When Wes Welker(notes) went down with a knee injury in Houston on Sunday, one commentator was quick to point out that the injury occurred on natural grass, as if to quickly exonerate the playing surface.
According to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, though, the playing surface in Reliant Stadium was a big factor in Welker's injury. Speaking on radio station WEEI (via the Boston Globe), Belichick blasted the "natural" surface at Reliant.
"The turf down there is terrible," Belichick said. "It’s terrible. It’s just inconsistent. It’s all the little trays of grass, and some of them are soft and some of them are firm and they don’t all fit well together, those seams. Some of it feels like a sponge, some of it feels real firm and hard. One step you’re on one, the other step you’re on another. I really think it’s one of the worst fields I’ve seen. [...]
"I think the worst thing for a player is when it’s inconsistent," he said. "When you take one step and you get one feel and then the next step is a different feel, or like you have some of the old Astro Turf fields, all the seams where the zippers would come up and the turf would start to turn over and you’d trip over it or it would give, you think you’re going to plant and it’s going to hold and then it gives, that’s a problem. Or you think it’s going to give and it doesn’t, and then it grabs. And that’s where a lot of non-contact injuries occur. Like, for example, the one we had on Sunday, which was a non-contact injury."
I have no idea if he's right, as I have not had the opportunity to examine the sod in Reliant Stadium. The Globe did quote a couple of Patriots players who said that the grass was a little damp, but otherwise fine.
So I don't know if Belichick is right here, or he's just being whiny. We won't know for sure until he produces all of his secretly-videotaped footage of the Reliant Stadium grounds crew.
His bigger point, though, about the league needing to maintain safe and even playing surfaces is dead-on. This year has been a non-stop parade of season-ending injuries, producing the kind of human destruction not seen since "300". The league owes it to the players to do whatever they can to protect their health and that includes monitoring the quality of grass and turf around the league.
As long as Goodell is pushing for an 18-game regular season, though, I'll find it a little difficult to believe that player safety is one of his bigger concerns.