by Will Carroll
No intro. Go Vote! Then come back and we'll get to the injuries:
The Bears are still waiting for the final, definitive diagnosis on Kyle Orton, but we know enough now to get a pretty clear picture. Orton had a forced deflection of his foot while his leg stayed stable, the classic mechanism for a high ankle sprain. According to sources, the diagnostic delay is over whether Orton tore the ligaments (which would require surgery) or just has a severe sprain (avoiding surgery). Even the lesser of these two evils is going to cost him about a month, though Orton's not a terribly mobile quarterback in the first place. There's still the chance that Orton won't heal up without surgical intervention, which would end his 2008 season. We should know more by the end of the week, but Bears fans are going to have to hope that a half-season of watching might have helped Rex Grossman.
While the anterior cruciate ligament gets all the attention, the medial collateral ligament might be the "it injury" in the NFL right now. Matt Schaub is the latest to injure his, costing him a month. Thought to be minor at the time of injury, Schaub's knee swelled up at halftime and ended up being a near-complete tear of the MCL. Schaub won't have surgery -- the current surgical standard is that the MCL is not replaced or even repaired unless absolutely necessary -- and after that month, there will still be some issues. A quarterback like Schaub who doesn't run is still affected by the MCL sprain in their dropback, which is essentially a lateral run, or more accurately, a carioca. If Schaub is a beat slow getting back or has trouble with his footwork in throws, it could be more than the original estimates or towards the long end.
The Steelers won and Byron Leftwich looked decent enough, but the continuing issues with Ben Roethlisberger and his shoulder are the biggest weakness we're seeing for the Steelers. Roethlisberger did take a couple of big hits, but from the first throw he made (and likely before), his shoulder was clearly weakened or limited by pain, ruining his accuracy. By halftime, it was clear that he couldn't continue. With a short week before facing the Colts, the Steelers might be forced to keep Leftwich under center. Indy's pass rush hasn't been much this season as Dwight Freeney has lost some confidence in anything other than his spin move, so we likely won't know who'll line up at quarterback before game time. At this stage, Roethlisberger looks to need at least a week off to try and get healthy, though without more knowledge of what's going on with the shoulder, it's impossible to tell what the long-term prognosis will be.
Matt Hasselbeck has had a fall nearly as bad as his sister-in-law's, but at least he has a shot at winning later this year. Hasselbeck won't, however, be back for Week 10 as the Seahawks had previously thought. Hasselbeck's back continues to be symptomatic, so much so that the team isn't sending him back to L.A. to be cleared by his spinal surgeon. Mike Florio's good with watching flight info, so maybe a tail number might help us figure out Hasselbeck's timetable as much as the information we have. Sources tell me that Hasselbeck is simply progressing slowly and could be back practicing later this week, but playing won't happen before Week 12.
Steven Jackson wrote on his Web site that he'd be playing, so "be ready." Umm, OK. For what, a crappy performance where he was clearly hobbled by the quad? Once again, I was surprised at how much the leg affected him. Since I haven't seen him in practice, I relied on the beat reports, which were all upbeat, but turned out to be dead wrong. Jackson's quad strain is obviously much more serious than we were led to believe, and the tire-swinging media isn't helping. The location of the strain, low on his quad near the knee, has led some of my sources to question if there's some tendon involvement as well. Jackson hid the injury last week and pushed his way into the lineup, something that the Rams staff will be much more cautious about this week. Jim Haslett is already saying that Jackson will need a full week of practice to start, but with Antonio Pittman (hamstring) and Travis Minor (concussion) likely out, Haslett might not have much choice.
Early in the game Monday night, I saw Willie Parker go right, dip with both knees, and make a confident cut upfield. Right there, I saw everything I was looking for. Parker had no problem getting back into the flow of the game and showed no deficits or even limitations with his injured knee. Absent the knowledge that he'd missed weeks of time, I don't think anyone could have picked between Parker and Mewelde Moore if I'd asked "hey, which one was injured?" Parker's injury might serve as a bit of a rest, given Mike Tomlin's "run him 'til the wheels come off" philosophy. In the longer run, Parker might have more runs in the second half than he might have otherwise. Injuries can sometimes be positives.
I wasn't surprised that Jason Witten played. The Cowboys tipped it by allowing him to work out before the game. Teams that do that have a bias to letting the player play. If they want to shut someone down, they can do that at any point and tend not to give them that closing argument. Witten not only played, he played deep into a game that the Cowboys were out of early. Witten wasn't kept in blindly; the offense thinks that Witten's blocking is valuable enough to the passing game that once they felt he was able to play, absent him asking out, he was going to stay in. The Cowboys protected Witten by not using him as a reciever. They have a week off and hopefully Witten will be able to be used in a more normal role.
The Bucs are consistent in dealing with injuries, saying nothing. We know that Earnest Graham suffered a knee injury and that Jon Gruden is "worried." Beyond that, nothing. Officially, Graham's mechanism is unknown, his symptoms are unknown, and the effect is unknown. Sources tell me that the injury isn't as serious as the team is letting on and that the pain is mostly from bruising. Graham played in the second half with the injury and while he will get some imaging done, it doesn't look to be a sprain or strain. The team does have the bye week upcoming and a decision to make on Cadillac Williams, but with Graham, Warrick Dunn, and B.J. Askew hurting, anything Williams can give might be just relief, if not an upgrade. (Also, watch out for how Gaines Adams comes back next week from what's said to be a shoulder separation.)
Pass rushers seem to get injured at a higher rate than most players. I'm not sure if that's a skewed perception or truth -- and where's Bill Barnwell when you need him? -- but this week, two of the best are banged up. Kyle Vanden Bosch went out after missing last week's game and re-injured his groin. It's more of a setback than a step back, and Vanden Bosch is expected to try and play again this week. Jared Allen is a bit tougher to read. Allen separated his shoulder and pinched a nerve inside the joint space. He had a painkilling shot at halftime and played through it before doctors figured out what the problem was after the game. He may suffer more damage because he is playing numb, but Allen is the type that will just take another shot. Someday 20 years from now, Allen might be one of those NFL old-timers complaining about injuries, but for him and the others that knowingly took these kinds of risks with their health, I have no sympathy.
Bumps and Bruises
Reggie Wayne looked fine to me on Sunday night. Anyone see something I didn't? ... Kolby Smith is done for the year with an ACL tear ... Dan Orlovsky's thumb injury shouldn't keep him out of next week's game. After that, it's up to Daunte Culpepper's intake of the playbook ... Santana Moss was very limited in Monday's game by his hamstring, but came out no worse for playing ... After 14 yards rushing as a team on Sunday, Michael Pittman's lucky that he and the other running backs weren't strangled by Mike Shanahan. He does, however, have a recurrent stinger that's pushed him to the IR, opening the door for Ryan Torain ... Joe Jurevicius is done for the season after not being activated ... Patrick Kerney is having his shoulder repaired again by Dr. James Andrews and is likely done for the season ... L.J. Smith is expected back from concussion this week ... With Melvin Fowler and Brad Butler out, the Bills' running game has slowed. Look for the offense to adjust this week, though Marshawn Lynch will still have a tougher go of it.