Of Kyle Williams’ two fateful turnovers on punt returns in yesterday’s NFC Championship, at least one of ’em appeared to be the handiwork (knee-work?) of a player strangely unfocused on the crucial stakes involved. In Monday’s New York Magazine, Benjamin Wallace-Wells considers quotes from various New York Giants and concludes that Williams — the subject of death threats following his monumental gaffes — was “targeted for extra violence because they knew he had suffered several concussions in the past.”
After the game, reporters crowded around the locker of Jacquian Williams, who’d forced the second fumble, hoping for an angle: Had the Giants noticed something about Kyle Williams’s technique, some weakness in the 49ers punt-return scheme? “Nah,” Williams said. “The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game.”
Devin Thomas, the reserve wide receiver who recovered both of Kyle Williams’s fumbles, was even more explicit. “He’s had a lot of concussions,” Thomas told the Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi. “We were just like, ‘We gotta put a hit on that guy.’ … [Giants reserve safety Tyler] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up. I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up.”
It certainly sounds like the Giants’ special teams players were told about Williams’s history of concussions, and that they went after him because of it. (That this has so far drawn no attention from beat reporters suggests that such planning is commonplace). It’s impossible to know whether Thomas is right — if Williams in fact was concussed or woozy during the game — but he didn’t look himself yesterday: There was the third-quarter punt that skimmed off his knee after he seemed to dawdle, unsure whether to pick it up or let it roll, and at least two punts that he fair-caught though he had plenty of room to run. Sports Illustrated’s Ann Killion also noticed “a fumble on a reverse that he fell on, a strange sideways diving catch on another punt that could have been disaster.” Williams played virtually the whole game at wide receiver and didn’t register a single catch.