are charged with running the protocol at game sites. Which means where the one who worked the Bills/Dolphins game was let go, the NFL is trying to be more involved with the rest.
So if there’s a silver lining here, it’s that this has forced the NFL to tighten the screws, again, on its concussion policy. Which won’t be a bad thing, as I see it, for anyone.
• Zach Wilson’s play in the fourth quarter is good reason for the Jets to feel encouraged about his progress. And there was really nothing spectacular about the way he played—it was more his ability to trust the offense, the people around him, make the routine play, and learn in-game that put the 23-year-old in position to lead an 11-play, 81-yard drive, then a 10-play, 65-yard drive to turn a 20–10 deficit into a 24–20 win over the Steelers for New York.
We’ve got, as Robert Saleh would say, receipts on it, too.
The first one comes in how Wilson banked information over the course of the afternoon in Pittsburgh. On the Jets’ final offensive snap of the third quarter, a third-and-10, Wilson passed up a deep crosser to Garrett Wilson, because he saw safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as a lurker, playing the middle of the field. What he realized, though, in the aftermath, was Fitzpatrick was spying on him, not playing his receiver. So three snaps later, on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter, Zach Wilson saw a similar look, ID’d Fitzpatrick as watching him and not Garrett Wilson, waited for Garrett to clear behind him, then hit him for a 35 -yard gain.
Four plays after that, Zach Wilson saw that as a result of the big play to Garrett Wilson, Fitzpatrick was cheating over to him, and ripped one into the space it created for Corey Davis to set up a 22-yard gain to convert fourth- and-7. Four plays later, the Jets scored.
And then, on the next drive, the game-winner, Wilson made a big play by doing something small—standing in the pocket, keeping his eyes in the right spot, and trusting that his fundamentals would follow from there. On this one, a first-and-20, it took him to a checkdown to running back Michael Carter. He put the ball right on Carter, so the back could chew up 11 yards and give the Jets a much more manageable down and distance to work with. (Earlier in the game, Wilson actually overcomplicated such a play by trying to look off a defender, and missed Breece Hall on an easy swing pass).
In the end, these are small pieces of progress. But really, that’s been the theme of Wilson’s offseason. The coaches have wanted to simplify the game for him, get him worrying about fewer things out there. And that it’s manifesting in his play his first time out in 2022 would qualify as awfully good sign.
• The JJ Watt situation was interesting, and his postgame presser was about as raw as you’ll see an athlete in a situation like this. The good news? Well, my understanding is the cardioversion that Watt underwent to treat his irregular heartbeat is a routine procedure that, while scary on paper, doesn’t take long, or take people out of commission.
That said, any irregularity with your heart is scary, and clearly this one was for Watt.
Really, the story started for him on Wednesday, when he didn’t feel great coming out of practice, complaining of dizziness. So he went to the team doctor, who sent him to meet with cardiologists on Thursday, who determined the cardioversion was the best course of action. This is routinely an outpatient procedure and, as such, the team was able to clear him in time for practice on Friday (he missed practice with a listed “illness” on Thursday).
And for all Watt went through, all’s well that ends well on something like this. He should be fine from here on out.
• I’ve talked with Brian Daboll a few times now about his Giants, and it’s been hard not for me to notice how much he seems to like his team—which has nothing to do with its record, even if that group is 3– 1. So I asked him about that last night.
“I do,” Daboll said. “I think they’re a bunch of selfless guys. They’re learning how we’re gonna do things here. That’s been a process since I got here. I think they know me and think they know our staff. I think we know them. We got a long way ahead of us to go, but I think we just gotta be as diligent as we can and work as hard as we can.”
I still think the Giants have a couple years of building in front of them. But there’s plenty of room to be optimistic here that the effort Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen are leading is heading in the right direction.
• While we’re there, I did mention to Daboll how sweet the Giants throwbacks were.
“Oh, they were sweet,” Daboll said, laughing.
• The news of Vikings safety Lewis Cine isn’t good—he’s already undergone one surgery on his fractured left leg, and will undergo a second in London on Tuesday (he’ll stay in the UK until the “appropriate time” comes to return , according to a team statement). And based how the injury happened, and how Cine’s left foot stuck and dragged in Tottenham’s synthetic surface, questions about artificial turf are going to come up again.
Interestingly enough, league chief medical officer Allen Sills and the NFL’s health-and-safety folks are meeting the medical personnel from every Premier League team, and the league itself, on Tuesday in London for wide-ranging discussions, which will cover everything from concussions to, yes, playing surfaces, with international soccer seen as ahead of other sports in that area.
• Maybe this is only of interest to me—There was just one Chiefs skill player who played more than 70% of the snaps on Sunday, and that was tight end Travis Kelce (81%). After that, there were 10 (!) skill guys who played between 14 and 55 snaps, which is a sign of a team that’s rotating liberally, and, as such, isn’t overly relying on anyone. That’s a departure from what felt like a two-man show (Kelce and Tyreek Hill) the last couple years.
Of course, doing things like this means there’s more on the quarterback to find the open guy and be a distributor. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence, then, that we’re seeing growth from Patrick Mahomes in those areas, which is great news, because ultimately that’ll make him a lot harder to defend.
• Four games in, and I’d think the Texans are going to be doing their homework over the next couple months on the 2023 draft quarterbacks. That doesn’t mean they’re pulling the plug on Davis Mills as their quarterback of the future. I think he’ll get the rest of the season. But with a 86.6 rating and 5/4 touchdown to interception ratio thus far, Houston, with its warchest of draft picks, has to be preparing itself to find the next guy in April, if that opportunity is there for them.
• The Javonte Williams injury is a tough one for the Broncos. Melvin Gordon’s had a weirdly catastrophic fumbling issue of late, and if Denver’s running out of backs it can trust … that’ll mean even more on Russell Wilson’s shoulders as he and Nathaniel Hackett continue to try and find the right foundation for their offense.
Thursday’s game against a desperate Colts team will be interesting.
• While we’re there, the continued issues of Matt Pryor at left tackle for Indy make you wonder when Frank Reich will go to the big Austrian, Bernhard Raimann, full-time at the position.
Also, for all the things GM Chris Ballard’s done right in building that roster up, it’s pretty wild that such an important position has lingered as such a problem over the team since Anthony Costanzo retired after the 2020 season. It is, to be fair, a tough position to fill. But the effort to address it hasn’t exactly been all out—the team took flyers on Eric Fisher and Pryor, and grabbed Raimann in the third round. So, for now, the team has be hoping the rookie develops into the answer over the course of the next months.
If not, they’re gonna have to do something about it in March or April.
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