Let’s go back to the first quarter, long before the Patriots defense made enough game-changing runs in the second half to secure the win, shortly after the Cardinals started turning cornerback, Kyler Murray left the field with what looked serious. A non-contact knee hit in only his third career from scrimmage.
With less than four minutes remaining in the first quarter, Agholor’s teammate DeVante Parker caught a second down pass from Mac Jones. Parker’s head was slammed into the turf on the ensuing tackle. He was visibly shaky, slow to get up, his knees wobbly as he swayed and tried to stand up. He finally got to his feet, but with said completion Jones and company rushed back to the line of scrimmage and run another play before being challenged.
Agulor, who was lined up in the slot, could be seen looking at Parker, who was lined up wide to his left. Noticing that his teammate wasn’t right, Agholor began waving his arms frantically, trying to get the officials’ attention so they could stop the game and take Parker off the field. The stop came, but only because Arizona coach Cliff Klingsbury threw a challenge flag. Parker managed to head to the locker room, and was later ruled out of the match with a head injury.
The first reaction is to take credit for Agholor for looking out for his teammate’s well-being. On a night that had many injuries, from Murray hitting right through to the Patriots’ exits by Rhamundry Stephenson and Jack Jones, there were plenty of reminders of what a brutal game of football can be. Good for Agholor for making sure Parker didn’t get aggravated by being on the court to play too long.
But the sequence raised bigger questions, too, starting with how the NFL’s concussion observer didn’t clearly see what Agholor had done. Troy Aikman, who called the game on ESPN, also questioned it, saying of Parker, “He’s a little excited. They’ll be watching him, there’s got to be somebody upstairs. He looked a little wobbly after he got off the ground.”
This season has already exposed flaws and forced changes to the league’s concussion protocols, dating back to the September saga of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It seems like every week we’re reminded that more work needs to be done to ensure players don’t run the risk of getting repeated blows to the head.
What happened with Tagovailoa will remain one of the most important storylines of the season. Initially hit by a blow in a game against the Bills, Tagovailoa seemed unable to keep his balance, and anyone watching immediately wondered if he had sustained a concussion.
However, he returned to the field, where the team doctors cleared him and attributed the disturbing visual to a back injury he had suffered earlier in the game. Tagovailoa finished that game and was back on the court four days later for a Thursday night game with Cincinnati. When he took another hit in the second quarter of that nationally televised contest and responded with what is clinically known as the fencing response, with his hands entering an awkward flexed position, the concern for his health was only offset by the anger of his appearance on the field in the first place.
The NFL investigated the chain of events, and while maintaining that Miami followed protocol, admitted that the protocol had flaws. The league immediately added ataxia, an involuntary loss of muscle control, to the list of symptoms requiring immediate removal from the game. However, policy gaps remain. Just this past weekend, Steelers linebacker Kenny Pickett was attacked on the floor by Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith and left the game to be assessed for a concussion.
Reportedly, Beckett removed the protocol and quickly returned to the field. But after series one, three and he was out where he was never tackled again, he left the game for good. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was then quoted as saying, “When he developed symptoms, he was pulled from the game and assessed for a concussion,” but admitted, “I don’t know about the sequence or the specifics of the sequence.”
While medical experts continue to study the lifelong impact of concussions, the NFL must continue to keep pace, doing anything it can to reckon with the devastating effects of the injury it has battled for so long to even acknowledge its existence. If that means extending player screening beyond the immediate moment of margin and establishing protocols for delayed interactions, then do it.
If that means installing a mechanism for players in a game to stop playing to help a sick teammate, do that too.
Maybe they can call it Agolur Base. On this night, Agholor is in search of Parker, a game much larger than any of the five games that appeared in the box.
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Tara Sullivan is a columnist for the Globe. They can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @employee.
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