For once, the most offensive event on Thursday Night Football didn’t come from “color rush” uniforms or pregame political statements. Late in the third quarter, the Green Bay Packers threatened in the red zone but appeared to stall out on this third-down screen play while the Chicago Bears remained two touchdowns behind. At the end of this short gain by Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan came in helmet first straight into Adams’ face, cold-cocking him and nearly touching off a brawl:

Until last year, this was called “spearing,” and it has been against the rules for decades in the NFL, perhaps as long as hard-shell helmets have been around. While the play had not been blown dead yet at the point of the hit, Adams was clearly stopped. Trevathan just as clearly lowered his helmet deliberately to hit Adams while he was being held by other Chicago defenders, and unable to avoid the hit or protect himself. As cheap shots go, this was among the worst of recent years in the league.

Furthermore, this didn’t take place in a vacuum. The two teams had gotten “chippy” in the second half, with pushing and shoving after the plays. In that context, the hit looks much more deliberate than accidental.

The play resulted in a penalty, but very oddly, not in an ejection — even though the refs had that option. In fact, when Trevathan takes his helmet off to yell at the Packers (at about the 37-second mark in the lower right corner), it should have resulted in a second penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s not like Trevathan was hard to miss, as the clip shows.

Trevathan said the hit was just part of the game:

The Bears linebacker said he saw Adams spin, shedding tackles from teammates Pernell McPhee and DeAndre Houston-Carson. By the time they hit the ground, Trevathan was at a full sprint. He had roughly an 8-yard running start against a stationary target, Amos holding up Adams like a human piñata.

In that split second before impact, Trevathan faced the same dilemma every NFL defender meets periodically in his career. Take the shot? Pull up? He settled on destruction.

“I regret,” Trevathan said, “just the level I hit him at. I could’ve been a little bit better, but you’ve got to understand I was in a momentum, and I was trying to make a play. Nothing intentional. It happens in this game.

“Hopefully, they see that. It wasn’t intentional, just trying to make a play.”

Again, lowering the helmet for a hit hasn’t been “part of the game” since at least the 1970s, and for good reason. It’s dangerous for both players. And in this instance, Trevathan had time to see where Adams was being held by Amos and aimed right at his face.

Kevin Seifert writes that the NFL faces a serious test with this case. A fine alone won’t do in this case, he argues — only a suspension will teach Trevathan and NFL teams to keep their heads up:

The NFL has a new tool to suspend Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathanfor the brutal hit he put on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams on Thursday night. If it isn’t used in this instance, then it’s fair to wonder when it ever will be used.

During the offseason, the NFL competition committee announced that certain illegal hits, previously punishable by a 15-yard penalty, would be subject to immediate ejection and/or suspension on first offense. At the time, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said the league wants to eliminate hits that he termed “catastrophic” by employing the maximum level of deterrence.

It’s hard to find a better word to describe what Trevathan did in the third quarter Thursday night. …

Thursday’s dark episode is precisely what the NFL was trying to address with its offseason initiative. I would be stunned if Trevathan is eligible to play in the Bears’ next game, scheduled for Oct. 9 against the Minnesota Vikings.

If suspensions and hefty fines don’t work and refs refrain from ejecting players for such egregious conduct, then perhaps the answer to “catastrophic” hits is to take the hard-shell helmets away from the defense altogether. Let them try those hits with no protection at all, or with a soft leather cap. A couple plays without that weapon and everyone will be using proper technique.

Update: Adams is a wide receiver, not a running back. I’ve corrected it above. Thanks to Steve Eggleston for the gentle correction.