Next statement must come from NFL

November 11, 2012

This was system failure, maybe system overload for the NFL. You get a big game like Sunday night, Houston at Chicago, and hope to see statements made, questions answered.

We got statements, all right. When Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins cheap-shotted Jay Cutler — in the officials’ opinion — by going helmet-to-helmet after Cutler had thrown a pass, Dobbins was allowed to stay in the game. That was a statement about NFL rules.

It should be an automatic ejection.

Cutler stayed in the game, too, and then got hit in the head again on the next play. He stayed in for six plays after that, too, before sitting out the second half with a concussion. That was a statement, too. Did the Bears think about taking him out after the first hit? Cutler reportedly has suffered six concussions in his career.


“Didn’t have any symptoms, no,’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “There were a lot of hard hits out there today. You can’t start taking guys out for that. When they’re injured, then we take them out.’’

You can’t start taking guys out of the game after they take a hard hit to the head. Statement.

The system isn’t protecting these guys well enough. To some extent, it just isn’t possible. But Sunday was a terrible day for Roger Goodell and the NFL image. Michael Vick was knocked out of his game with a concussion, and Alex Smith was knocked out of his with one, too.

The Bears also lost defensive end Shea McClellin to a concussion, but no one will even notice that. When stars are knocked out, people notice. And next week, Monday Night Football is supposed to have Cutler vs. Smith. Imagine the statement if neither quarterback of Super Bowl-contending teams can play because of concussions.

Look, I get sick of hearing about concussions, too. There is not a lot new to add to the discussion: The game is rough. The brain is vulnerable. Former players can’t go for a walk because they can’t find their way home. Kids are getting concussions, too, while parents dream of their son becoming a star. (That’s the sickest part, actually.)

But Sunday’s Bears-Texans game was just such a study in how concussions are played in a gray area. And Goodell is going to have to act again somehow, like before next Monday.

It was the second quarter Sunday, when Dobbins hit Cutler. On the same play, Cutler was penalized for crossing the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball. Once he crosses the line, isn’t he somewhat fair game, treated as a running back? On the other hand, when Cutler let go of the ball, Dobbins was 4 yards away. He didn’t lower his head till after Cutler threw.

“No,’’ said Dobbins, who says he doesn’t think he should be fined for the hit. “I felt like it was on time.’’

Do you think your hit was what gave Cutler the concussion?

“I have no idea,’’ he said. “No clue. But it was good that he was out, though. You always want to take the quarterback out of the game.’’

Think about that: Dobbins was just asked about Cutler’s concussion, a brain injury that has become a defining issue for football. And his response was that he was glad Cutler had been knocked out of the game.

Dobbins said that he normally would have tried to hit Cutler in the hip, knocking out his legs. But because Cutler was trying to throw, he aimed higher to disrupt the play. He said he hit Cutler in the chest, and was nowhere near the head. Replays show otherwise.

After the play, the game was stopped while the replay official decided whether Cutler had actually crossed the line before throwing. Cutler went over to the sideline. There was plenty of time to start asking him questions, gauge where his brain was.

Cutler ran the ball on the next play, and didn’t slide before getting hit in the head again.

“He should slide when he should slide,’’ Smith said. “That’s about it. We don’t want him taking any extra shots. That’s part of it.’’

Cutler would end the drive with an interception, and it’s hard to say if that was just a bad throw or a confused one.

But Smith was insistent that Cutler didn’t show any symptoms until halftime.

“He took some shots,’’ Smith said. “It (a concussion) could happen any time. We just know that at that half, that’s when he did have some symptoms.’’

What symptoms?

“Whatever the symptoms are for a concussion,’’ Smith said. “I mean, I wasn’t in there. I’m going to let the doctors handle that. I try not to be Dr. Smith very often.’’

I’m not saying that the Bears chose to play Cutler while knowing that he had a concussion. They clearly didn’t, as they took him out in a close game at halftime. But it just seems that there should have been so much more caution shown, from Smith and from the league. If officials rule that a player cheap-shotted another one in the head, then he should be kicked out.

Without Cutler in the second half, it was hard to draw football conclusions from the game. It had rained all day in Chicago, too, and the field was slop. Houston won 13-6. And maybe it proved that a dome team can win in the elements against a good team on the road.

The Bears have beaten up on an incredibly soft schedule all year. But the defense held up against a good team in the second half.

That’s about it. The next statement needs to come from Goodell.