By Matthew Postins
Ah, the indignity of faking injuries. Or at least that’s what the Dallas Cowboys would have you believe.
You saw it on Sunday night, late in the second quarter. The Cowboys suddenly started operating in the no-huddle, a tactic designed to quicken the pace of the game. It worked. Quarterback Tony Romo and company started charging up the field. The New York Giants wanted to substitute, but couldn’t. The whole tactic was unexpected by both the Giants and Cowboys fans watching the game.
So was the sudden influx of injuries. On two straight plays the Giants found themselves with players on the ground in pain.
There is no dispute over the first injury. Linebacker Dan Conner, a former Cowboy, left the game for good after suffering a neck injury. Giants coach Tom Coughlin really didn’t address Conner’s condition long-term, but the fact that he didn’t come back indicates the injury was serious enough to not be considered a fake.
It’s the second injury that apparently stuck in owner Jerry Jones’ craw after the contest.
Cullen Jenkins went down with what was called a shoulder injury. He stayed down for a couple of minutes and ultimately left the game … for a play or two.
The video was telling. Cowboys tight end Jason Witten went up to an official yelling “He’s faking.” You didn’t have to be a mouth-reader to figure it out, either. Witten enunciated perfectly for those suffering eye strain from watching all of those Giants turnovers. Romo went to the referee to, reportedly, say basically the same thing.
After the game Jones was, well, not mincing words.
“I thought us experts on football were the only ones who could see that,” Jones said. “No, it was so obvious it was funny. It wasn’t humorous because we really wanted the advantage, and knew we could get it if we could get the ball snapped.”
Yes, Jones just called himself an “expert on football.” Save that for later. We have a point to get to right now.
Coughlin, speaking to reporters on Monday, disputed Jones’ assessment of Jenkins’ injury.
“Yeah, it’s absolutely not true,” Coughlin said. “It’s not true. Both of those players were injured. Connor never returned to the game. Cullen was in a position where he needed to regroup. That really wasn’t orchestrated at all.”
To be fair, we see players go down with injuries during NFL games all the time. It’s impossible to avoid. Most of the time, there’s really no question, even if it’s just a situation where the player just gets the wind knocked out of them. No one questioned Romo’s injury on Sunday night. Of course, two different Giants linemen blasted Romo from two different sides and he didn’t come back until the second half. Plus, the Cowboys had the ball. Cullen wasn’t exactly lit up and the Giants’ defense was on its heels.
You could say the timing was unfortunate. But then you do a little more research and you find this little gem from a former Giants defender regarding Giants coordinator Perry Fewell and the concept of “faking injuries.”
“Perry Fewell coaches that,” Brian Kehl said. “He’s their DC [defensive coordinator]. He coaches that.”
Of course, it’s easy to dismiss Kehl as a disgruntled former player, since he’s no longer with the Giants. He could just be saying that, since there’s no real way to verify it.
No the scourge of fake injuries, in truth, doesn’t rear its ugly head very often. When it does, it’s usually related to a late-game injury. That’s why the NFL has a rule that addresses injuries late in a game, whether they’re fake or not. An injury inside the final two minutes of the first half and the second half that results in a stoppage of play results in a timeout assessed to that team.
This rule stems from an infamous Seattle Seahawks game in the late 1980s during which it was OBVIOUS that a player was faking injuries to stop the clock. It was obvious because the same player did it more than once on the same series of plays. That ultimately led to the rule.
Jones didn’t find it amusing, but frankly there isn’t much he or the NFL can do about it. We live in an era of heightened player safety. The NFL is shelling out more than $750 million to former players after setting a class action lawsuit with former players over concussions. The NFL has sent a memo to all 32 NFL teams regarding “fake” injuries, but short of administering lie detector tests to offending players after the play, there’s really no way to determine if a player is faking or not. Unless, of course, they confess after the game, and no player is that dumb. Right?
The NFL must give injured players the benefit of the doubt, lest they be hit with a lawsuit down the line.
So, if the Cowboys’ intention is to run the no-huddle as a change-of-pace on offense this season – a tactic I applaud, by they way – they should be prepared for more injuries, whether they’re real or not.