If you're a media member covering the Houston Texans, you knew it was going to be a topical Monday morning the moment you got the email from the team that Bill O'Brien's weekly Monday press conference had been moved to the early 9 a.m spot.
Indeed, there wasn't just the autopsy of another loss to discuss, this one a 26-16 loss to the now 3-10 San Francisco 49ers, but the lead story around the NFL on Monday centered around the team's perceived mishandling of quarterback quarterback Tom Savage's concussion. It was one of the lead stories on the sports news websites out there, and on Twitter, where blame and fury is amplified tenfold, the hot takes were sailing across the Twitter sky like guided missiles.
As a refresher, here was the hit in question, and honestly, the uproar is less about the hit and almost entirely about Savage's physiological reaction to the hit:
Tom Savage hits head on ground, appears to have seizure while ref looks on, comes back in the game 5 minutes later. pic.twitter.com/gW9lYxDIwQ— TheRenderNFL (@TheRenderNFL) December 10, 2017
Again, as a refresher, Savage was examined by the NFL's independent neurologist after coming to the sideline and deemed okay to go back into the game. He went back in for one series, went three downs and out, and O'Brien had the medical staff check him out again. It was at that point that Savage was removed from the game (despite vehement protests from Savage, according to reports), and backup T.J. Yates was inserted.
In the 24 hours following the game, O'Brien spent far more time defending himself and the team's medical staff from criticism of the handling of Savage than he did for losing at home to a team that was 2-10 coming into the game. From that Monday morning press conference, here is O'Brien's explanation of what happened, courtesy of the Twitter feed of Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:
Make sure you watch the above O'Brien explanation video before continuing reading here.... ok, we good? So where are we with all of this? Let's dig into a few questions....
1. What are the potential punishments if the league determines the Texans violated the concussion policy?
Let's lay the groundwork, so we know what's at risk if the Texans were negligent, willfully or not. According to this piece on ESPN.com, the punishments for violating the concussion policy are as such:
Do the NFL and NFLPA have a way to enforce this policy?
Yes. Prior to the 2016 season, they established a series of club disciplines for failure to comply. A first violation requires remedial education for medical officials and/or a maximum $150,000 fine. A second violation calls for a minimum $100,000 fine. Ultimately, if the NFL determines that the club's medical staff violated the policy for competitive reasons, additional fines and a potential forfeiture of draft picks can occur.
So with that as the backdrop, let's continue....
2. Is the blame toward O'Brien warranted, or do you believe the Texans' head coach's explanation of what went down?
There are plenty of people with their torches and pitchforks out for O'Brien on Monday, saying that there is no way that he didn't know that Savage had what they call the "fencing reaction" (neuro-speak for the stiffening of the arms indicating brain trauma) to the hit. I will say this — I believe Bill O'Brien. I believe that the hectic environment of an NFL sideline, not to mention the actual obstructions, prevented him from seeing Savage seize the way he did. (Savage also got up quickly, and jogged off the field after getting up — he did not move like someone who was woozy.) I believe that O'Brien was making decisions based on all the information he had, and thus, I believe he was making his decision in the best interest of the player.
Here's why I believe that — why would Bill O'Brien risk all of this negative scrutiny, risk all of the potential punishment for his employer (which could include forfeiture of draft capital for a team severely lacking draft capital in the upcoming draft) to keep TOM SAVAGE in an NFL football game. Seriously, do you believe that there is some sort of devious scheme at work, where the Texans' head coach is going to risk his reputation to win a game in a lost season so that he can keep TOM SAVAGE in the game? Tom SAVAGE, not Tom BRADY. I'm not buying it, especially when you consider that this team has lost about a dozen or so players to concussions in-game this season, and O'Brien has never once protested and sent someone back out there that fans watched play and said "Why is that guy out there playing? He is concussed!"
I think there are plenty of things to blame O'Brien for this season, but Savage ill-advisedly returning to Sunday's game is not one of them. If there is blame to be proposed — and since none of us are in the in-game information chain, all we can do is PROPOSE blame — how about the ref who is two feet away from Savage? How about whoever passed the diagnosis along to O'Brien that Savage was OK? How about someone within the Texans' coaching staff with video access upstairs to get word to the sideline? My point is that I think O'Brien's hands are clean on this one.
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3. Where does the team go from here, football-wise?
O'Brien said Yates will start this Sunday against Jacksonville, and I think that's for the best, for two reasons. First, I think that, in the current moment, he gives the Texans a better chance to win than even a healthy Tom Savage. Yates was decisive and crisp, for the most part, on Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, Yates was productive when blitzed, completing 4 of 7 pass attempts for 69 yards with one touchdown, and a passer rating of 130.4. Second, I think that Yates as a veteran backup to Deshaun Watson next season is a potentially viable solution, more viable than Savage. So let's see what he has these last three games against a couple of really good defenses (and the Colts).
4. Where does Tom Savage go from here?
Reportedly, Savage was none too happy that the medical staff deemed him unable to continue on Sunday. This was similar to the story of the 2016 season, when a concussed Savage was removed from the regular season finale in Nashville, and then never saw the field again that season. Brock Osweiler got two playoff starts that Savage potentially may have had. With the quality of his film improving as the season is moving along, Savage is in line to get a decent backup quarterback pay day with a strong finish to the season. Now, not only might he be deprived of even attempting that strong finish, but he will have the label of a "concussion risk" as he entered free agency.
My guess is Savage is thinking as much about his financial well being as he is his physical well being. I know I would be.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.