As Austin Collie lay motionless on the field, the NFL's crackdown on violent hits to defenseless players came into full focus.
The Indianapolis Colts wide receiver suffered a concussion on a second-quarter hit to his head Sunday by Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman. Collie was "awake and alert in the (locker) room," coach Jim Caldwell said after the Eagles' 26-24 victory. "I think he'll recover quickly. He'll do OK."
"I won't go into all the details about it, but he took a pretty good hit," Caldwell said. "He was out, unconscious for a period of time."
In a scary scene that had the Linc silent while Collie was on the ground for several minutes, trainers worked on him, then he was placed on a stretcher as players from both sidelines stood and watched.
"Coach Caldwell told us early it was a concussion and you don't like to hear that," Peyton Manning said. "It's better than what everybody fears at that point."
The second-year receiver dropped a pass over the middle after he was hit by safeties Quintin Mikell and Coleman. Although Mikell was penalized for hitting a defenseless receiver, replays showed Coleman made contact with Collie's helmet.
Since the NFL cracked down on hits to the head and neck area on Oct. 19 after a spate of them the previous weekend, there were few such fouls. The league has threatened suspensions for illegal hits to defenseless players, saying they have no place in the game.
Collie was turning with the ball when he was hit and dropped it, making him a defenseless player. He fell to the ground and never appeared to move as he was worked on as Colts and Eagles players took of their helmets and looked on, several appearing to pray.
"I think the official made the proper call," Caldwell said.
The Eagles, particularly Coleman and Mikell, disagreed.
"Well, it's unfortunate because to me it was a football play," Mikell said. "It wasn't malicious. Neither one of us were leading with our head. But the ref made the call and we had to go with it."
Actually, replays showed Coleman coming from Collie's left side and hitting him helmet to helmet.
"What do you do? It's football," Coleman said. "That's what they pay us to do, make plays, especially on deep plays like that. He's protecting himself, we're trying to get him down and it's just a bang-bang play."
But, according to referee Carl Cheffers and back judge Todd Prokup, an illegal one — one Coleman, even though Mikell was announced as drawing the penalty.
"The fact of the matter is that the ball was incomplete," Cheffers said. "So he has protection throughout that entire process on that play because we don't have a completion. At no time did he have possession and become a runner to where he would have transitioned out of being a defenseless receiver."
The Colts have been plagued by injuries to their offense and already were without tight end Dallas Clark and his backup, Brody Eldridge, and second-string wideout Anthony Gonzalez. Early in the third period, rookie Blair White was shaken up, too, but returned.
Collie had one catch for minus-1 yard Sunday. He entered the game with 44 receptions for 502 yards and six touchdowns.
In their last home game, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson sustained a concussion on Oct. 17 on an illegal hit by Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, who also was concussed. Jackson returned to the lineup Sunday.
He was concerned about Collie, and at the same time wondered about the penalty — Jackson thought the hits on Collie were clean.
"I just hope they don't take this ruling and try to change football," he said.
Robinson was fined $50,000 for the hit. For flagrant fouls that same day, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison ($75,000) and New England safety Brandon Meriweather ($50,000) also drew hefty fines. The league announced it would then dole out suspensions along with fines for illegal hits.