Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

After the Detroit Lions' 25-19 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Lost in the post-game fracas was the fact that running back Jahvid Best suffered his second concussion since the start of training camp. It's unclear when it happened, but he last touched the ball with 10 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the game. There is never a good time to play doctor, whether it's about a concussion or another injury. But it's worth reviewing the facts. Best's college career ended in 2009 with a frightening concussion while playing at Cal. He also suffered a concussion in the preseason. That's at least three in the past two calendar years. No NFL player will have a long career if concussions become a chronic and repeated injury. The definition of "chronic and repeated" is subjective, but Best is approaching that point if he hasn't reached it already.

  2. I thought a key exchange occurred just before halftime. The Lions mounted a late drive that pushed the ball to the 49ers' 8-yard line after a 15-yard pass to receiver Nate Burleson with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter. But a chop-block penalty on tight end Brandon Pettigrew negated the play and caused a 30-yard turnaround. Ultimately, place-kicker Jason Hanson was wide right on a 52-yard field goal attempt with 55 seconds remaining. The 49ers took over at their 42-yard line, moved 21 yards, and got a 55-yard field goal from David Akers. Coach Jim Schwartz said afterwards that he had no second thoughts about the Hanson attempt. "It was within Jason's range," he said. "We have a lot of confidence in him making those plays. But that's a six-point turnaround right there." It was also the final margin of victory. Of course, Delanie Walker's six-yard touchdown reception on fourth down was the winning score. Make sure you note what Walker told NFC West colleague Mike Sando. According to Walker, the 49ers were confident in the matchup they would get on that final play.

  3. Schwartz's fourth-quarter challenge allowed the Lions to take a 19-15 lead with 13:48 left and it also helped them avoid falling victim to the NFL's infamous "in the process" rule for a second consecutive season. We all know what happened to receiver Calvin Johnson in 2010. So why did referee Mike Carey reverse Sunday's call on Nate Burleson's 5-yard scoring catch? Burleson: "The way it was explained to me, Calvin hit the ground with his knees, so his body was on the ground. I didn't go to the ground, so the two feet I got in prior to basically catching my fall out of bounds doesn’t matter." So in Burleson's case, the "process" ended when he landed in the end zone because he never fell to the ground. I understand it technically but still think the NFL needs to clean up that rule in a big way.

And here's one issue I still don't get:

I'm well aware that I stepped onto a media island by blaming Schwartz more than 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for the post-game fracas. Some of you noted that a few former NFL coaches, now national broadcasters, said they would have done the same thing Schwartz did based on Harbaugh's behavior. Not all of them would, however. Appearing on NBC, Tony Dungy said "protocol is not for you to retaliate" and added: "Whatever [Harbaugh] said, it didn't merit that." Dungy also said that Schwartz should "be a bigger man" and should have gone into the Lions locker room and told players: "I hope we see these guys again" rather than charge after Harbaugh. At worst, Harbaugh was overexuberant. At best, Schwartz was out of line. There was aggression, but no animosity, in Harbaugh's physical contact. There absolutely was malice in the shoulder bump Schwartz gave Harbaugh, and in what he apparently was trying to do while security held him back a few seconds later. There is no equalizing their actions, at least not to me. Now we await the NFL's verdict.