When we had questions last month about the failure to give Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst an in-game concussion evaluation, the league responded. When we had questions this month about the failure to remove Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt from Thursday night’s game with a concussion, the league did not respond.
At least three attempts to get answers to basic questions about Watt have resulted in crickets.
Here’s the original email that we sent, on Friday: “Can I get an explanation of what happened with T.J. Watt last night? What was he checked for and when? Why was he allowed to switch to a tinted visor during the game? What was the purpose of the tinted visor?”
There has been, and at this point likely will be, no response. And that’s fine. But it will only increase suspicions that the process was mishandled from the get go. That Watt should have been removed from the game due to the concussion that would, the next morning, result in Watt landing in the concussion protocol.
Watt ultimately participated in 91 percent of the offensive snaps and four special-teams plays on Thursday night.
A situation like this raises two important questions. First, did the process fail to identify concussion symptoms? The tinted visor points to an eye injury or light sensitivity. Peter King said during Friday’s PFT Live that he had planned to speak to Watt after the game, but that the session was canceled because Watt had a “migraine.” So what caused the migraine?
Second, should certain circumstances get a guy pulled even though specific concussion symptoms have not been noticed? Watt took a massive blow to the face on the first play from scrimmage. It prompted examination of his face, his mouth, his jaw. It resulted in a tinted visor being placed in his helmet. How was that not enough to shut him down?
The late John Madden advocated removing the player from action is there was any doubt that he has suffered one concussion and, in turn, risks having a second one in the same game. It’s almost as if the process, as it was applied on Thursday night, was more about searching for reasons to let Watt keep playing instead of recognizing the obvious evidence that he should have been pulled.
Some will say that, in certain cases, the symptoms start the next day. If so, that’s all the more reason to make decisions based on the force of the impact to the head and the various other non-concussion injuries that happen. Face. Mouth. Jaw. Eye, apparently. At some point, common sense has to overcome whatever checklist the doctors are blindly applying in order to keep a player in a game.
Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott had 29 total touches and 160 yards from scrimmage in Thursday night’s win over the Steelers. He also had one very important tackle.
As explained by Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, the Patriots praised Elliott’s hustle after an interception that, but for Elliott, would have likely been a touchdown that could have cut the score to 21-18. Instead, the Steelers turned the ball over on downs.
“One of the most important plays of the game,” Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said, via Reiss. “That was a great hustle play.”
Watch the play. After the interception by Steelers linebacker Mykal Walker at the New England 46, Elliott chases Walker down and pushes him out at the Patriots 16.
Reiss explains that O’Brien specifically noticed Elliott’s angle on the pursuit. The Patriots practice that technique when players transform from offensive to defensive. It also helped that Elliott showed significant hustle.
“He realizes the play’s never over,” O’Brien said, via Reiss. “He plays to the echo of the whistle.”
Even though New England’s season is over, Elliott played through the echo of what might have been. It makes very interesting what will be for Elliott in 2024, especially since he had to wait a long time for an opportunity in 2023.
A key false start prior to a fourth-quarter punt by the Steelers wiped out an offside foul against New England, and in turn derailed a potentially promising drive during a game the Steelers trailed by three points. It was believed the flag was thrown because Pittsburgh long snapper Christian Kuntz had moved his head up too quickly.
That might not be the case.
Via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Patriots special teams coordinator Cam Achord said that the officiating crew explained Kuntz was “sliding the ball and moving his hand at the same time,” and that the league has been “harping on” that tactic.
It’s hard to see the ball sliding or the hand moving in the replay of the game on Amazon Prime. Rules analyst Terry McAulay, a long-time referee, said this after the commercial break following the ensuing punt: “They’re saying that he made a quick and abrupt movement prior to the snap. I don’t see this as quick and abrupt. . . . This looks like normal movement that we see from a long snapper.”
In his post-game press conference, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said regarding the call, “I was given an explanation. I don’t know that I agree with it, but I was given an explanation.”
Tomlin didn’t say what the explanation was. It would be interesting to know — and maybe he’ll be asked during his weekly session with reporters on Tuesday — whether the explanation matches the explanation the Patriots received.
Regardless, nothing about that play seemed to be worthy of a foul. As Peter King explained on Friday’s PFT Live, officials routinely tolerate all sorts of herky-jerky pre-snap movements by offensive linemen, including the habit by more than a few left and right tackles of leaving a split-second early in order to better block edge rushers. That makes the decision to flag Kuntz in such a key moment seem weird, whatever the explanation(s) for it.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose stadium hosted the Army-Navy game on Saturday, appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay to discuss several topics.
Inevitably, he was asked by Rece Davis about the steps that need to be taken to get the Patriots back to where they’ve been. Kraft sidestepped it initially, before saying this: “We like to win, so we want to do everything we can to get our team back so we can be winning it.”
That’s where the clip from the show on the ESPN College GameDay YouTube account abruptly ends, even though the interview wasn’t over. There was one more comment — a remark from Pat McAfee.
“I don’t envy your position,” McAfee said to Kraft. “What’s about to happen. We all know. We don’t have to ask.“
Kraft said nothing in response. Davis threw to break. Many will assume that Kraft’s silence amounts to agreement. Many also will agree with McAfee’s assessment. We all know what’s about to happen.
Or do we? Earlier in the interview, Kraft was asked about the overall success of his various business interests, with no mention of Belichick in the question.
“Well, it’s all about people,” Kraft said. “Collecting good people. People of good character. People who are loyal. I’m very happy that most of our key people have been with us a long time. You know, we have a head coach who’s been with us 24 years. I think that’s the longest-serving head coach. But that’s the model we have in all our companies, to try to pick the best people.”
That could be regarded as a hint by Kraft, mentioning the importance of longevity and specifically citing Belichick’s 24-year tenure. And that could be why the comment from McAfee was clipped from the YouTube version of the Kraft interview.
Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe Belichick will be back in 2024 with the Patriots, making it an even 25 years at the helm.
There’s plenty of people watching to see what will happen with the Patriots coaching staff after the 2023 season is over, but one member of the group is already on his way to a new job.
According to multiple reports, wide receivers coach Ross Douglas is leaving to take the same job at Syracuse University. Douglas is expected to have other expanded responsibilities on offense for the ACC school as well.
Douglas joined the Patriots in 2021 as a coaching fellow and has worked with the wide receivers the last two seasons. He was on the Rutgers staff with new Syracuse head coach Fran Brown prior to moving to the NFL.
Troy Brown worked with Douglas as a receivers coach in New England and will continue in that role for the rest of the season.