GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Julian Edelman scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. In light of the NFL's current climate, however, it's fair to wonder if he should have been on the field for the 3-yard score that accounted for the final margin in the New England Patriots' 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
This night will be forever remembered, of course, for an interception that stymied the Seahawks at the goal line with 20 seconds remaining. But earlier in the fourth quarter, Edelman had been staggered by a crushing hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. He appeared unsteady on multiple occasions, crawling after one tackle and slow to rise after another. Was he tested for a concussion? Was he simply responding to an aggravated hip injury? No one from the Patriots would say.
The NFL announced last week that diagnosed concussions dropped 25 percent during the 2014 regular season, but the sight of a player stumbling around after a big hit lit up social media and called into question why he wasn't removed for a comprehensive concussion test.
Players suspected of having suffered concussions are prohibited from speaking to the media, but Edelman answered questions for more than 20 minutes Sunday night. He also performed the “I’m going to Disneyland” postgame commercial and is scheduled to appear there Tuesday. Asked whether he was woozy or had submitted to a concussion test on the sideline, Edelman twice invoked the Patriots’ steely in-house rules.
"We're not allowed to speak about injuries right now," he said.
One reporter asked Edelman if he remembered the remainder of the possession after the Chancellor hit.
"Yes, I do," he said with a smile. "I remember that we scored."
Coach Bill Belichick, speaking at roughly the same time in a different room, was not asked about the hit on Edelman, based on interview transcripts. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he saw Edelman take a "big hit" but "didn't have any sense" that he was impaired or otherwise not at full strength.
"I was just calling the game," McDaniels said, "and until they tell me that somebody is out, I don't really change my thought process."
The question is whether someone should have told McDaniels just that. With 10 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the game, Edelman cut across the middle of the field and caught a pass from Tom Brady. Chancellor's hit connected with Edelman's upper body -- and possibly his helmet -- and knocked him back at an awkward angle. He staggered to his feet and ran another 12 yards before falling on his own. (Referee Bill Vinovich ruled Edelman was down by contact at the 49-yard line after a 21-yard gain on third-and-14.)
Three plays later, Edelman caught another 21-yard pass before going down at the 4-yard line. He crawled on the ground for several seconds before teammates helped him up. On the next play, Edelman was slow to rise after he hit his head on the ground following an unsuccessful attempt to make a catch in the end zone.
The NFL's concussion protocol lists these symptoms, among others, as "potential concussion signs" that should be evaluated:
Slow to get up following a hit to the head ("hit to the head" may include secondary contact with the playing surface);
Motor coordination/balance problems (stumbles, trips/falls, slow/labored movement)
Those symptoms don't mean a player has suffered a concussion, but the NFL encourages further investigation upon observing them. If a team's medical staff doesn't notice them, the league has an independent medical official in the press box who can alert the sideline. That person twice radioed the Patriots' sideline to warn of Edelman's symptoms, according to a Detroit Free Press reporter who was sitting in the press box and could hear the conversation.
To be clear, we don't know for sure Edelman wasn't checked. We also shouldn't be so naïve as to assume a competitive player would volunteer concussion symptoms in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. But we know he didn't miss any snaps during that period. Meanwhile, there wasn't much time to conduct a full test with medical personnel during the Seahawks' ensuing possession, which lasted 1:02.
Edelman caught three passes for 33 yards and the touchdown after the Chancellor hit. Overall, he caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Speaking with reporters afterward, he acknowledged he was "exhausted like everyone else" and at one point referred to "Seattle" as "St. Louis" before correcting himself. Tears formed in his eyes when he was asked about his father, whom he said "has always had my back."
There were no doctors in the audience, and concussions are far from an exact science. Symptoms can ebb and flow and present themselves days after the hit. What looks like a concussion can, in fact, be a reaction to pain in another part of the body. (Edelman dealt with a hip injury this season.)
But we know this: A wild NFL season concluded with a key player lurching around the field after taking a big hit. Stay tuned on this one.