One hit puts Geathers in spotlight
CINCINNATI - Until this week, Robert Geathers' football distinction was his family history — a father and uncle who also were NFL defensive linemen.
One hit on Kansas City quarterback Trent Green pushed him into the spotlight.
Since knocking Green unconscious in last Sunday's season opener, the Cincinnati Bengals lineman has been put in an uncomfortable position, watching all the replays and explaining why the play turned out that way.
"I couldn't have done anything different," he said Wednesday, choosing his words carefully and sparingly.
Game officials threw no flag on the play. On Wednesday, the league office agreed, absolving Geathers. "The injury ... was unfortunate and has drawn much commentary, but it is not a foul," Ray Anderson, the NFL's senior vice president, said in a news release.
That shoulder-down hit has become the signature moment of Geathers' brief career.
A fourth-round draft pick from Georgia in 2004, Geathers lost his starting job this season and was relegated to rushing the passer — what he does best. He had six tackles and a pair of sacks Sunday, overshadowed by one play.
Green took off on a third-quarter scramble. Geathers was blocked from behind by receiver Eddie Kennison as he closed in on the quarterback, who went into a slide just before he was hit. Geathers' shoulder landed high on the chest, providing the force that snapped back Green's head.
The capacity crowd at Arrowhead Stadium booed as Green lay motionless before being taken off on a cart with a severe concussion. He's expected to be out for a few weeks.
Chiefs president Carl Peterson fumed that the play crossed the line and should have been penalized.
"In my opinion, I think it was a late hit," Peterson said, a day later. "I think it was obviously a very vicious hit, one that unfortunately Trent Green and the Kansas City Chiefs are paying a price for."
In Cincinnati, Geathers has been trying to ignore the hubbub. When Geathers saw reporters and photographers forming a semicircle around his locker Wednesday, he flinched.
"I want to take care of it professionally," he said, referring to the attention. "I think I'm handling it all right."
He's getting a lot of support from teammates.
"I said it before: Robert's not a malicious player," quarterback Carson Palmer said Wednesday. "He doesn't take cheap shots. He's an honest football player, and I think it was an honest play. He's going in trying to get a tackle."
Palmer was on the other end of a disputed hit during the playoffs last January. Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen slammed into his left knee after he threw his first pass in a 31-17 loss to the Steelers, shredding two ligaments and dislocating his kneecap.
Just like in Kansas City, the Bengals fans booed after that hit, which wasn't flagged, either. The Steelers lineman was coming off a block, just like Geathers.
"Football is football," Palmer said. "Bad things happen. Good things happen sometimes. Unfortunately, something bad happened for Trent. We're all praying for him and hoping he recovers."
Geathers wants to get on with re-establishing himself.
His uncle, Jumpy, had 62 sacks for New Orleans, Washington, Atlanta and Denver from 1984-96. His father, Robert Sr., was drafted in the third round by Buffalo in 1981.
Geathers got off to a good start as a rookie, ranking fourth on the team with 3 1/2 sacks and returning an interception for a touchdown. He moved from left end to the right side last season, started every game and had three sacks.
He's been a backup this season, using his speed — he's 17 pounds lighter — to go after the quarterback on passing downs.
"Last year, we asked Rob to move inside on passing downs, which kind of limited him a little bit," left end Bryan Robinson said. "This year, he just comes off the edge, so he can do what he naturally does best and get after the quarterback."
Geathers is hoping the clamor goes away.
"I'm not even thinking about it," Geathers said. "It will take care of itself."
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