Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
21 Dec 2005
by Will Carroll
It's the shortest day of the year, so enjoy the sunlight while it lasts. With only a couple weeks left in the NFL's regular season, injuries take on a different kind of light. What would have been four weeks just a couple weeks ago is now a season-ender. A minor setback sends someone home and players will be both pushed to get out there early and held back even when barely less than healthy. Teams fighting for playoff spots and teams who have locked them up will treat injuries very differently, so noting the context is important for checking out how an individual player will be treated. Even teams out of the hunt change how they do business, looking to next year while some players try to audition their health. If you're starting to watch football through the lens of injuries, it's the time of the year where we have to change the prescription just a bit. Let's get to it:
I've been accused of arrogance enough to know that when I tout myself, I'd better be right. Not just right, but 100% right. When I told you in this space a week ago that Byron Leftwich would be back for Week 17, no one believed me and certainly no other writer backed me up. The very next day, the Jags put up an article saying it wasn't going to happen. I trust my sources and by golly, those sneaky Jags are finally admitting that Week 17 is Leftwich's target. Let's get a bit more in depth â€“ if Leftwich's Jags weren't playing the miserable Texans and if there was anything on the line for this week's game, Leftwich could play. He would be pushing it and the point is moot, but Leftwich's quick healing nature combined with very aggressive treatment has him at the point where it's possible. Teams will be watching his mobility very closely in Week 17, so don't expect Jack Del Rio to show much. Don't be surprised to see a lot of David Garrard in Week 17 and beyond as well.
The Colts lost more than a perfect season on Sunday. Instead of resting starters, as Tony Dungy talked about all week, the team was in 'til the bitter end â€“ and losing too many starters to be comfortable this close to the playoffs. Bye week or not, the Colts don't have the depth at any position to overcome much in the way of injury. (Coffee talk, I'll give you a topic: Star salaries and the cap effect. Discuss.) The most significant injury may be to Marvin Harrison, though he's played all season with a damaged hand and wide receiver is the one position of depth for the Colts. Harrison has a new injury to that same right hand, a non-displaced fracture of one of the carpal bones in his hand. I'm told two different bones by two different sources, but the outcome is the same. It will take a couple weeks to heal, so the bye week is now officially huge for the Colts. Harrison may play some since the risk of further damage is low, but don't expect much. The same holds true for a lot of Colts, including Peyton Manning (knee, Achilles), Dwight Freeney (foot), Bob Sanders (back), and tackle Ryan Diem (knee). All should be out for not only this week's game, but the season finale as well. The Colts are most concerned about LB Cato June (a series of leg injuries stemming from playing through a knee injury) and DT Montae Reagor, whose swollen knee will have an MRI on Wednesday. Is three weeks enough to heal up? The Colts playoff hopes now ride on it.
If the Chargers weren't needing to run the table to sneak into the playoffs, LaDanian Tomlinson would likely be on the sidelines. The rib injury seems to be more serious than the Chargers are letting on, though he will play. At the end of the big Indy win, Tomlinson found himself on the sideline, grimacing in pain and watching Michael Turner run wild on the remnants of the Colts defense. A flak jacket won't be enough to keep Tomlinson out of pain, since it's the compression of a shoulder hit that hurts him more than even a direct hit to his ribs. Tomlinson's ability to play depends on a couple factors: his pain tolerance, Marty Schottenheimer's motivational techniques, and Turner's ability to play a credible tailback. We have last season's groin injury to guide us here, where Tomlinson stayed effective (though not his usual superstar self) at much less than full-go.
Samkon Gado: There aren't many better names in sports. Ignore the great back story and just focus on the name. It's as well suited for a running back as it is for an archvillain, a new venereal disease, or Ron Popeil's latest invention. Gado may not have burst onto the scene like a Willie Parker, but with his performance this year may have solidified a role in the league akin to Dominic Rhodes. Gado has a severely sprained MCL in his right knee suffered Monday, so the happily ever after to his storybook will have to come next year. For now, the Packers RB is sidelined with little chance of returning this season. One other note on this â€“ some of the reports on Gado's injury in-game had him â€œtweakingâ€? his knee. Look, I don't really know the definition of tweak, but the word itself is non-descriptive. If you have to tell me something and you don't know what the injury is, just say something like â€œGado left with an undisclosed knee injury.â€? Tweak is one word we can get out of the sports vernacular.
