NFL players dine on their knees. Not literally, of course, but every one of them understands a working set of wheels is essential to put food on the table.
That was the rationale Houston defensive tackle Travis Johnson offered for taunting Miami quarterback Trent Green shortly after the two collided and Green lay on the field unconscious.
``If you want to hit me, hit me in my head, hit me in my chest, don't hit me in my knee,'' Johnson said Sunday, still seething long after the game was over. ``I'm trying to eat just like everybody else. So, to hit me like that, that showed me what type of man he was.''
We'll get to what type of man Green is in a moment, but first some background.
Green suffered a severe concussion 13 months ago while playing for Kansas City in the 2006 opener, lost half of last season and briefly considered retirement. Now 37, if Green knows what's good for him, he is considering retirement again very seriously.
In the first quarter Sunday at Houston, shortly after he gave the ball to Ted Ginn Jr., on an end-around, Green watched the rookie fumble, then recover and reverse field with the defense in pursuit. Instinctively, Green took off and tried to block Johnson, who outweighs him by 100 pounds, by diving at his legs.
It was a legal block and Green flipped Johnson head over heels. But the defender's right knee slammed into Green's helmet and knocked the quarterback out. Though Johnson had reason to be furious, there is no defending what he did next, even if the only penalty beyond the 15-yard flag assessed for taunting during the game is likely to be a marginal fine the league won't announce until the end of the week.
That made Johnson look like the villain. But Houston coach Gary Kubiak, a former quarterback himself, wasn't certain that made him wrong. While calling Johnson's reaction ``inexcusable'' and telling his player that, Kubiak also acknowledged calling league officials Monday to discuss the play.
``First off, the league told me that the block's a legal block - his head's in position - it's a legal block. I understand that, but in my opinion it created a situation (where) ... two players could have very easily been hurt very badly.
``I just hope they take a look at it,'' he added, ``and decide if that's what they want.''
The NFL has been looking at low blocks for a long time, making them illegal on most plays involving special teams and changes of possession.
``It's been regulated many, many times - and this in a league that only got around to outlawing clipping about five years ago,'' said Rich McKay, who is the president and general of the Atlanta Falcons and co-chairman of the league's competition committee.
``But we've been reluctant to do anything about that type of block on a standard running play, frankly, because it's the only way for an offensive player to seal the edge. If you watch the lead blocker, say a fullback, going against a linebacker on a play designed to go outside,'' McKay added, ``that low block is usually his only option.''
Open-field hits make the highlight reels, but the really nasty, often-dirty ones take place along the line on almost every play. Defensive linemen have been complaining about low blocks for years, arguing that those endanger their careers, But their supporters have so far failed to get the three-quarters majority necessary to get them outlawed, effectively leaving the linemen to fend for themselves.
``When a player can see it coming and has a chance to defend himself,'' McKay said, ``that's something we're much less likely to legislate against.''
The problem is this case is that Johnson didn't see Green before the collision. He apologized later, saying, ``Really, I let my anger get the best of me.''
But in the seconds right after the play, Johnson lay on his back, wondering whether his career might be over.
``While I'm upside down, while my head is looking at the screen upside down, I'm kind of looking at it like, 'Man, is this it?' ... all I could think about was my family.''
Though Green's teammates said plenty, his only public comment was a statement indicating he would undergo evaluation and testing and thanking ``everyone for their expression of concern.'' There was no mention of future plans, though like a handful of quarterbacks who walked away from the game after several concussions - Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Chris Miller - Green could do so with his place in the game secured, his financial well-being assured and the likelihood of more healthy days ahead than behind. As far as work, he established the Trent Green Family Foundation in 1999 and is involved in more charitable endeavors than there is space here to list.
Cam Cameron, Green's coach and close friend, declined to discuss the possibility the injury would force Green from the game.
``I don't think we really know the full extent, because there are some ongoing tests,'' he said. ``Right now I just think there are too many unknowns.''
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.

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