The most notable play during the Oakland Raiders' 34-31 upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers caused the field and stadium to fall silent for 10 minutes. Early in the fourth quarter, and with the Steelers up, 31-21, Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer threw a pass in the end zone from the Pittsburgh 16-yard line to receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who ran a speed seam route. As Heyward-Bey closed in on the ball, he was sandwiched between two Steelers defenders -- cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Ryan Mundy.
As is frequently the case when defenders converge on a receiver who's trying to close in on the end of the route, Heyward-Bey got absolutely pancaked.
Clearly, this was a very serious situation -- Heyward-Bey lay on the ground for several minutes and had to be carted off the field. He was taken to Edens Medical Center, where he was initially diagnosed with a concussion and a possible neck injury, per the Raiders.
"He was able to talk a little bit," head coach Dennis Allen said. "He was able to move his extremities, so that was a good sign,"
Mundy will be heavily fined for this, but that's the wrong end of cause and effect, it seems to me. He didn't launch himself at Heyward-Bey, and despite what the NFL would have you believe, there is some incidental helmet-to-helmet contact that is inevitable and unavoidable in football. That's just the way it goes. Mundy's fine will be bigger because Heyward-Bey didn't jump right up and walk away, and it certainly would be better for all involved had he done so, but the effect to Heyward-Bey doesn't necessarily mean that Mundy's hit was particularly egregious or dirty.
"I didn't go in there trying to hit him with my helmet," Mundy said after the game. "Things like that happen so fast. He may have come down to the level of my helmet. I have to see the replay, I don't know."
The notable issue with the play that incensed all those already apoplectic over the quality of officiating in the wake of the NFLRA lockout is that the hit wasn't flagged. Mundy could have been penalized for two different infractions -- helmet-to-helmet contact or illegal contact to a defenseless receiver -- but it isn't as if the "real" officials always make those calls.
The good news is that Heyward-Bey seems to be OK. For his teammates and frinds, those were some very scary minutes.
"You couldn't see him," Raiders long-snapper Jon Condo said. "They had him blocked off, with the cart in the way. You got to take a knee and send a prayer out to him, pray for his safety. When he raised his arm, that relieved a lot, it helped a lot emotionally on our sideline, that he's all right."
Raiders running back Mike Goodson, who suffered a preseason injury that required immobilization, was especially affected by the scene. He was released from the hospital the day after his injury.
"When I saw him go down, I just started praying immediately. I know a lot of other guys did, too," Goodson said.