The number of recorded concussions dropped 25 percent during the regular season, according to the NFL, even as injury reporting and trips to injured reserve list rose overall.
Data released by the league Thursday shows there were 111 concussions in games during the 2014 regular season, down from 148 in 2013, and 173 in 2012, a 36 percent drop over that three-year span.
This follows repeated changes by the NFL meant to cut down on blows to the head, including reduced practice time and rules protecting defenseless receivers and barring leading with the crown of the helmet.
"It would have been nice if we had started this in 1930, but we didn't," said San Francisco 49ers chairman John York, who leads the owners' health and safety committee. "And as things came to our attention, we took more interest in looking at these questions."
When preseason games, plus preseason and regular-season practices, are included, the 202 concussions this season declined 12 percent from 2013, and 23 percent from 2012. That's despite no new rules meant to protect players' heads.
"Players are changing the way they're tackling," NFL Senior Vice President of Health and Safety Policy Jeff Miller said. "They're changing the way they play the game."
Addressing two other areas of player health, Miller said that as concussions have gone down, "We have not seen a correlation with an increase of knee injuries, at all," and that "for the fourth consecutive year, injuries on Thursdays are no greater than they are on Sunday and Monday."
In all, the concussion rate is down to 0.43 per game, Miller said, adding: "You have to play more than two games to get a concussion in the NFL, by those numbers."
A total of 59 concussions were caused by helmet-to-helmet or shoulder-to-helmet hits this season, the league's data says, almost exactly half as many as two years ago.
"With all the technological innovations that we've had over the past few years, I'm surprised the numbers keep going down," St. Louis Rams team doctor Matthew Matava said. "Because you'd think, with more vigilance, you'd see more of any sort of condition."
According to STATS, there were 265 players placed on injured reserve during the regular season in 2014, a 17 percent jump from the 226 the year before.
This season, for the first time, NFL injury data was collected by all 32 teams through electronic medical records, allowing for more comprehensive accounting. That system does a better job of capturing all injuries — from a bruise, say, to a broken leg — according to Christina Mack, an epidemiologist at Quintiles, a clinical research organization that works with the league.
One change is that less-severe injuries, such as a first-degree sprain, are captured more frequently now, she said. Something worse, such as a concussion or torn knee ligament, is just as likely to have been reported under the old setup.
A 15 percent hike in injury reporting from 2013 to 2014 — an increase of about 0.9 per game, on average — is at least in part due to the new system, according to Mack.
HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Pro Football Writer
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