Lions take ‘next man up’ approach with Slay, Ansah ailing

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Darius Slay

The NFL’s new helmet-hitting and roughing the passer rules have drawn plenty of ire and debate this season.

And this past week’s slate of games only added to it.

In the third quarter of Detroit’s 30-27 loss at San Francisco on Sunday, Lions All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay suffered a concussion while trying to make a tackle and was knocked out of the game following a blow to the helmet.

On a third-and-1 near midfield with 7:58 left in the third, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo dumped a pass off to fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the right flat. When Slay came up to make the stop, Juszczyk lowered his helmet and appeared to initiate head-to-head contact as the players’ helmets slammed together.

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Slay immediately went down and lay motionless on the ground momentarily before undergoing an examination in the sideline medical tent. He was eventually taken back to the locker room and ruled out for the rest of the game with a head injury.

Under the new helmet guidelines, it is a foul if a player — offensive or defensive — lowers his head to initiate and make contact with the helmet of an opponent anywhere on the field. The contact is not limited to an opponent’s head or neck area, and the lowering of the head and initiating contact to a player’s torso, hips and lower body is also an infraction that results in a 15-yard penalty and possible ejection.

However, no penalty was called on the play in question and Lions coach Matt Patricia said Monday he didn’t think Juszczyk initiated helmet-to-helmet contact on the play.

“I think it was a situation where I think after the tackle — again I'm not 100-percent sure — but it looked like there was a leg that might've gone into the side of his head,” said Patricia, who offered no update on Slay’s status during a conference call.

Slay had made five tackles before his day was cut short and he was replaced by second-year pro Teez Tabor, who started in place of cornerback Nevin Lawson but was pulled in the first half.

It was the second straight game Slay had to leave the field to be evaluated for a concussion. In the season opener against the New York Jets, he was a victim of friendly fire when defensive end Ziggy Ansah’s hip collided with the side of his helmet during a tackle. Slay missed only two snaps and returned the next defensive series after being cleared.

In order to play in this Sunday’s prime-time game against the New England Patriots, Slay must go through the league’s concussion protocol and be cleared by an independent neurologist. If he’s unable to go this week, the Lions could possibly be without their defensive stars in Slay and Ansah, who was sidelined in San Francisco with a shoulder injury.

"It's a next man up league,” linebacker Devon Kennard said Monday. “We got talent on this team and obviously guys like Ziggy and Slay are hard to replace, but it's no excuse. We got to go out there and find ways to win and play effective defense.”

Charging up

Patricia opted to have his team stay an extra night and fly back on Monday afternoon rather than travel home following Sunday's game.

According to Patricia, the decision boiled down to one thing — rest.

“Obviously a difficult situation, one that we talked about as soon as the schedule came out with our opportunities here in the first three weeks of the season to try to maximize our rest and our ability to not lose to many nights of sleep," Patricia said. "I think what happened coming off the Monday night game (against the New York Jets), obviously you lose a night of sleep with the Monday night game. Then you have a West Coast travel, we have another Sunday night game (against the Patriots) coming up, so that’s another night of sleep of that you’re going to lose.

"And to try to travel back from the West Coast, back to the East Coast, get in on time and be rested, we thought it would better just to kind of get a good night's sleep, get everything corrected again and take off today.”

Twitter @jamesbhawkins