Sunday’s low-scoring affair between the St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Ravens came down to wire in the final minutes, as the Ravens won on a last-second field goal thanks to a late turnover from Rams quarterback Case Keenum.
But could that turnover have been prevented?
Just two plays prior to Keenum’s costly fumble that put Baltimore in field goal range to win, Keenum hit his helmet hard on the ground on a sack from St. Louis defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. It was clear to everyone that was watching on television that Keenum had suffered a concussion, but nobody did anything.
Keenum’s dazed look and inability to get up should have been enough for the Rams’ injury spotter on the sideline to stop play in order to tend to him on the field. Nick Foles was warming up and ready to go and all St. Louis needed was 30 more yards to make it to field goal range.
But they decided to stick with Keenum, who probably didn’t know his own name at the time. Two plays later, Keenum fumbled the ball on the wrong side of the field, pretty much handing the game to the Ravens.
If each team has an injury spotter on the sideline, why was nothing done to help Keenum? Obviously St. Louis was trying to manage the clock late in a pivotal game, but that’s no excuse for leaving him in. Perhaps head coach Jeff Fisher didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the offense, which looked to be marching down the field. But an offense can’t really flow with a concussed quarterback leading the charge.
The NFL also has spotters in the press box who have the power to contact the officials to stop play in case a player has suffered a head injury. But while the league has taken aggressive steps to remove players from the game after helmet-to-helmet hits, it’s entirely different when a player hits their head against the ground. That’s likely why nothing happened—the league had no real incentive to remove Keenum and clearly the Rams staff cares as much about concussions as their owner does staying in St. Louis.
This Christmas, the film Concussion will be released in theaters, starring Will Smith as a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist named Dr. Bennet Omalu. The movie explores how repeated head trauma to football players can result in a progressive degenerative brain disease called CTE and how the NFL wants to silence Omalu’s findings. The film is said to be the NFL’s worst nightmare, but if Keenum’s concussion on Sunday doesn’t raise eyebrows, it’s hard to tell what will.
Clearly the NFL and the game of football have a long way to go before this problem is taken care of.