The St. Louis Rams made headlines for the wrong reasons Sunday when they left quarterback Case Keenum in the fourth quarter of a game when he was clearly concussed.
With just over a minute left, Keenum was sacked, and as he went down, slammed his head on the turf.
He laid on the ground for several seconds, holding his head. As he tried to get up with the help of a teammate, he wobbled, and fell down again.
Eventually, he stood up on his own power, and stayed in the game for the final two plays. He fumbled on a quarterback hit, turning the ball over, and giving the Ravens a win.
Here’s the play:
It was clear to everyone who watched that Keenum was concussed, and after the game, the team announced he had indeed suffered a concussion. However, after talking to the trainers, he stayed in the game — an appalling act in today’s NFL where a player’s safety following a head hit is one of the top priorities.
On Monday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher had his weekly press conference, and he attempted to explain why Keenum stayed in the game. In a long-winded ramble, it basically concluded in a collective shrug.
“I was in a position on the sideline where I didn’t necessarily see — I saw Case go down — but I didn’t see anything else that took place,” Fisher said. “I didn’t see him struggle to get up.”
“I didn’t see anything from my vantage point on the sideline as far as Case’s slow recovery — the shots that you’ve seen where he got up slow, the shots that we’ve seen out there. I didn’t see that.”
Fisher said that at that point in the game — a tied game with under a minute to go — he was in “game-management” mode. He noted that Rams quarterback Nick Foles was watching Keenum, as is his responsibility, and clearly saw something happen to Keenum. Foles was warming up and appeared to get ready to check into the game. However, he deterred, perhaps after seeing the Rams trainer talk to Keenum. Fisher continued:
“Our head trainer did go on the field, and he got out there, and he spoke to Case. And he questioned Case, and Case said he felt OK. And then our head trainer was instructed to leave the field by the officiating department. What happens with the [certified athletic trainer who’s supposed to look for injuries], his responsibility is to call down and notify the officiating department if he sees anything. Well, because he saw our head trainer on the field, he didn’t feel it was necessary to make the call. And then for whatever reason, we went on with the two plays.”
Fisher said he had no idea that Keenum was even going through concussion protocol after the game until he had finished his postgame press conference. He added that the head trainer had a tough decision to make, and he made the right one by checking the quarterback, but then either had to leave the field or use an injury timeout.
“We have some things to work out,” Fisher said, “and we’re communicating with the league, Players’ Association, Dr. Pellman, and everybody else to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
There’s a certain validity in this explanation. It was an intense moment of a close finish. As the referees sorted out a defensive penalty on the Ravens after the play, the coaches tried to manage the clock and the plays, it’s possible the gravity of Keenum’s injury truly went unnoticed.
Nonetheless, head coaches, as SI’s Chris Burke notes, are detail-oriented to a fault. They notice everything on the field, every play, and it’s hard to believe that Fisher wasn’t paying any attention to his sacked, slowly recovering quarterback in that final minute. Even if Fisher was managing timeouts, substitutions, the game clock, the formation, or anything else, it’s unlikely that he paid no mind to his quarterback, who as the most important player on the field, also manages all of those things.
It’s even worse, though, if Fisher was truly distracted, that the trainer took Keenum for his word. Keenum could barely stand. Athletes are notoriously competitive and hard-headed, and it’s unlikely that Keenum would take himself out of the final minute of the game — let alone do so while his brain wasn’t properly functioning. And if the ATC also ignored Keenum grasping his head and failing to stand up on his own, it is equally dubious.
The NFL announced after the game that they would be looking into the matter. While Fisher insisted nobody can be blamed for this, it’s an inexcusable error to leave a clearly concussed player in the game. The Rams are lucky that a late-game turnover was the biggest consequence they paid for leaving Keenum in the game.
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