Bob Ford: Eagles followed protocol, not common sense

Coach Andy Reid justified the Eagles' actions Sunday, saying they went by the book in dealing with players who had suffered concussions.
Coach Andy Reid justified the Eagles' actions Sunday, saying they went by the book in dealing with players who had suffered concussions.
Posted: September 15, 2010

Just in case there was any doubt, the Eagles did everything exactly right Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. They stuck with the system, followed protocol, went by the book, did their due diligence, sent two concussed players into a game, and turned a fourth-and-1 situation into a fourth-and-6 by running their wide-threat quarterback into the middle from a shotgun formation.

No, it all didn't really work out as planned, and everybody's got a little piece of that, and they're going to get it fixed, but, at no point, just so we understand each other, was it a question of not doing things the way we do them around here.

What a relief. For a minute there, Sunday seemed like an utter disaster.

In his day-after banter with the media, Andy Reid used the word protocol nine times, the word criteria five times, and threw in procedure twice for good measure. He was going over the justification for what happened after Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley suffered brain injuries in the second quarter against the Packers, but the organization's stolid adherence to whatever book happens to be in front of it could be applied to all manner of game-day decisions.

Let's take a moment here to talk about protocol. Everyone who drives a car knows it is the protocol that when a light turns green, one is given official clearance to proceed through the intersection. That is the criterion and that is the procedure.

However, if one sees another car about to barrel across the intersection and following the protocol will lead to a good deal of crunching metal and very likely a delay in getting that mocha frozen cappuccino at Wawa, then common sense has to overrule the protocol. Otherwise, you're going to be standing next to a steaming heap of former automobile, telling the officer, "It's all right, sir. I followed the green-light protocol."

The Eagles apparently did follow all the protocol, procedure, and criteria devised by the league and the players' association. But they didn't follow common sense. Everything was done to the letter, and two guys with concussions were still put in grave danger, and the team is, in fact, standing next to a steaming heap.

Bradley's staggering after his helmet collided with the knee of linebacker Ernie Sims was the football equivalent of the other car barreling across the intersection. It signaled the moment when common sense had to come before criteria. Bradley tried to right himself and looked like someone who has consumed a pitcher of margaritas trying to leave the dance floor and knocking over the bass player in the process.

It doesn't matter if he knew his name and his favorite color. It doesn't matter if he could say the alphabet backward. It doesn't matter if he could recite the footnoted version of the Bill of Rights. There was no way he should have gone back on that football field with two minutes remaining in the half. That was a situation that called for further review, at least through the halftime break.

The same could be said of the handling of Kolb, who came back with 1 minute, 42 seconds left to run three plays. It was that urgent to get him back out there, with halftime looming, and the quarterback having been evaluated for concussion symptoms?

Of course. Because the procedure had been followed, and the protocol had been observed, and the criteria were met. If anything went wrong - which it did in both cases - the Eagles couldn't be faulted, nor were they when the various NFL medical hoodoos chimed in on Monday.

And two guys played with concussions.

We have reached the disclaimer portion of the column, in which it states that football is a violent game, played voluntarily by its participants. There are risks. It also says here that the Eagles' medical staff cares about the welfare of the players and that head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder is accomplished in his field and has been active in the league's efforts to prevent head injuries.

All true, but the system still failed because the common-sense override wasn't deployed. Is it coincidental that it happened with an organization in which game-day improvisation is not a strong suit? Maybe that's too tenuous a connection to make, but Reid's hallmark has been a tenacious, blinders-on dedication to a system, and that personality can filter through an entire organization.

In the first half against Green Bay, before Kolb suffered the concussion, the Eagles' offense was awful. Reid said it was partly the quarterback's fault and partly because the Packers did something they didn't expect, something that threw off the meticulously devised game plan, the protocol for playing against the Packers.

OK, but it wasn't as if Green Bay had border collies out there, or armed its defenders with broadaxes. The Packers disguised their rush and their blitz package by putting a linebacker up on the defensive line to confuse the protection and the first-year starter. As innovations go, that wasn't up there with the movable-type printing press, but the Eagles never adjusted.

The only adjustment was happenstance, when Michael Vick became the quarterback and forced the defense to try to figure out where he was going. Often, Vick didn't know himself, and that always has tripped him up eventually in the past, but it looked good on Sunday.

In fact, it looked good until that fourth-and-1 with two minutes to play, on a drive that could have tied the game. It looked good until Vick took the shotgun snap, hesitated a beat, then ran straight into the arms of linebacker Clay Matthews, who had just tea-kettled Brent Celek. If it's any consolation, the Eagles were just following protocol on that play.

"I can't sit here and tell you now that it wasn't right, because that was the plan we had, and we felt strong about it," Reid said.

That's a comfort.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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