Let’s go back to the first quarter, long before the Patriots defense was able to make enough game-changing second-half games to secure the win, shortly after Cardinals starting quarterback Kyler Murray left the field , looking serious with a non-contact knee injury in just his third scrimmage game.
With less than four minutes left in the first quarter, Agholor’s teammate wide receiver DeVante Parker caught a second pass from Mac Jones. Parker’s head was smashed to the turf on the ensuing tackle. He was visibly panicked and got up slowly, his knees bent as he wobbled and tried to stand up. He finally got up, but with completion issues, Jones and his team scrambled back to the line of scrimmage for another play before being challenged.
Agholor can be seen lined up in the slot, and he is looking at Parker, who is lined up to his left. Noticing that his teammates were in the wrong place, Agholor began flailing his arms wildly, trying to get the officials’ attention so they could stop play and take Parker off the field. The suspension came, but only because Arizona coach Cliff Klingsbury threw the challenge flag. Parker was able to make his way to the locker room and was later ruled out of the game with a head injury.
The first reaction is to thank Agholor for thinking about his teammates. On a night of so many injuries, from Murray’s injury to the presence of the Patriots’ Ramond Stevenson and Jake Jones in the game, it was a reminder of how brutal the game of football can be. Good for Agholor, as he made sure Parker’s condition didn’t worsen from spending too much time on the field.
But the sequence also raised bigger questions, starting with the fact that the NFL’s concussion spotters didn’t see what Agholor was doing clearly. Troy Aikman, who announced the fight on ESPN, was also puzzled, saying of Parker: “He’s kind of hurt. They’re going to watch him, it’s supposed to be the guy upstairs. . He looked a bit wobbly when he got up off the ground.”
This season has exposed the flaws in the league’s concussion protocol and forced changes, back in September to the legendary Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It seems like every week we are reminded that more needs to be done to ensure players are not at risk of being repeatedly hit on the head.
What happened to Tagovailoa will go on to be one of the biggest storylines of the season. Tagovailoa was initially injured by a hit against the Bills, stumbling and seemingly unable to keep his balance, and anyone watching immediately wondered if he had suffered a concussion.
However, he returned to the field and was cleaned up by team doctors, who attributed the worrying visuals to a back injury he suffered earlier in the game. Tagovailoa finished that game and returned to action four days later for Thursday night’s game against Cincinnati. When he was hit again in the second quarter of that nationally televised game and reacted clinically known as the fencing reaction, with his hands in an awkward bent position, concerns about his health were matched by anger over his appearance First on the field.
The NFL investigated the chain of events and, while affirming that Miami complied with the agreement, acknowledged that the agreement was flawed. The league immediately added uncontrolled muscle ataxia to the list of symptoms requiring an immediate withdrawal from play. However, policy gaps remain. Just this past weekend, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett was slammed to the ground by Ravens linebacker Roqueen Smith and left the game for a concussion evaluation.
According to reports, Pickett cleared the protocol and promptly returned to the scene. But after one series, one three out, he was not tackled again, and he was out of the game for good. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was quoted afterward as saying, “When he developed symptoms, he was pulled from the game and evaluated for a concussion,” but admitted, “I don’t know the details of the order or sequence.”
While medical experts continue to study the lifelong effects of concussions, the NFL must continue to keep pace and do everything it can to deal with the devastating effects of an injury it has fought for so long to even acknowledge exists. If that means extending player checks beyond sideline moments and creating protocols for delayed reactions, so be it.
If that means setting up a mechanism for players in the game to help sick teammates, then do that too.
Maybe they could call it the Agholor rule. On a night where Agholor was on the lookout for Parker, it was a game that mattered more than any of the five catches that came up in the scoring.
Read more on the Patriots-Cardinals game:
Tara Sullivan is a columnist for The Globe. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.