New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman held on tight. With the Pats' season on the line, with Tom Brady staring down a third and 14 with 11 minutes of the Super Bowl left, Edelman made the gutsiest play of a game littered with them.
The Seahawks would have likely won had Edelman dropped the ball, at one point their win expectancy was up around the 96 per cent mark. Instead, against one the NFL's greatest ever defenses, against a 6-ft 3-in destroyer named Kam Chancellor, he made the play. 21-yard gain, first down.
The pint-size receiver knew what was coming, when you go over the middle against the Seahawks, it's nothing but punishment.
Edelman took a shot from the Legion of Boom's enforcer and there's since been questions whether the Pats' dynamite receiver should have been removed from the game for concussion tests as a result.
And that's a fair question. The Pats went into lockdown after the game.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: "I was just calling the game."
Head Coach Bill Belichick: "I'm a coach and I had a deal with our trainers and doctors. They're the medical experts and they don't call plays, and I'm the coach and I don't get involved in the medical part."
Teammate Brandon Lafell: "I thought he was going to go to sleep the way he was running."
Edelman himself: "We're not allowed to speak about injuries right now."
After the hit, Edelman spun, stumbled and lunged for a handful of extra yards. He then caught another pass on the same drive and stayed down a couple of extra seconds then too.
He looked cloudy but after the Chancellor hit, he gained 33 yards on three receptions including a TD.
He also fielded a punt at one stage in the fourth quarter.
But should he have been in the game? Reports at the time seemed to suggest the NFL's independent medical expert called down twice from his vantage point for Edelman to be checked, per the NFL concussion protocol.
Here's what the protocol says:
Symptoms that indicate 'possible concussion signs' and warrant further investigation include…
- 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)
Edelman seemed to exhibit both of these symptoms. After the game, he briefly referred to Seattle as 'St Louis' before correcting himself.
It's not clear whether he ever was checked at the time, as SI.com note he was only out of the game for the briefest of periods in between a change of possession. Seattle had the ball for just 1:02 minutes and Edelman didn't miss a single play.
We're not allowed to speak about injuries right now - Julian Edelman
The difficulty when assessing concussions is they may not be immediately obvious. There's a reason why symptoms are only 'possible symptoms.' This is more bad timing for under-fire commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell made a point two days before the Super Bowl that the league has improved player-safety, highlighting concussions were down '25 per cent across the regular season.'
The Economist reported that as many as 33 per cent of ex-pros will suffer brain damage partly attributable to repeated hits to the head common in the NFL. That means those players who lined up for the Seahawks and Patriots on Sunday night have a shockingly high chance of mental debilitation later in their lives.
And what about those concussions that go unreported? Jamaal Charles confirmed earlier this season that he didn't go through the protocol because he didn't want to leave the game.
That was the regular season, imagine an athlete at the Super Bowl. The internal and external pressure to stay in the game would be enormous. It shouldn't be up to someone like Charles or Edelman though.
The current system, with independent spotters, seems to have failed on the biggest stage - there's no other explanation for why Edelman remained in the game.
As a small receiver, Edelman is particularly vulnerable to vicious hits from defenders often much bigger and stronger than himself. He talked about it earlier this season...
The Pats' fondness for stonewalling reporters combined with the countless other controversies that dogged the lead-up to Sunday's showpiece means this Edelman story is likely to pass under the radar.
But it shouldn't.
Danny Amendola was one of countless players and pundits to label Edelman a 'warrior' and one 'of the toughest' receivers in the NFL after the Super Bowl.
This kind of rhetoric doesn't help the discussion.
Which is a shame, because Edelman put together a hell of a game. In the build-up, the Pats' smallish receiver group were expected to struggle against a vaunted Seahawks secondary.
But Belichick put together a game plan that neutralised a weakness and created a strength - short passing plays that stuck to within five yards of the line of scrimmage rendered any Seahawks' height advantage practically worthless.
Gronk, as predicted, was the team's only vertical threat. And he scored a TD on a rare Brady bomb.
Edelman ended the game with nine catches, 109 yards and a touchdown. An MVP worthy line.
This Super Bowl is an instant classic, it puts together a strong case to be considered one of the greatest ever. Everything is magnified when 114.1m are watching, but the Edelman play has fallen victim to the game's louder story-lines.
The concussion question will cloud its legacy until answered.
Every play seemed to have momentous implications, every snap a championship decider. Marshawn Lynch was the game-breaker for the Seahawks, Michael Bennett the star disrupter on the defensive side.
Brady's four touchdowns won the MVP award, and Malcolm Bulter's late pick sealed the win. These are obvious, eye-catching narratives. What's harder to ascertain is the little things, the differences that ran counter to expectations, the adjustments that turn a possible L into a W.
The Patriots were not supposed to throw the ball 50 times. They were supposed to gash the Seahawks on the ground, if at all, and certainly not through the air.
For this to happen, something unexpected had to occur. That one, key, factor was Edelman.
Brady started the second half cold, he was just 6-for-10 for 48 yards and a interception with 11 minutes of the fourth quarter remaining. And then the catch.
After, with Edelman his key target, Brady completed 13 of his final 15 passes for 126 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a fourth Super Bowl championship.
It was Edelman at the heart of the game's most controversial, and potentially most pivotal, moment.
The 5ft-10in seventh round pick from Kent State University has always played with a chip on his shoulder. So how does it feel to be Super Bowl champion?
"Everyone can keep on talking, but we're going to be raising that trophy up in front of all those people in New England and it's going to be a great time and they can kiss that."
And that cuts to the heart of the matter. Concussion or not, Edelman was not leaving the game. Thankfully, everything seems to have worked out OK, for the player and his team.
But it might not next time. Once again, the Super Bowl was a platform for the most outstanding and most troubling aspects of the NFL.
This concussion question is not going anywhere. And nor should it.
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