What protocol? Jets send a ‘popped’ Shonn Greene back out against the Steelers

Shonn Greene. (nfl.com)
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On a day when the Jets’ passing game backslid to preseason levels of futility in a 27-10 dud to the Steelers, the most disturbing moment was actually provided by the running game.

Specifically, the return of Shonn Greene in the second half after he had gotten his “bell rung,” which, we know now, is not distinct from a concussion.

Early in the second quarter, Greene collided helmet-to-helmet with Steelers safety Ryan Mundy. Greene walked woozily back to the huddle, momentarily tripping over his own feet. Mark Sanchez took notice and guided his teammate in the direction of the sideline.  (For media types who pay lip service to concussions and like to talk about the “leadership qualities” that Sanchez has, or lacks, or has found thanks to Tim Tebow, this humane act spoke louder than Sanchez's offseason trip to Florida to visit Santonio Holmes.)

Greene left the game with what the injury report later termed a “head injury,” but more precisely could have been called a “brain injury.” Most fans sitting at home probably assumed he wouldn’t return: The strides in brain injury awareness over the past several years have eliminated the old distinction between the brutal knockout blows that see players carted off the field, and the more common "bell ringing" that left Greene dizzy and stumbling toward the sideline.

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And the Jets’ best player, Darrelle Revis, was still sidelined after a concussion last week, so it seemed safe to assume that Greene would miss the rest of this one.

But there is a key distinction between the Revis and Greene situations. League protocol dictates that Revis, in order to play the week after a concussion, must be cleared by both the team doctor and an independent neurological consultant. In Greene’s case, because the injury occurred in the middle of the game, he needed only the approval of team doctors. (CBS analyst Phil Simms pointed this out twice, as if encouraging the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions, though he stopped short of explicitly criticizing the league's protocols.)

One reason to doubt the ability of team doctors was sitting on the opposite sideline: the Steelers' Troy Polamalu, another star player who was out with an injury (to the calf, in this case, not the brain). It was Polamalu who gave an alarming interview this summer to Dan Patrick, during which he admitted to lying about concussions to stay in games. 

“When people say that you kind of just get-–you know, just feel like a little buzzed or dazed or had your bell rung--they consider that a concussion. I wouldn’t," he told Patrick. "But if that is considered a concussion, I would say any football player at least records 50 to 100 in the course of a year.”

Old habits of thinking die hard. Greene returned in the third quarter, but he couldn’t jumpstart an offense that had stalled midway through the first half. The game slogged its way to triple zeroes. When it finally ended, many fans, on the tail end of six straight hours of football-watching and too narcotized to pull themselves away, no doubt turned to NBC’s “Football Night in America” pregame coverage.

There, that same Dan Patrick was jauntily narrating an around-the-league highlight montage. When he got to the Jets game, a slow-motion clip of the hit to Greene was shown, over which Patrick breezily said: “Shonn Greene, gets popped, he’s not sure which team he plays on! Mark Sanchez says, ‘You’ve got to go to the sidelines.’”

There was no follow-up. The montage rolled on, showing Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass that put the Steelers ahead for good.