PHILADELPHIA -- Seeing Austin Collie motionless on the turf made some people wonder if it will take a suspension or two before the NFL's crackdown on illegal tackles hits home.
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 carted off the field on a stretcher, but 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," Caldwell added. "I won't go into all the details about it, but he took a pretty good hit. He was out, unconscious for a period of time."
When the league said in mid-October it would begin handing out suspensions for flagrant fouls against defenseless players, complaints from the defensive side of the ball couldn't have been louder. But there was a quick reduction in those illegal hits, and no one has been banned since NFL operations chief Ray Anderson handed out $175,000 in fines to three players on Oct. 19.
On Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, though, it was hard to tell if the league's message was clear enough. Defensive players sure seem uncertain about what is and what isn't legal.
"It is a little confusing," said Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, who originally was announced as the penalized player for the hit on Collie. "It's hard to tell in a split second what's a defenseless receiver and what's not. He wasn't, in my opinion, still in the air looking away or looking up.
"I don't know, maybe we can figure out what's a defenseless receiver. We're just playing ball, man."
Collie dropped a pass over the middle after he was hit by Mikell and Coleman. The crowd went silent and players from both teams watched from the sideline as the second-year receiver was treated by Colts trainers, then placed on the stretcher.
"The fact of the matter is that the ball was incomplete," referee Carl 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."
That definition hasn't become common knowledge for the players since Anderson and Commissioner Roger Goodell proclaimed the strong emphasis on eliminating illegal hits. The NFL's competition committee, on which Anderson is a member, will make clarifying these rules -- and enforcement of them -- a priority in the offseason. Already, the league has sent a video to all 32 teams demonstrating what's an acceptable hit and what could lead to a fine or suspension.
Coleman, a rookie, thought he was doing his job -- legally.
"What do you do? It's football," he 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.
"I was just trying to play some football. I've got to erase that play and go on to the next one."
What the NFL wants is for the next one to be a clean, safe hit, not one to a defenseless player's head or neck area, and certainly not one involving leading with the helmet such as what Green Bay's Nick Collins did on Dallas receiver Roy Williams on Sunday night.
The helmet-first plays, whether a player makes contact with the head or neck area or simply launches himself toward an opponent and connects elsewhere, make for the most violent collisions. And the scariest.
"The way the game is today, close things are going to be called in a safe direction," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "When you're in the heat of it, do you like it? No. For the longevity of the player and down the road for life after football, it's a good thing.
"Bottom line is, things like that are going to be called against you. You've got to stay strong and regenerate your energy level and keep battling through and don't think the whole world's against you."