Following a firestorm of health and safety criticism directed at the NFL for its handling of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa last week, at least 12 players were removed from Sunday’s games under the league’s concussion protocols.
The neurological evaluations occurred across eight of 14 games Sunday and appeared to suggest a cautious uptick of emphasis when compared to numbers from the previous week. During the league’s Week 3 slate, only three players appeared to have been benched after entering concussion protocols. That group didn’t include Tagovailoa, who hit his head while facing the Buffalo Bills and then stumbled to the ground as he tried to walk to the huddle, raising concerns about whether he’d sustained a concussion. Tagovailoa underwent a neurological evaluation at halftime of that game and was ultimately allowed to return to the field. That decision resulted in the NFL Players Association immediately calling for an investigation into whether proper concussion protocols were followed.
Four days later on the league’s prime-time Thursday game, Tagovailoa suffered a concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals and had to be taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. In the fallout of that incident and in the wake of pressing questions about what had occurred during the Buffalo game, the NFLPA exercised its right to fire the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who examined Tagovailoa and allowed him to continue playing against the Bills. It also spurred the NFL and NFLPA to open discussions about revamping the league’s concussion protocols, with an emphasis on removing players who display any motor instability during gameplay. The NFL and NFLPA announced potential forthcoming “modifications” to the concussion protocols on Saturday, leaving open the possibility that changes could be instituted as soon as Week 5.
That announcement also set the stage for Sunday, when it was expected that officials and teams would be keeping a closer eye on players and moving quickly to take them off the field if it was deemed that concussion protocols were warranted. What resulted was a spate of flagging and examinations that impacted two quarterbacks, two star linebackers and a handful of other key players in games.
Indianapolis Colts All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard was taken off the field and diagnosed with a concussion during the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans. He suffered the injury after a nasty collision with teammate Zaire Franklin, which left Leonard needing help off the ground before he was taken directly to the locker room. It was Leonard’s first game of the season following back surgery prior to training camp.
On the Sunday night prime-time broadcast, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate appeared to be shaken up twice during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs, finally being removed in the second quarter. He was evaluated and placed into the concussion protocol and didn’t return to the game after halftime.
Three players entered concussion protocols and didn’t return in a game between the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos. The trio included Raiders Pro Bowl linebacker Denzel Perryman, as well as a pair of Broncos: safety P.J. Locke and linebacker Aaron Patrick. The Raiders had already been shorthanded going into Sunday due to concussions, with slot wideout Hunter Renfrow and starting center Andre James both sidelined due to protocols.
Two New York Giants entered into protocols in their game against the Chicago Bears: Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who had entered play following an injury to starter Daniel Jones, and safety Julian Love. Taylor was hit during a sideline scramble and sent off the field for evaluation by referee Carl Cheffers, while Love was identified and sidelined by one of the NFL’s concussion spotters. Both players were later confirmed to have sustained concussions.
Two players in the game between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, including Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer, who was already starting in place of an injured Mac Jones. Hoyer suffered the concussion during a first-quarter sack. The Packers also lost Adrian Amos, who is one of their most experienced veteran defenders, during a tackle of Patriots running back Damien Harris in the first quarter.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost starting safety Terrell Edmunds in the second quarter of their game against the New York Jets, following a helmet-to-helmet collision between Edmunds and Jets running back Michael Carter II. Edmunds needed to be helped to his feet after the hit and then went to the locker room following an examination in the team’s sideline medical tent. He was later confirmed to be in the concussion protocol.
Buffalo Bills key slot wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie suffered a blow to his head in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, catching a pass from Josh Allen and then taking a hit that led to him being taken off the field by the team’s athletic training staff. The Bills later confirmed McKenzie had suffered a concussion on the play.
The Houston Texans lost linebacker Blake Cashman in the second quarter of their game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Head coach Lovie Smith confirmed after the game that Cashman had been removed and was in concussion protocols.
That’s a solid number of players taken out of action just three days removed from the Tagovailoa concussion and might be suggestive of where the revamped protocols are headed when the NFL and NFLPA finalize changes.