We're doing a season-long NFL roundtable with our friends at Slate. Check back here each week as a rotating cast of football watchers discusses the weekend's key plays, coaching decisions, and traumatic brain injuries.
From: Barry Petchesky
To: Tommy Craggs, Josh Levin
Michael Vick's "neck injury" was a bit of gamesmanship, the equivalent of saying a hockey player has an "upper body injury" to avoid putting a target on a guy who might return to the game. We learn today that Michael Vick did want back in, and in the old days, he would've been allowed. But after Michele Tafoya's useless sideline report, Vick was taken to the quiet room and given the standard concussion test. Per NFL guidelines, which worked to perfection this time, he was done.
It's funny that you cite Vick's injury as "not predictable or categorizable," because my immediate take was the opposite. It was about as humdrum a hit as they come: William Moore wrapped Vick up around the waist, almost the legs, and pulled him down. It was a textbook open-field tackle, the kind defensive coordinators ought to preach given Vick's propensity to run. Dunta Robinson's hit belongs on the late, lamented Jacked Up!, but Moore's was just boring and inevitable.
To dissect this concussion is to dissect the preceding 40-plus minutes, and the tired legs that led to the sack. LeSean McCoy couldn't find the juice for a lateral move to block Moore, and Todd Herremans wouldn't have been there to break Vick's fall if he had been able to force the defensive end to the outside. The relentless casual blows are the ones that answer in the end.
So of course it'll be Dunta Robinson that gets fined. The NFL doesn't have much choice, not after he did the exact same thing to another Eagles receiver last year. It'll be heavy, maybe $100,000 (double the penalty for laying out DeSean Jackson), but he won't be suspended. If no one was suspended last year, not even Gary Brackett for mollywhomping a defenseless long snapper, Robinson won't miss time for trying to break up a catch. (UPDATE: Robinson was not suspended but was fined $40,000. He plans to appeal.) It'd be different if Maclin was concussed, since most of the league's concussion measures are for show anyway. While it's not the spectacular blows that cause the brain damage, it's not like you can fine linemen who bash each other on the head on every play. Then it wouldn't be football anymore.
Though we've been focusing on concussions here, the injury story of this year is something different. Certainly it is in Kansas City, where Jamaal Charles's torn ACL was the third torn knee ligament in three games for the Chiefs. In Week 1 it was safety Eric Berry, and the final preseason game saw tight end Tony Moeaki go down. The Giants have seen their defense decimated ACL by ACL, culminating in a grotesque comedy where Terrell Thomas and his backup tore theirs within a span of minutes.
The ACL isn't sexy, nor is its cousin to the south, the Achilles' tendon. The Times noted in preseason that an unusual number of Achilles' injuries were piling up, and posited that the lockout-shortened training camp is to blame. That's an intriguing link to me, because the pulls and tears aren't something that can be policed in-game. It seems logical that a lack of offseason workouts and an abbreviated training camp would hurt conditioning—even that of an Eagles running back trying to pick up a safety. Of course, this could just be us trying to force the narrative of the lockout into consequences that don't follow. When there's a landscape-altering event that doesn't actually force the cancellation of any games, fans and the media are anxious to see its effects in everything. Is that a mistake?
And Josh, you're absolutely right about injuries only having national significance because of fantasy. The Chiefs were going to be terrible with or without Jamaal Charles, so his injury only made headlines because everyone needed to run to check who in their league spent a first-round pick on him. Without fantasy, his lost season would have been truly irrelevant. Sorry, Eric Berry.