Head injury ends career of Browns RB Lewis
BEREA, Ohio — Jamal Lewis has plowed into the line for the last time.
Cleveland's punishing running back, who announced last month that he planned to retire following this season, was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with post-concussion symptoms, a premature and unceremonious ending to his illustrious NFL career.
Coach Eric Mangini, who declined to mention Lewis' injury in two news conferences this week, said the decision to put Lewis — and safety Brodney Pool — on IR came after consulting with the club's medical team.
"As I've said before, organizationally, players' health and safety are paramount in any decision we make with regards to putting them back on the field," Mangini said in a statement. "Jamal has been an integral part of this team and he has exhibited a great work ethic. He worked hard, studied hard and set a good example for the younger running backs."
Pool sustained at least his fourth known concussion against the Bengals.
The Browns' decision on Lewis and Pool came hours after the NFL implemented stricter instructions for when players should be allowed to return to games or practices after head injuries. Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the 32 clubs saying a player who gets a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he shows certain signs or symptoms.
With a bruising style that flattened would-be tacklers, Lewis rushed for 10,607 career yards, ranking him 21st on the NFL's all-time list, just 36 yards behind Ricky Watters (10,643) for 20th place. Lewis was the league's offensive player of the year in 2003, when he rushed for 2,066 yards with Baltimore.
Unfortunately, Lewis' final season was his worst. He ran for 500 yards on 143 carries — a 3.5 average — and did not score a touchdown. He did not start in Sunday's game at Cincinnati, but came in for the second offensive play and finished with a team-high 40 yards on 11 carries.
Lewis' final carry was a 1-yard run with 14:02 left.
Earlier this season, Lewis, an offensive co-captain, criticized Mangini for working Cleveland's players too hard in practice. He also questioned the team's lack of an offensive identity. Lewis backtracked on his comments a few days later, blaming reporters for "blowing it out of proportion."
Lewis seemed content with the idea of retirement, and said he was looking forward to life away from football. He owns several lucrative businesses, including a trucking company based in Atlanta.
Lewis signed as a free agent with the Browns in 2007. He rushed for 1,304 yards that season — the most by any Cleveland back other than Hall of Famer Jim Brown.
While Lewis' career is over, Pool is facing a difficult decision on his future.
A five-year veteran, Pool suffered another concussion in the third quarter on Sunday and may have to consider giving up the game.
Mangini said no decisions have been made about Pool's future beyond 2009.
"We haven't talked about the long term," he said. "That's a discussion for a later time period. You never want to have a conversation about injuries with anybody, but unfortunately it's something that is a reality and it's never a fun conversation but they are always important."
Pool has started 10 games this season and 49 since the Browns selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft out of Oklahoma. In Sunday's 16-7 loss, Pool was injured early in the second half. He walked off the field, was escorted to the locker room and did not return to the sideline.
Pool's situation has many of his teammates concerned about his health — and their own. With concussions a hot topic in the league, players are learning more about the dangers of head injuries and their lasting effects.
Browns linebacker David Bowens has seen a big change in the way teams are treating concussed players.
"Early in my career, it was like, 'OK, he's got a concussion, can he count to three?' Now it's a big deal. You see how the older players, how it's affected their lives post-career and it is a serious issue. I think the awareness level has definitely heightened because of it, and the teams are taking better precautions. Safety issues regarding helmets, that's gone up. There's a lot of steps being taken."
Browns wide receiver Mike Furrey said he spoke on Tuesday to former teammate Kurt Warner, who missed Arizona's game last week against Tennessee with post-concussion symptoms.
"I don't think anybody really has an understanding yet of the symptoms and why things are happening the way they're happening," Furrey said. "There's no answers."
Furrey said it's not uncommon for a player to lie to a team doctor to keep playing.
"When you're talking about a little headache throughout the week, you obviously feel like you're still going to be able to play on Sunday," he said. "But nobody knows the extremities of those headaches or the difference of a light one or a heavy one or not having any other symptoms, being nauseated and sick throughout the week.
"As a competitor you want to keep playing, so obviously you probably would stretch the story just a little bit to get back on the field and it's just the nature of any athlete that wants to play on Sundays."
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