Concussion Watch: NFL Head Injuries in Week 9

November 5, 2013

The second half of the NFL season began last Thursday with teams having reported a total of 62 concussions on the league’s official injury report — five fewer than at the same point last season. Since our last Concussion Watch update, at least eight more players appeared to go down with a head injury.

Meanwhile, a new study raised concerns about the risk of brain injury in high school football, while NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told a gathering of football moms outside of Chicago that “there’s never been a safer time” to play the sport.

Here are the eight injuries we’ll be watching for when the week 10 injury reports come out later this week, as well as our latest round-up of concussion-related headlines from the past week:

Red Bryant & Max Unger, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks lost two players to concussions in Week 9 — defensive end Red Bryant and center Max Unger.

Seattle tweeted midway through the game that Unger had suffered a concussion, but Head Coach Pete Carroll said he did not find out about Bryant’s injury until Monday.

“Max had a good day [Monday],” Carroll said. “He got hit in the head [in Sunday’s game] and Red did as well, as we found out today. They both will go through the [concussion] protocol to see if they are able to return [to play this weekend]. We’ll take great care in making those decisions.”

Nolan Carroll, Miami Dolphins

Nine weeks into the 2013 season, the Miami Dolphins are just one of four NFL teams that have yet to report a single concussion. That may soon change, as ESPN reported that backup cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered a head injury in the second quarter of Miami’s Week 9 win over the Bengals and did not return.

T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers

Midway through their Week 9 loss to Chicago, the Packers announced on Twitter that guard T.J. Lang had suffered a concussion and was out for the remainder of the game.

The concussion was the second for Lang in as many seasons. Lang left the Packers’ Week 15 game in 2012 with a concussion, but did not miss any playing time despite the injury.

Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings

In Week 9, Phil Loadholt became the second Vikings player to be sidelined by a head injury this season. Minnesota’s starting right tackle was hurt near the end of the first half on Sunday, and Coach Leslie Frazier told reporters it is unlikely he will be healthy enough to play for the Vikings in their next game on Thursday night.

“It will be very difficult for him to pass the NFL protocol on a short week,” Frazier said. “I don’t know very many guys that do.”

In 2012, at least five players came back from a concussion in just four days, data from FRONTLINE’s Concussion Watch project shows. In all, 2012 saw a total of 161 players added to a team injury report because of a concussion. In 86 cases, an injured player was back on the field for their team’s very next game.

Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints

Saints running back Darren Sproles headed to the locker room early in the first quarter of Week 9 with what was initially described as an ankle injury, according to The Sporting News.

The Saints later announced that Sproles had been diagnosed with a concussion, ruling him out for good midway through the second quarter. It’s not clear when he was hurt, but as ESPN reported, “Sproles left the game after taking a big hit on a 2-yard reception during the Saints’ opening drive.”  

Ike Taylor & Vince Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers

Ike Taylor was one of two Steelers to exit Week 9 with a head injury, coach Mike Tomlin confirmed after the game. Linebacker Vince Williams was the second.

Around the League

  • A new study found that high school football players are nearly twice as likely to sustain a concussion as are college players. The study — which was conducted by the Institute of Medicine and funded by the NFL — estimated that high school players suffered 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices that they participate in. Among college athletes, the rate stood at 6.3. The analysis also raised new concerns about just how well helmets can protect athletes from serious brain injuries, warning that “there is limited evidence” that current helmet designs can cut the risk of concussions.
  • A separate study of former NFL players by researchers at Imperial College London revealed “profound abnormalities” in brain activity correlated with the number of times that the players reported leaving games due to head injury.  The 13 players in the study had never been diagnosed with a neurological condition, but scans of their brains showed unusual patterns of activity in the frontal lobe, the section of the brain responsible for executive function. “The NFL alumni showed some of the most pronounced abnormalities in brain activity that I have ever seen, and I have processed a lot of patient data sets in the past,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Adam Hampshire. The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hosted more than 200 mothers for a Moms Football Safety Clinic outside of Chicago. “Moms are oftentimes the decision makers. They’re the ones that are looking for information to help their children make better decisions, to make sure that they’re playing safely,” Goodell told the mothers in attendance. “My mom went through the same thing … I played nine years. I wouldn’t give up a single day of that. Moms were always rightfully concerned about their children, but there’s never been a safer time to play football.”
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