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What went wrong for the Texans and Tom Savage?

By Jacob Feldman
December 11, 2017

How was Tom Savage allowed to return to the field so soon after suffering a concussion Sunday against the 49ers? The NFL announced Monday it had launched an investigation to answer that question, and to see if the established procedure for evaluating players during a game could be strengthened. Which raises an additional question: What exactly is that process again?

When a player receives impact to the head, he, a teammate, coach, NFL official, trainer, spotter, or independent neurological expert can remove him from play to conduct a sideline exam. From there, the player is either returned to play, sent to the locker room for further testing, or immediately placed in the concussion protocol, depending on the assessment by the head team trainer (who is assisted by an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant). It's up to them—not any coaches—to determine whether a player is fit to play. They can use just about any evidence in making their ruling, including a player's speech pattern, his gait, his eye movement, his response to a set series of questions and—notably in this case—video review of the hit in question. 

Video of Savage squirming after hitting the ground (diagnosed as a seizure by uneducated armchair neurologists, but more likely an instance of fencing response, an instinctual reaction to head trauma) was the main fuel for outrage on Sunday. Why didn't it prevent medical personnel from allowing Savage to re-enter the game and play three more downs? Two trained spotters in the booth have access to the TV feed, as does the sideline medical staff (though replays can't be viewed by coaches, for competitive strategy purposes). However, Texans coach Bill O'Brien intimated that head Houston trainer Geoff Kaplan had not seen the hit and Savage's reaction before making his diagnosis; O'Brien said Monday, "With benefit of seeing the video . . . I would have never let that player back in the game and I don't believe that Geoff Kaplan would have allowed that player back in the game." So maybe that's where the process broke down in this case. Hopefully the league investigation provides answers.

The way to avoid that type of mistake could be to flip the testing paradigm around. Rather than having players re-enter the game unless they show obvious signs of concussion, doctors could keep them out until they are sure the player is healthy (maybe for a minimum of a quarter), allowing time for further evaluation of the player as well as the play that forced the testing. But teams and players will have to decide whether they can live with key players potentially staying on the sideline before it is revealed that they were not, in fact, concussed. 

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NOW ON THE MMQB: Conor Orr stacks up the NFC playoff race post-Wentz ... Andy Benoit studies the Steelers without Ryan Shazier ... Peter King hands out awards ... and more

LATER TODAY ON THE MMQB: Our new Power Rankings poll ... Greg Bishop shows how painful an NFL Sunday is ... Jenny Vrentas recaps a week with the Eagles ... and more. Stay tuned.


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1. Dolphins 27, Patriots 20. With Rob Gronkowski suspended, the Dolphins held the visiting Patriots from converting a single third down (0-for-11). At 6-7, Miami is still in the wild-card hunt, while New England now heads to Pittsburgh, trailing the Steelers in the race for the conference's top seed.

2. Carson Wentz had a message for fans after having his season ended by a torn ACL. “I promise,” he said on Twitter. “This will not stop me and I will come back stronger than ever.” Stacey Burling explains what's in store for Wentz now. 

3. During his first media availability since suffering a severe leg injury against the Saints, Bears tight end Zach Miller said he's undergone eight surgeries on that leg now. He bent it for the first time last Friday . . . painfully. He's not sure if he'll ever play football again; for now he's killing time playing Madden.

4. The Seahawks may have avoided suspensions for their actions at the end of Sunday's game, but that doesn't mean Pete Carroll is happy about them. “Everybody is remorseful,’’ Carroll said Monday. “We don’t want to play like that. We don’t want to look like that, ever.’’

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5. With Wentz out of the picture, the Vikings suddenly have a clearer path to the Super Bowl. But will offensive line instability, which doomed them after a 5-0 start a year ago, cost them again?

6. The Lions are in a weird spot. At 7-6 with the Bears and Bengals next on the schedule, they're still alive in the playoff hunt. At the same time, Jim Caldwell seems to be coaching for his job. Despite that, he deflected credit for Detroit's resiliency of late.

7. In Esquire, Richard Sherman gave a wide-ranging interview. On the topic of head injuries, he said, "the league hasn’t done much outside of appeasing public opinion." And that was just the second question.

8. Ben McAdoo may be gone, but the chaos continues in East Rutherford. The latest scandal is Eli Apple tweeting (including retweeting a Cowboys highlight) during Sunday's loss. Want the Giants' 2017 in a sentence? "Spagnuolo said he was not aware of the content of the tweets."

9. Big news for non-Verizon customers: you could be able to watch local and national NFL games on your phone as soon as January.

10. Meet the Austin Yellow Jackets, Texas's Only Female Football Team Coached Solely by Women.

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A week after Eli Manning was benched, another historic streak came to an end.

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