CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The game doesn’t stop. Collision after collision, concussion after concussion, football keeps rolling along. As knowledge and information expand, so too do the same on-field car crashes once so celebrated, now so vilified.
On this Sunday, a direct line could be drawn from Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams’ latest unnecessary concussion to the final meaningful play. If Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis doesn’t plow his helmet into the side of Adams’ head, weaponizing equipment meant to be used for protection, Adams is on the field. He’s catching Aaron Rodgers’ pass near the 30-yard line, then turning up field.
Instead, Adams was already in concussion protocol by the time the Packers were mounting an unsuccessful comeback bid in their 31-24 loss at Bank of America Stadium. The game paused momentarily as Adams laid on the ground, then walked to the locker room.
It did not stop.
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So with the Packers' season on the line, the football was placed in reserve receiver Geronimo Allison’s hands. Allison’s fumble sealed the Packers' seventh loss this season, effectively eliminating them from playoff contention.
“I won the route,” Allison said. “Got inside of him just like I need to be. I’ve just got to finish it off.”
No doubt, the Packers would have preferred Rodgers throwing such a critical pass to their top receiver, not their fourth. Allison filled in adequately for Adams, until the fumble. He caught five passes for 33 yards, but among the traits making Adams a rapidly ascending player is this: The fourth-year receiver never has lost a fumble.
It is tempting to focus on the game. The loss did, after all, likely ended the Packers' eight-year streak of playoff appearances, the longest in franchise history. But with Adams, who enters free agency this spring, there’s at least something to consider with his concussion history.
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Adams has had three concussions in the past 14 months, and though neither of the past two forced him to miss a game, teams could factor his medical history when determining his free-agent value. That such a significant injury happened at the end of such an unnecessary collision only made it harder to accept. Adams was nowhere near the play when Davis blocked him after quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ third-quarter interception.
Davis received a 15-yard penalty for an illegal blindside block, though it hardly seemed like enough punishment.
“It’s kind of a slap on the wrist,” left guard Lane Taylor said. “Take out one of your best receivers for 15 yards.”
Davis did not appear in the locker room, dodging reporters. He won’t be able to avoid league punishment so easily.
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Adams was knocked out of a game against the Chicago Bears in September when linebacker Danny Trevathan delivered a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit. Trevathan initially received a two-game suspension that was reduced to one game. Whether it’s a fine or suspension, some form of league punishment seems inevitable for Davis this week.
The severity of Davis’ punishment will be scrutinized. With dangerous collisions continuing to proliferate through the game, the league has been pinned into a corner. How the NFL responds to blow-up hits will send a direct message to players, letting them know to what extent their head shots will be tolerated.
“I didn’t see the replay of it,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I saw the reaction on our sideline. I know a lot of guys thought it was a dirty hit. I’ll comment on it after I see the video.”
Taylor said he wanted a better view of the hit – and more time to digest it – before determining whether Davis’ blow was dirty. He advocated for more pressure from the NFL to eliminate those kind of collisions. Taylor said he wants to see players ejected for those hits, the way college football reacts with its targeting rule.
Receiver Jordy Nelson wouldn’t go that far. Nelson said the onus falls on players to police themselves, regardless of whether there are ejections.
“It’s not going to stop anything,” Nelson said. “They’ve got targeting rules in college, and they still do it. So guys have to take it upon themselves to be smart. That’s what they’re doing. I mean, it’s a game, it’s a livelihood. You don’t want that.”
Nelson continued: “Guys are in full control of their bodies there. You can control that. You know the guy’s not looking. I don’t know if Davante was even moving. So it’s one of those things that we control our bodies at extreme rates all the time, and I think that’s something you can control. I know Thomas a little bit. I know he’s a great guy, but I also believe he can control that a little bit better than he did there.”
BOX SCORE: Panthers 31, Packers 24
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Self-policing won’t be effective if players don’t come to a uniformed conclusion on whether head shots are appropriate. Ten years ago, they were widely appreciated in the game. Veteran defenders in today’s NFL did not learn how to play football in the CTE era. They were taught to play through violence.
Across the locker room, veteran outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks provided a dissenting view. Brooks said he hated to see Adams leave the game, but he didn’t have a problem with the kind of hit Davis delivered.
“It’s football, man,” Brooks said. “That’s football. I grew up playing like that. You’ve just got to keep your head on a swivel, man. You see those type hits all the time on special teams. Or when guys get interceptions and stuff like that.
“You don’t want to see your teammate getting popped like that. If it was somebody else on the other team, we would be celebrating. So I don’t think they should take it out (of the game).”