Call me cautious, but do you ever cringe when you see a player carted off on a stretcher then coming back for the next game? Our latest roll-off return is Marco Rivera, the Cowboys OG â€“ that's guard, not Nate Newton wannabe â€“ who had a scary fall during Sunday's game. He never lost consciousness or feeling and Parcells thinks it's only pain tolerance that will keep Rivera from a start. I'm not questioning the coaches, trainers, or doctors here, but just registering my discomfort with the occurrence. Then again, if I paid someone a $9 million signing bonus, I'd expect him to not only get up off the stretcher, but to put on a halftime show, act out the finale of The Producers, and reanimate Mother Theresa.
The continuing soap opera in St Louis has obscured the emergence of Steven Jackson. Sure, we all knew Jackson was drafted to take over from Marshall Faulk and that he had a rare power-speed combo that reminded me of watching another Jackson play at Auburn when I was a kid. He's not yet proving to be as durable as some would like, but given the vagaries of the situation, it's hard to say what other factors have gone into reducing Jackson's carry totals. Jackson is questionable for this week after a painful hip pointer and the team seems to be leaning to looking to the future and holding him out.
It's not enough that I'm cursed with one team signing Doug Mientkiewicz and Mark Grudzielanek in baseball; now football tosses me an injury to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I guess I should be glad there's only one armpit to armpit name like this in football and there are certainly some great things coming from Iranian-Americans these days. The FO guys like to call him "T.J. Whosyourdaddy" but let's just call him T.J. for now, because we're tight like that. The Bengals won't be without T.J. this week, though they're not likely to push him too hard to make sure that the mild ankle sprain that pushed him to the sidelines this week won't have him at less than full-go come playoff time in just a couple weeks. The Bengals still have a shot at the bye, so if things get close, the starters won't get the short leash that they normally would. (Denver plays the late game on Saturday, so the Bengals need to win to keep their hopes for an off week alive.)
At this point in the season, the IR really doesn't come into play except as a nice, official way of showing someone the door. Kurt Warner heads to the IR and likely out of Arizona after a season of holding a place for someone. The â€œseason-endingâ€? knee injury is a mild sprain of the MCL, something that won't affect him if he is able to land a job in the league next season. Speaking of Warner, have you ever seen his wife and Howie Long in the same place? I'm just sayin' â€¦
Cramps aren't an unusual injury in the NFL, but seeing a number of players come down with cramps in a single game is, especially when it happens on both sides of the field. Odder still, the game wasn't played in the heat of Texas or California, but the cold Chicago day â€“ 12 degrees at kickoff, Michael David Smith tells me â€“ makes it even more surprising. Cramps usually come in heat or from dehydration, so unless the Gatorade froze up, I'm stumped. One source I asked told me it may be the coaches: â€œI don't know either of these [coaches], Lovie Smith or Jim Mora, but they're both young. Maybe their teams aren't quite as conditioned as they should be and we'll see this next week as well.â€? It's worth watching for.
Watching "Lazy Sunday" over and over isn't changing me. Word â€¦ If you were hoping that Cedric Benson would be back this year, step off for a New Year's resolution to stop hoping for things that were never going to happen â€¦ Many thought LaMont Jordan wouldn't hold up to a starter's workload. Turf toe may end his season a bit early, but he went 14 weeks and was on pace for 400 touches. I don't think we need to worry about this next season â€¦ How is the NFL Network not carrying Clinton Portis' insane pressers? We'll see what Portis has to say about his bruised back, the result of getting slam dunked by Roy Williams â€¦ A jammed thumb won't jam up Chris Simms and the Bucs. He'll make the weekend start â€¦ Ronnie Brown won't see the playoffs like his former PIC (partner in crime, yo) Cadillac, but his season won't end because of his ankle and knee injuries. How the Fins figure out the Brown/Ricky Williams jam could be their most important decision of the offseason â€¦ Eric Parker is out for the Chargers game against the Chiefs. Sprained feet don't heal that quickly, especially for receivers â€¦ Eddie Kennison has a Grade I MCL sprain. No bigs, he's in for the Chargers matchup â€¦ I hate seeing Brett Favre go out like this.
Thanks to everyone who e-mails â€“ over 2000 of them over the course of the season â€“ comments, or helps with this column in any way. I hope everyone has a happy holiday and that you have few grievances to air.
27 comments, Last at 24 Dec 2005, 6:34pm by Dave