Thursday-and-Long: Westbrook, NFL Players Wake Up to Concussion Danger
The ankle is a red herring. Westbrook's ankle is a chronic problem, for which he's had surgery, and his ankle probably hurts every day. They can put him on the injury report with an ankle problem anytime they want, and nobody's going to bat an eye. This thing with Westbrook is a case of a player, concerned about his own personal future, taking it slow amid a culture that's only starting to embrace the danger and seriousness of concussions.
When Westbrook spoke last week, his comments were telling. He told reporters that the concussion "scared" him, and that he was "concerned about the long-term effects of it."
"I didn't have a great understanding of concussions before," Westbrook said, according to phillyburbs.com. "When you think about it, they don't have a lot of information on concussions when you get to be 50, 60 and 70 years old, how it impacts your life. Unfortunately, in this profession, a lot of guys have concussions. Some guys don't even know they have concussions until it's too late."
What's interesting about Wesbrook's comments is that they sound exactly like the point the NFL players' union was making a couple of weeks ago when it (and commissioner Roger Goodell) testified in front of Congress on the topic of concussions in pro football. It's a major concern for retired players who feel that not enough attention was paid to the issue during their playing days, and new NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith has made it a front-and-center issue for current players as well. The union that day in Washington was hoping to get some congressional assistance in getting the NFL to do more studies of the effects of concussions and to pay more attention to the studies that have already been done.
The Westbrook case is a case of a player heeding that call and applying it at the ground level. It's clear that Westbrook, now 30 years old and, because he's a running back, confronting the downside of his career, isn't thrilled about the idea of playing with a concussion. It's clear that the Eagles are attempting to be sensitive to the player's concerns while also trying not to call too much attention to it. It's clear that the super-macho NFL culture, in which a grown man can still reasonably be worried about what his peers will think if he doesn't want to play because his head hurts, is still a factor here.
What's encouraging is that a player of Westbrook's stature and experience would take the cautious route. Because that route hasn't been taken enough in the NFL. And it needs to be. And maybe, because Brian Westbrook is taking it, more players will do so in the future.
The Main Event
You will be saturated with Patriots-Colts previews over the next few days, so I don't want to add too dramatically to that, but the league sent out an interesting statistical note about the two quarterbacks in that game -- couple of guys you may have heard of.
If Tom Brady passes for more than 300 yards and wins, it'll be the 15th straight 300-yard passing game he's won. The all-time record for such a streak is 16 by Johnny Unitas from 1961-69.
If Peyton Manning passes for more than 300 yards and wins, it'll be the 13th straight 300-yard passing game he's won, tying Y.A. Tittle (1953-63) for the third-longest such streak ever.
Of course, if they both pass for 300-plus yards, then one of their streaks must come to an end. Regardless, it's good to be NBC this weekend.
If the Bengals can win in Pittsburgh on Sunday, they'll have swept both the Ravens and the Steelers this year. They'll be 7-2 and in full control of the league's best division, with a one-game lead over Pittsburgh and either a two- or three-game lead over Baltimore plus the tiebreaker edge over both of the AFC North teams that met in last year's conference championship game.
Of course, to pull this off, the Bengals must buck a tough trend. Since Mike Tomlin became the Steelers' head coach, he is 7-0 at home against AFC North opponents. Pittsburgh is also unbeaten in four home games this year. If the Bengals win this one, it's not ridiculous to think a changing of the guard (at least for one year) is at hand in the AFC North.
Hat Tip of the Week -- Miles Austin, Cowboys WR
Here's why Roy Williams is wrong about the wide receiver pecking order in Dallas. While Williams is worried about whether Tony Romo throws a prettier ball to Austin than to him, Austin is actually playing the game. Williams caught more balls than Austin did Sunday night, but Austin spent the whole game watching the Eagles' defensive backs. In the second half, he told Romo he thought those DBs were locking in on Romo, and that he felt he could get open if he ran a stop-and-go route and Romo made a good pump-fake. So they tried it, Sheldon Brown bit on the fake and Austin got open for the game-winning touchdown. To recap: While Williams was catching more balls than he was, Austin was studying the defense and looking for a way to win the game. Which guy would you take as your No. 1 receiver?
Three for the Road -- Road teams in the NFL are a combined 57-72 -- a winning percentage of .442. Last week, road teams were 5-8. Of the five winners, three were the three teams picked in last week's "Three for the Road" -- Arizona in Chicago, Dallas in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Denver. I try not to pick the obvious ones. (For example, "New Orleans at St. Louis" is not among this week's picks.) In the first two weeks I've done this, I'm 5-1. So let's keep it going. The three road teams I like this week are:
1. Philadelphia over San Diego. Just a hunch here. The Chargers have won three in a row, and while their defense looks much improved since it was humiliated in Week 4 in Pittsburgh, they may be due for a hiccup. I'm saying the Eagles force a turnover on Philip Rivers' weekly fourth-quarter comeback drive, and San Diego falls just short.
2. Dallas over Green Bay. I'm sticking with the Cowboys. Their only road loss so far this year was in Denver, by a touchdown. The running backs are healthy, Romo is on fire and the defense has been playing great. But here's the big reason to like the Cowboys here: In their last five games, they have 18 sacks. In the Packers' last five games, they've given up 25 sacks. Something's got to give, and in this case, I think we know what it is. Duck, Aaron Rodgers. Duck.
3. New England over Indianapolis. Because the Colts have come close to losing to San Francisco and Houston the past two weeks. Because their secondary, though it played valiantly Sunday, is shredded by injuries. And because wrecking the Colts' perfect season just feels like the kind of thing Brady and Bill Belichick would do.
It's Just a Fantasy -- Three guys I wish I had on my fantasy team this week:
1. Ray Rice vs. Cleveland. I play in a PPR league. Rice is pure gold. And he's playing the Browns. Jealousy is a terrible thing.
2. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Cincinnati. On the morning of Oct. 4, I nearly picked him up on waivers but decided instead to hold onto Julian Edelman for one more week. Since that decision, Mendenhall has rushed for 105.6 yards per game. Oops.
3. Alex Smith vs. Chicago. Crabtree in the fold, Vernon Davis playing like a beast...The Bears are loaded with issues, and I have a hunch Big Al plays like a No. 1 pick tonight.
This week I'm going to Green Bay for the Cowboys-Packers game. It will be my first visit ever to Lambeau Field, and I'm very much looking forward to it. (For those who don't know me, I was a baseball writer for 15 years and know my way around Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and all those places, but much of the NFL is still unexplored by me.) I'm a little concerned that things might get ugly, due to the likelihood that the Packers come out of the game 4-5. Let's all please remember the Packers next year when some team has a brilliant preseason and makes us all ignore the voices telling us, "Don't read too much into the preseason." The Vikings looked like the best team in the NFC North in June, and they still look that way in November. They'll gladly take that in exchange for the Packers' brilliant August.