Teddy Bridgewater case shows NFL's concussion protocols need more tweaking | Opinion

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It took all of 10 seconds.

You knew that when the NFL amended its concussion protocol, giving more power to the concussion spotters overhead, that there would be a player yanked from a game who in reality was physically capable of continuing. You knew it would happen sooner or later, here or there.

You just didn’t know it would be just 10 seconds in and here, with the Miami Dolphins and Teddy Bridgewater.

As we later learned, Bridgewater passed all tests after being taken to the locker room. But under NFL rules, because the spotter overhead thought he saw Bridgewater stumble after being hit on Miami’s first snap Sunday, Bridgewater wasn’t just down, he was out.

MORE: Dolphins turn to third-string QB after Teddy Bridgewater's injury, lose to Jets

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Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater walks off the field after being tackled in the end zone against the Jets.
Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater walks off the field after being tackled in the end zone against the Jets.

Boxers at least get a standing eight count. Bridgewater? Around 1:15 p.m., his workday was over, and no doctor, no passed test, could change that. The Dolphins would be in the hands of a rookie quarterback, Skylar Thompson, against the New York Jets, and it was only a question of how gutsy this team was going to be without its top two quarterbacks, top two offensive tackles, top cornerback and … need we continue?

The Jets eventually won 40-17 in a score that bears little resemblance to how much the Dolphins made them sweat, cutting the deficit to 19-17 entering the fourth quarter. That’s merely a footnote to the firestorm of the past couple of weeks, when Tua Tagovailoa suffered a concussion — or two, since the NFL now says there’s no way to know for sure.

Here’s what we do know: Tagovailoa was allowed to play four days after stumbling badly.

Bridgewater was ruled out after a stumble noticed perhaps only by the guy up above whose job it is to watch for such things, a guy who has to know he’s being watched closer than ever as everyone is hyper sensitive to these things.

Before digging deeper into what happened Sunday and how the Dolphins responded to it, let’s take a deep breath and look at the big picture. The NFL knows that even the new protocol isn’t perfect. It accepts the fact — yes, fact — that by opening the door toward erring on the side of caution, it’s also opening a can of worms. Namely, that healthy players will get benched when they shouldn’t. And that those players could go by the names of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, in games that go by the name Super Bowl.

Better to have heartache for teams and fans, the NFL is basically saying, than headaches (and much worse) for players. Sorry, but if you can’t live with that logic, you’re not really a fan.

Being in reality-check mode doesn’t mean you can’t also ask if the NFL hasn’t gone too far, that a simple tweak of the tweaking would allow the overhead spotters, team doctors and unaffiliated neurological consultants to put their heads together after players are thoroughly examined during a game and decide when a stumble is nothing more than just that.

“If a guy does pass the protocol concussion and he’s able to play, I believe he should be back,” Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert said.

To be fair to the spotter, the side of Bridgewater’s head solidly hit the turf when he was hit by Sauce Gardner. Bridgewater was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, giving the Jets a safety. So the spotter clearly had reason to be watching the QB while the CBS cameras and most of the rest of us were watching to the huddle of zebras to see if they were going to flag the Dolphins. It would have been nice to hear from the spotter via a pool report, but the NFL did not respond to a request to get the spotter’s explanation for what he’d seen.

“Wild.” That’s how one Dolphins player reacted after it was explained to him that Bridgewater was KO’d because he passed every test except the spotter’s. “My first hearing it,” center Connor Williams said. Guard Rob Hunt: “That’s news to me. I guess that’s that new protocol thing, huh?”

There had been talk that players would start watching their Ps and Qs when getting up off the turf now for fear of incurring the wrath of the spotter. Perhaps we saw that at the end of this game when ex-Hurricane Braxton Berrios was smacked by Dolphins safety Jevon Holland on a touchdown run. Berrios stayed on one knee for an extended time, seemingly encouraged to do so by teammate Jeff Smith, who had one hand on Berrios’ shoulder.

Is getting up turning into an art form?

“I think so,” Dolphins tight end Durham Smythe said. “Obviously, this is a new thing. One week into these new protocols. I think that’s something that I guess you have to take into account a little bit more now. But like I said, I think the intentions are right. We appreciate that to a degree but like I said, there’s going to be mistakes, if this was a mistake. That’s going to happen. That’s part of the game. It’s a physical game. You’re trying to keep people safe in a dangerous game, things like this are going to happen.”

The Dolphins were careful not to blame the loss of Bridgewater for the loss of the game, just as they were careful not to step on attempts to make their working conditions safer.

“Let professionals be professionals,” receiver Tyreek Hill said. “ … I want to be cautious. You know, it’s their job to watch stuff like that.”

Credit the NFL for trying.Just hope they keep trying a little more.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Teddy Bridgewater case shows NFL still has more rule tweaking to do