GREEN BAY – Davante Adams’ mouthpiece dislodged as his jaw unclenched. It flew through the air, dropping onto the field next to him. His fingers twitched. His consciousness faded. Jordy Nelson, then Randall Cobb, frantically waved for the Green Bay Packers' medical staff.
It was the kind of hit that churns stomachs. The kind of violence the NFL has tried — apparently without success — to eradicate from its game. In the third quarter of the Packers' 35-14 win Thursday night, Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan dropped his head. He used his helmet as a missile, smashing its crown into Adams’ facemask.
Adams’ head whiplashed into Lambeau Field’s grass. He laid almost motionless for several minutes before being carted off the field and driven to a local hospital. Adams was evaluated for a concussion, as well as head and neck injuries, but had consciousness and movement with feeling in all extremities.
He returned from the hospital Friday and was “rambunctious,” coach Mike McCarthy said, despite being in the concussion protocol. Adams tweeted Friday morning he was “feeling great” after the hit.
In the visitors’ locker room, Trevathan defended himself.
“I’m not a dirty player,” he said. “So I don’t do dirty hits.”
Dirty, on this night, depended on perspective.
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At the very least, Trevathan’s hit was unnecessary. At the end of an 8-yard catch, Adams was only halfway to the end zone on third and goal. In a stalemate, safety Adrian Amos had his shoulder pads square against Adams.
The play was over. There was nothing left to be done.
Trevathan didn’t see it that way.
The Bears linebacker said he saw Adams spin, shedding tackles from teammates Pernell McPhee and DeAndre Houston-Carson. By the time they hit the ground, Trevathan was at a full sprint. He had roughly an 8-yard running start against a stationary target, Amos holding up Adams like a human piñata.
In that split second before impact, Trevathan faced the same dilemma every NFL defender meets periodically in his career. Take the shot? Pull up? He settled on destruction.
“I regret,” Trevathan said, “just the level I hit him at. I could’ve been a little bit better, but you’ve got to understand I was in a momentum, and I was trying to make a play. Nothing intentional. It happens in this game.
“Hopefully, they see that. It wasn’t intentional, just trying to make a play.”
By “they,” Trevathan meant the league office. His hit will be reviewed. A fine will be handed down. Maybe a suspension. Trevathan seemed resigned to the possibility he’ll be made into an example.
He said he’ll defend his side of the play, explain his perspective. But Trevathan was also contrite. He apologized to Adams publicly after the game and said he’ll reach out to him privately.
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“It was bad,” Trevathan said. “I never wish that on nobody, especially after being hurt a couple times. I know how that is. Especially with the head and neck, you never wish that on nobody. You never want to see that, but this game is physical, and it happens.
“Hopefully, they can see my half of it.”
In the aftermath, most surprising was Trevathan not being ejected. He was penalized for unnecessary roughness — maybe the understatement of the night — but remained in the game.
Referee John Hussey said he saw Adams’ progress stop. He became a runner. He was stood up, and Hussey determined Trevathan “hit a defenseless player in the helmet area unnecessarily.”
But, Hussey decided, it didn’t cross the line enough to warrant an ejection.
“That issue,” Hussey said, “I would say is a judgment call. Was it egregious? Was it completely unnecessary? I didn’t have enough information from my perspective to make that.”
Given the opportunity, receiver Jordy Nelson didn’t call Trevathan a dirty player. He has a reputation for being one of the NFL’s hardest hitters, Nelson knew, but not cheap. Nelson said he empathizes with defenders playing under rules that make legal tackles tricky.
He didn’t place the blame on Trevathan. Nelson instead wanted to know why officials didn’t end the play sooner.
“I think the whistle can be blown a little earlier on some of those,” Nelson said. “He was stood up and wasn’t going anywhere, so I think that’s where the improvement (can be made). I hate to nitpick on the defense, because they get put in bad situations all the time on that.”
Reactions were reserved in the Packers' locker room. The play happened so fast, even Trevathan said he didn’t initially believe it was a head-against-head collision. Even with opponents, there’s a desire to believe no player intentionally threatens another’s career.
Near his locker, cornerback Davon House said it was a stupid play. Trevathan’s penalty gave the Packers new life, first-and-goal from the 4. Nelson caught a touchdown pass on the next play, and a competitive game became 28-7.
So, yes, House knew it was dumb. He wouldn’t call it dirty. Then a reporter showed him the hit on a cell phone, and House dropped his guard.
“Oh gosh,” he said, “that’s disgusting. That’s illegal. I didn’t see it like that (on the field). I didn’t see that at all. Oh, my goodness. Then him complaining about it like it wasn’t — that’s dirty. That’s super dirty. I didn’t see it like that. That’s bad.”
Right guard Jahri Evans maybe had the clearest view on the field. Trevathan’s runway started behind him. He darted around Evans, toward the pile.
Evans was no more than five yards away when helmet met facemask. He was looking directly at the collision, jogging toward it. In the locker room, Evans initially said he didn’t see the hit. Internally, he seethed.
The throng of reporters thinned. The cameras left. Then, Evans opened up.
“It was a pretty bad hit,” he said. “I had a good view of it, and from what I saw it was definitely head down, crown of the helmet, targeting straight to his facemask, straight to his face, to a guy that’s going down with people wrapped around his legs. You just hate to see that, because we all work very hard to get to where we are in this league. The countless hours and time we put in on our bodies and our craft and our work, to have it all taken away because something like that is sad.
“I’m not saying that (Trevathan) is a dirty player or anything like that. He doesn’t have a history like that, but you want to take care of guys. In that respect, he could’ve went in without his head, without his helmet. But he saw a target, and I truly believe he hit what he wanted to hit.”
Nobody on the Packers knows Trevathan better than Cobb. They were teammates at Kentucky for three seasons. Trevathan said he’ll go through Cobb to reach Adams.
Cobb called his former college teammate a "big hitter," but said he never thought of him as a dirty player. He didn’t call him a dirty player Thursday, even after dropping to a knee beside Adams.
Instead, Cobb said the hit left a lesson.
“It’s really scary,” Cobb said. “We put our bodies on the line every single time we take the field. Every play, you have that opportunity that it could be your last play. I don’t think people realize the level of courage that it takes to take the field. Especially after a hit like that, you see one of your close friends go down.”
Maybe people didn’t realize. On Thursday night, they got a sickening reminder.