Despite their win against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon, not everything went swimmingly for the Kansas City Chiefs. One moment, in particular, stood out from the entire game.
With 6:40 left in the first half, Kansas City was faced with a third-and-four from their own 43-yard line. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes dropped back and opted to try connecting with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but the veteran wideout ended up getting hit hard by Jaguars safety Andre Cisco and the pass fell incomplete. Smith-Schuster remained on the ground for several moments before exiting the game and eventually being ruled out with a concussion, but the flag the officials originally threw was picked up. Here was referee Brad Rogers's explanation:
No penalty for an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver was called on Cisco despite the contact, and Kansas City's home crowd clearly didn't agree with the decision. Head coach Andy Reid also disagreed, and he said he was told about the alleged "shoulder-to-shoulder" contact rather than a helmet-to-helmet hit at the time. After the game, he expressed his disappointment with the no-call.
"It's not good," Reid said. "It's not a good feeling at all. That's what I tried to explain to the officials there — guys don't get hit in the shoulder and then lay around like that out there. There's more to it, something to the head was involved. That's what the rules are put in for, for that type of thing."
According to NFL rules, one example of a player in a defenseless posture is a "receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner." Definition 2 continues to state, "If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player." Prohibited contact against players in a defenseless posture is as follows:
1. Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, even if the initial contact is lower than the player’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him
2. Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the crown or ”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body
3. Illegally launching into a defenseless opponent. It is an illegal launch if a player (i) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (ii) uses any part of his helmet to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body. (This does not apply to contact against a runner, unless the runner is still considered to be a defenseless player, as defined in Article 7.)
On Sunday afternoon, after the game, wide receiver Kadarius Toney admitted that seeing Smith-Schuster in something resembling a fencing position on the field made him angry. Mahomes, while acknowledging that officiating in those situations is a tough job, emphasized that turning those plays into penalties and eliminating helmet-to-helmet contact is an important part of player safety.
"It's so hard in this league," Mahomes said. "These guys on defense are playing, too. They're trying their best to stop us. But by the rules, if it's helmet-to-helmet, it's supposed to be a flag. I know that guy wasn't trying to and I know it's a bang-bang call that doesn't always go your way, but you want to do your best to try and get that stuff out of the league so that we can have those guys out there and playing safe."
Following the hit from Cisco, Smith-Schuster now has to work his way back into the fold by passing a series of evaluations. The league's return to participation protocol indicates that he has to clear five phases of rehab before returning to game action, and turnaround timetables are never easy to predict due to the nature of how no two concussions are the exact same among players. Mahomes's early comments are positive, however, which deescalates the severity of the situation a bit as the Chiefs and Smith-Schuster work to get him back on the field.
"I've talked to him," Mahomes said. "Obviously, it was scary when you're out there but when we saw him after the game, he seemed perfectly normal. He'll, I'm sure — I don't want to say anything about the injury — he'll have to do something to try to get himself back available for us, which is the right thing to do. But he seemed like he was his normal self giggling around, jumping around and stuff like that. Let's just take precaution and get him back healthy as fast as possible."