A Super Bowl berth could be decided by the Patriots' ability to contain Le'Veon Bell -- and by Pittsburgh's ability to avoid their usual defensive breakdowns against New England.
14 Dec 2005
by Will Carroll
I survived frigid Dallas and a torrent of baseball trades to come back to frigid Indy and a torrent of football injuries. Still, there was no place better to be for a sportswriter over the last couple weeks than Dallas and Indianapolis. Hot stove action followed by a 13-0 hometown team? That's a nice double play combo there, to combine my sports metaphors. Indianapolis is abuzz with both the excitement of the playoffs and the possibility of challenging history. Seeing a town that is, at best, indifferent to most professional sports turn Colts blue every weekend is exciting and shows that apart from the financial implications, there is something to having some rallying point like a pro team.
Late in the season, we're seeing injuries mean more, as there's less time to recover for some players and all the time in the world for others. It's proof that seeing a sport through the lens of injuries is a completely new and important way to watch the game. Enough of that, let's get to it:
Brett Favre is the acknowledged iron man of the NFL -- the idea that a punter should be mentioned in the conversation really doesn't take punishment into consideration. But while a quarterback gets hit a few times a game, a running back is supposed to get hit on pretty much every play. That makes Curtis Martin and his now-ended streak of 119 consecutive games all the more impressive. Since signing with the Jets in 1998, Martin has continually carried a heavy load, returning to the huddle game after game and never missing time. Seeing him stand on the sidelines, felled by an knee injury, is both odd and sad. Odd only in that you don't expect to see Martin there, odd a bit in that it's surprising he's been able to play this long, and sad that this is likely the start of a sharp decline for Martin. There's no historical precedent for a durable player breaking down late in his career and returning to the former level. The career arc of Jerome Bettis â€“ a changed but useful role â€“ is the more likely scenario.
The Redskins need to run the table to make the playoffs, and doing it without Chris Samuels seems a Herculean task. Samuels got rolled somewhere in the trenches and suffered a sprained MCL and a sprained ankle. A left tackle needs his right leg to push off and beat a speedy end to the outside, and it's that right leg that Samuels injured. The Mobile native seems to think he'll be able to be out there, and team sources expect Joe Gibbs to give Samuels the shot. He'll protect Samuels with a tight end cover more than normal and hold the running back in to help pass block. I'd be surprised if Samuels is able to play a full game against an opponent and his own leg, but if anyone can gameplan a way to do it, it's Gibbs.
I'm Southern, so I really shouldn't be as bothered that a guy named Bubba Tyer is the Director of Sports Medicine. Jim Andrews, the top ortho in the world, has a dripping Southern accent that wouldn't be out of place at Tara. Still, Tyer's name isn't the most interesting thing about him this week. No, it was the fact that Tyer spoke to the media, something trainers and doctors aren't allowed to do under NFL policy. Tyer detailed to the Washington Post that Washigton cornerback Shawn Springs hyperextended his back while reaching for a tackle and getting hit. His groin was injured later in the game, possibly in something of a cascade for Springs. See, NFL? That wasn't so painful, was it? Information is a good thing and if it takes some more guys named Bubba to do it, well, my name's still going to be Will.
Peyton Manning might still be complaining about that extra high five-yard line he tripped over in Jacksonville, but is there anything more to this than just a slightly embarrassing moment that turned out to be meaningless? Manning was noted to be limping as he left the field and even some into halftime. He was even walking tenderly at a charity function his Peyback Foundation had on Monday evening. Some of the tenderness is probably residual soreness, but there's also some concern that Manning is dealing with a slight strain of the lower calf or high on the Achilles tendon. There's not a great deal of concern, but if the injury is anything more than the mild problem the Colts barely acknowledge, the decision to sit Manning over the next couple weeks could be a bit easier on Tony Dungy. There may be no bigger starter-to-backup dropoff than from Manning to Jim Sorgi, both in talent and the way it forces the Colts to become a conventional offense. Everyone will be watching this closely, I'm sure. Other situations to watch for with the Colts include the heavy running load on Edgerrin James, the thumb injury that hasn't affected Marvin Harrison at all, and some lingering, building injuries across the defense, especially in the linebacking corps.
It's only a negative if Rudi Johnson can't do it again. The Bengals have been reborn under Marvin Lewis and part of that success has been distributing the ball to keep any one player from being keyed or wearing down. Chris Perry is the clear #2 to Rudi Johnson, but Perry's ankle injury forced Johnson to shoulder the full running back load, something the team seems concerned about. Perry could be done for the season, though not if your definition of â€œseasonâ€? includes the playoffs. Perry is walking in a protective boot and made that very interesting ploy of directing all questions about his injury to team trainers. Yeah, that works well â€“ NFL trainers are banned from speaking to the media. Nick Luchey will be active and could see something of an increased role with Perry out. I guess he's over Jessica? Oh, wrong one, sorry.
Travis Henry finally seemed to be fully healthy, making some highlight reel runs on Sunday until he managed to re-injure his problematic ankle. Henry is expected to be available before the end of the season, but given the Titans situation, there's questionable value in letting him return. It's harder to tell in the NFL when a player might be back. Contracts aren't as black and white as the phrase â€œfour-year extensionâ€? might make it seem, but Henry is a pretty sure thing given his relative low cost. Chris Brown has his own ankle problems but should get the bulk of carries. This could also increase the passing load on Steve McNair and the risk of his taking a big hit while in the pocket or scrambling, as he seems more wont to do recently.
Six sacks takes a toll. So does a long season. Mike McMahon got a dose of both this week, literally limping off the field with a strained hip flexor, a bruised knee, and the normal assorted bumps and bruises that a quarterback gets after being crushed into the turf over and over again. On some teams in this situation, there might be something to learn from the third quarterback, but Koy Detmer is as known a quantity as there is among backups. McNabb will be back next season, so finding out anything from this position, at least, is pointless. The Eagles are merely playing out the string, waiving goodbye to Terrell Owens and this iteration of the Eagles while looking forward to a much better draft pick than anyone anticipated.
The Bucs have built their defenses around athletic defensive tackles like Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland for nearly a decade, but doing that around McFarland is tougher since he seems much more fragile than a 300 lb guy ought to be. Of course, I'm not the one down there getting pounded on by other 300-pound guys. McFarland has a â€œsignificant tearâ€? in his hamstring, I'm told, and could be done for a minimum of the regular season. McFarland has never made it through a full season without a significant injury and this one, sadly, is no different.
Byron Leftwich is a freak. He'll be back in Week 17 â€¦ Kelly Holcomb should be back under center for the Bills with J.P. Losman unlikely to be full-go come Saturday against Denver. I hate the time of year where I have to check to see if it's a Saturday game. Can I just say weekend and be done with it? â€¦ Brian Urlacher dodged a bullet, if not the other car, coming away unscathed after an auto accident â€¦ I noticed during the Winky Wright fight the other night that Gary Sheffield and Ray Lewis look a lot alike. I would not want either angry with me â€¦ DeShaun Foster should be back Sunday. His bruised shoulder won't be enough to keep him off the field as his team heads for the playoff and he fights for touches â€¦ Kevin Jones is hurt. Heck, my fantasy team is dead, so what's he complaining about? Yes, those two facts are related â€¦ Cedric Benson could be back for the playoffs, but no one's sure how close to full-go he'll be this season or what role he might play.
Special thanks to Patrick Laverty for stepping in for me while I was gone last week. The way to win in the NFL is with solid depth. Football Outsiders is no different.
18 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2005, 3:01pm by footballlover