Ultimately, QB's safety falls on fellow players

Published October 29, 2006

Both starting quarterbacks from Super Bowl XL were injured last week in a cross-country high-low.

Ben Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, was knocked unconscious on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Atlanta defensive tackle Chaun-cey Davis.

A few hours later, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck limped off the field after being hit below the right knee by Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson.

For the record, that makes three quarterbacks who have left games this season with head injuries, one who ruptured an internal organ, one who sprained knee ligaments and one who got benched because of the ligaments he tore last season.

Good thing the NFL has gone out of its way in recent years to protect quarterbacks.

Kansas City's Trent Green and Baltimore's Steve McNair sustained concussions. Tampa Bay's Chris Simms had an emergency splenectomy on Sept. 24. Miami's Daunte Culpepper is back in physical therapy with his surgically repaired right knee.

Hasselbeck's sprained ligaments likely will cause him to miss three games. Roethlisberger wants to play today at Oakland, though it seems foolish to return too soon after his second concussion in four months; the first coming in an offseason motorcycle accident.

It's a bad idea. If he plays, he is fair game.

"You go after any quarterback with the same intensity as anybody else because in this league, the quarterback is the key to any situation," Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "You wish him the best with the concussion because you never want to see a guy hurt or injured."

No, never.

Let's face it: The top priority of any defense is to rattle the opposing quarterback. Physical abuse is the most effective means. If a quarterback happens to get hurt and leave the game, well, mission accomplished.

Sadly, there are rules in place prohibiting the type of hits that injured Roethlisberger and Hasselbeck, not that they offered either much protection. Helmet-to-helmet contact has long been illegal with offenders frequently subject to monetary fines.

The rule calling for defenders to make every effort to avoid hitting quarterbacks below the knee is new for 2006.

Penalties were not called in either case.

Roethlisberger said a Falcons player whom he didn't identify publicly taunted him while he lay on the Georgia Dome turf.

Hasselbeck believed Henderson's hit was late and dirty.

"I'm sure they didn't try to put me out for a long time," Hasselbeck said. "But they didn't want me to finish the game either."

And therein lies the problem with the NFL rule book. It cannot legislate nasty.

"I think we've probably tinkered with the rules as much as you can tinker with them as far as quarterback safety," said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, a former member of the league's competition committee, which oversees rule changes.

"There is responsibility from the player himself, the guy who is coming rushing. Right now, you can't hit a quarterback in the head. From the back, you can't go below the waist and go low. If you rough a quarterback in a game, you're going to get fined. I don't know what more they can do."

Not a thing.

Information from other news organizations was used in this report. You can reach Joanne Korth at jkorth@sptimes.com.