When it comes to concussions, Colts insist ‘it kind of falls on us’
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – You’ve undoubtedly seen the play. And the replay.
It’s late in the third quarter of Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacoby Brissett, working from his own end zone, vacates a collapsing pocket. He moves to his left and is being pulled down by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier when it happens.
As Brissett is going down, linebacker Stephon Tuitt delivers a glancing blow to the back of his helmet. Brissett immediate grabs the back of his helmet and after a few seconds, is helped to his feet and trots to the sidelines.
The Indianapolis Colts’ starting quarterback is headed to the blue medical tent on the sideline and into the NFL’s in-game concussion protocol.
You’re also undoubtedly aware of how everything ended. If not, Brissett was cleared by Colts doctors, cleared by an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and returned to the game without missing a snap.
“I think they got the thing set up the way it’s supposed to be set up,’’ Chuck Pagano said Monday. “A guy gets hit and there’s helmet-to-helmet shot and we all see it. You can go back and look at the TV copy. You guys saw the same thing I saw. You’re not supposed to be able to do that, but it happened.
“We pull him out, they go through the protocol, check off all the boxes, dot the I’s, cross the T’s . . . they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.’’
Brissett benefitted from the possible concussion occurring near the end of the third quarter and the ensuing end-of-quarter break. Even though backup Scott Tolzien had taken the field for the Colts’ next possession, Brissett emerged from the medical tent, grabbed his helmet and jogged onto the field.
The team doctors had cleared him. The independent neurologist cleared him. Brissett felt good enough to return. Play on.
The question of Brissett’s fitness to return arose when he began experiencing concussion symptoms in the locker room after the game. They kept him from meeting with the media and sent him into the NFL’s concussion protocol.
It was reminiscent of an occasion last season when Andrew Luck suffered a concussion Nov. 20 against the Tennessee Titans. The cause of the head trauma wasn’t detected by game officials, team doctors or the independent spotter in the pressbox, and Luck held his usual post-game press conference after leading the Colts to a 24-17 victory.
The concussion symptoms surfaced that evening. The Colts would host the Steelers four days later, and the short week didn’t provide Luck with enough time to go through the steps in the league’s concussion protocol. He missed the game.
“It’s not like with a wrist,’’ safety Darius Butler said Monday. “You sprain a wrist or break a bone and you know it.
“You injure your brain and that can come up four days later, it can come up immediately, it can come up that night. Maybe you’re sensitive to light. Maybe you’re sensitive to sound.’’
If there was a problem with the chain of events Sunday, it would be with the NFL’s in-game concussion protocol. There are specific steps in place to determine whether a player has suffered a concussion, but the “real-time’’ nature of the evaluation – the game is going on; the clock is ticking – calls into question whether there’s adequate time to diagnose what is without question the toughest injury to diagnose.
And that’s where the player must step up.
“It kind of falls on us,’’ offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “You know if you’re good enough to go back out there. Jacoby felt he could. The concussion protocol is overly cautious, as it should be. The fact he’s in the protocol now means they’re going to take every step necessary.’’
Butler conceded he’s suffered multiple concussions during his nine-year career, the most recent occurring during the Colts’ Christmas Eve meeting with the Raiders in Oakland last season. Even though he knew something was wrong during the second quarter, he kept playing.
“I knew I didn’t feel right,’’ Butler said. “Now we have spotters and that’s a great thing because they can see: ‘OK, that was a big hit and that guy needs to come out.’
“My case wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, he’s out.’ It was on me to go immediately and tell the doc I didn’t feel right, and I didn’t do that. I went back in and played and figured I’d go in at halftime and get checked out.’’
Teammate Erik Walden had no intention of allowing Butler to self-report. He intervened. He went to team doctors and insisted they check Butler during halftime.
“Erik went to the trainer and said, ‘Hey, D-Butt, he ain’t right.’’’ he said. “He told them we had played together for x-amount of years and I wasn’t right.’’
Normally an extrovert during halftime – jawing with teammates, reviewing the game plan – Butler sat by himself with a towel over his head.
When the doctors approached him, Butler tried to convince him he was OK: “I’m just clearing my mind, getting my thoughts together.’’
The doctors disagreed, put him through the appropriate tests and kept him out of the second half. He also missed the season finale against Jacksonville.
“My experiences with this team is if I tell them ‘Hey, I just got my bell rung, but I’m good,’ they’re going to put me through the protocol,’’ Butler said. “They’re going to look for all the symptoms.’’
It hasn’t been that long ago that a player might be less than honest when it came to admitting he suffered a concussion, even if he had gained the necessary medical clearance during a game.
“If you go back to 2009 when I came into the league, I would say 100 percent of the players would never turn themselves in and say, ‘Hey, I’m feeling woozy,’’’ Butler said. “Now, I’d say there’s a lot more guys that are more conscious, more worried about CTE and things like that.
“It depends on the individual, but I would say most of the guys I know would turn themselves in.’’
That includes Castonzo, who admitted he’s never been diagnosed with a concussion during a career that’s spanned seven seasons and 105 games.
“Yeah, I would,’’ he said. “At some point you have to look at it that I have a life to live. At the end of the day, it’s a game and it’s our job, but you’re putting yourself at risk going back out there with a concussion.
“Personally, if I got to the point where I’m definitely concussed, yeah, I’m going to tell somebody. It’s your life.’’