It’s one of those things you hardly think about in football. The final kneel-down to run out the clock when the opposing team can’t do anything about it is a simple formality, a cruel end to a brutal game. It’s a dire lesson in helplessness, because there’s just about nothing you can do in football when the clock is getting run off like that. There’s probably a greater likelihood of something happening when they intentionally walk a batter than there is in forcing a turnover by rushing a victory formation. In fact, about all you can really do is just hurt somebody. It’s just not something you really do in the NFL, far less anywhere else in the world of American football, right?
But something did happen and somebody did get hurt. Lions center Travis Swanson was seen after the game with an ice pack strapped to his hand and getting sent down for evaluation.
Travis Swanson went to X-Ray room, but Caldwell wouldn't comment on it, nor why Lions didn't announce injury— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) October 16, 2016
This would be a pretty serious blow for the Lions if they were deprived of their starting center, particularly as backup Graham Glasgow has been taking snaps at left guard to compensate for Larry Warford’s absence. But Swanson wasn’t bothered by his hand, and seemed to indicate he would be fine. “Another day at work,” he said.
But how did he get injured in the first place?
After the Lions picked off Case Keenum, there was still about a minute to go. With no timeouts left, the Rams had no chance to stop the clock. It was the end, just like that. Lining up on defense against a play that had no chance to alter the outcome, someone apparently decided to challenge the victory formation. It’s unclear who decided to test the Lions, but the Rams rushed the Lions on both knees, hoping to create some sort of chaos or something.
It also could have been worse than just Travis Swanson. On the first knee, the Rams knocked Laken Tomlinson down onto Matthew Stafford as he took the knee, and you can clearly see Stafford comes up hobbling:
On the second knee, the Rams looked to push the Lions around again and a scrum ensued after the Lions pushed back, plus some jawing from Stafford afterward. The Lions quarterback said after the game, “Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t real fired up about what happened on the first one. We took the second knee, I’m sure that didn’t feel any better for them. So I just let them know how I felt about it.”
Travis Swanson fell down from the shoving, and the pile ended up on top of him.
Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams went full Schiano pic.twitter.com/bb7GvN2kBH— ryan van bibber (@justRVB) October 16, 2016
In the image below, you can see Travis Swanson check out his injured hand as he walks away.
So Swanson certainly appears to have injured his hand, or at least seriously aggravated it, after the second kneel down. This was, again, all on two plays that had a nearly infinitesimal chance of a meaningful outcome that would have favored the Rams somehow getting the ball back.
As pointed out in Ryan Van Bibber’s tweet, the tactic was a favorite of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, who got so high on his own supply of grit and toughness that he flew the damn coop. It was one of his tactics to attack the victory formation in part because, as he told reporters, he was tired of “being known for the kneel down play.”
There is also a particular thread that ties the Rams to this kind of behavior as well. Los Angeles’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, was at the heart of the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” scandal, where he ran a system offering incentives for late hits and intentionally injuring players.
Again, nothing about what the Rams did was illegal, per se. However, it’s one of those unwritten rules in football that is dictated by a basic level of sportsmanship and respect in an utterly violent game, and bum-rushing a victory formation for little gain other than to injure and maim is not going to sit well with coaches and players across the league.
Either way, Jeff Fisher and the Rams have a few things to answer for after Sunday independent of the loss, and Travis Swanson needs to hope his hand wasn’t busted up too badly.
UPDATE 10/17/2016: In a press conference on Monday, Jeff Fisher denied any involvement from the coaches in the Rams deciding to rush the Lions kneel downs. He also hinted that the action may have come in retaliation for something that happened to Aaron Donald during the game, although it remains unclear exactly what he’s talking about.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said those final two plays, when the Rams rushed on the Lions' kneel-downs, did not come from the sidelines.— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) October 17, 2016
Fisher apologized to Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Said it was a retaliation for what Aaron Donald went thru. "We'll address it," he said.— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) October 17, 2016