by Will Carroll
Normally, I use the intro to this column to talk about an issue that just doesn't fit in the flow of the rest of the article, but I'm feeling a bit drained. Between questions of manhood, questions of ethics in journalism, and an exciting ALCS that I won't discuss since there are a few Red Sox fans in my editing flow (hi Aaron!), I'm just sticking to facts this week. There's plenty of meat on the bones this week, especially when it comes to brain injuries. Let's get to it:
Jim Andrews is the medical director for the AL Champ Tampa Bay Rays. He didn't get to join in the champagne celebration Sunday night because he was prepping for surgery on Reggie Bush Monday morning. Bush had a minor knee surgery done to correct the small tear in his lateral meniscus, which in itself is a cascade from his PCL strain. The laxity in the knee led to a bit more shear force being put on the knee. Bush will miss this Sunday's game in London, but not much more. The rush to get him under the knife has a lot to do with getting him back after the bye week and trying to get the Saints back on track for a playoff spot. Bush's carries will go to Deuce McAllister, with a couple nice matchups coming up, but the real effect will be on the passing game, where there's simply no way to replace Bush's versatility out of the backfield.
Tony Romo didn't play this week, a pretty clear decision made by Romo during warmups. One source told me that Romo was having some issues with the protective device on his hand and didn't "feel comfortable" when trying to hold the ball. Romo did the right thing and stepped aside. Now, with all the other things going on, Romo looks to be ready to come back. He'll have more time with that protective device, though Romo is talking about taking it off if it's bothering him late this week. He's also doing everything possible to help the hand heal up, including bone stimulators and pharmaceutical aids.
There's a lot of talk about Tom Brady's second surgery. While it's easy to dismiss this as similar to what happened with Peyton Manning, there's an additional danger for Brady. That is that the infection is "in" the hardware -- the screws used to fixate the new ligament replacement. If that's the case, then Brady will possibly need a re-do of the ACL repair. That sounds harsh, but in fact, it isn't. It's a setback, to be sure, but given the time that Brady has to rehab, it's not likely that it would cut into his 2009 season. This type of sequencing would be hard on anyone and it's not easy on Brady, especially just the stress of continued surgery, but it's hardly a real threat to his football future.
Speaking of the Patriots, it caught a lot of people by surprise when New England pushed Laurence Maroney to the IR, ending his season. There wasn't a whole lot of clarity before the move on what exactly was wrong with his shoulder and there's less now. Maroney has indicated that there's more than just the shoulder going on there and that surely played some role in the decision. Maroney's shortened season is one of those things that makes one step back and wonder if the Pats are pulling back and looking to 2009, at least until Matt Cassel channeled Tom Brady on Sunday. With Sammy Morris going down Sunday with a knee injury, there's more pressure on Kevin Faulk, who always seems to be the last man standing in the Pats backfield. We should know more on Morris later this week, but with Maroney, he remains a player that's an enigma or worse, an "if healthy" guy -- as in, "he'd be great if healthy, but he never is."
The Seahawks don't think Matt Hasselbeck will be back this week, but given the play of his replacements, they're hoping. There has been a lot of discussion about the team shutting Hasselbeck down or even surgery to repair his disc problem, but the team isn't considering either option, though I'm sure they have been mentioned. Hasselbeck should be able to come back once they can get ahead of the pain/spasm cycle and get the disc into a more compliant state. Once they get to that stage, they can start discussing a comeback. The biggest concern is that while Hasselbeck can and likely will return in the next few weeks, its possible, even likely, that there will be some kind of setback. The medical staff is going to have to make that judgement between "safe to play" and "unlikely to recur" at the same time that the coaching staff is pushing for their starter to get back on the field.
It's just stupid that the Browns are talking about fining Kellen Winslow for speaking about his staph infection. Maybe they're hoping to use the money to re-clean their facilities, since it seems that whatever they've done the last few times hasn't worked. Even opposing teams have had issues, so the problem is not contained. The fact is that while it's understandable for the Browns to be upset about Winslow's comments, he's exactly right. This is Winslow's second time dealing with an infection and the sixth time a Browns player has gone through it, so speaking out seems his best line of defense. It's hard to say how this will affect Winslow's play going forward. All you guys out there will understand when I say he'll need to be sure everything's OK after a "procedure" to relieve pressure in his scrotum before he gets back on the field.
If we're going to hit the Colts for under-reporting injuries, we're going to have to do the same to the Cardinals. We knew that Anquan Boldin had broken sinuses and anyone with a reasonable level of wakefulness knows that he had a concussion, but the broken jaw he was speaking through on Sunday was a bit of a revelation. It surprised me, largely because I focused on the impact (no pun intended) of the concussion on his comeback and because breaking the jaw is so difficult with modern helmets and mouthpieces. Actually, I was able to determine that the jaw didn't break; Boldin had to have the jaw realigned using wires, so initial reports of a fracture were overblown. I can't tell from video if Boldin had his mouthpiece in on that play or even in general, nor can I tell how the jaw was involved. I'm also surprised that this could be kept silent, but I will admit that the Cards did a good job doing so. If this kind of damage can be done with a hit -- and Hines Ward put a nasty one on someone this weekend -- it's time to look again at enforcing mouthpiece rules. Boldin was back at practice on Monday and despite the plates and wires, it looks like he'll play on Sunday.
Ike Hilliard got blown up Sunday night and the clip shows everything that's wrong with the NFL today. The hit was not dirty or illegal, but was clearly a helmet-to-helmet hit. While LeRoy Hill wasn't "leading with his head," it was the initial point of contact. Hilliard was leaning forward, but that's just how people run, so he can hardly be faulted. There's the possibility that the trailing defender pulled him up -- I just can't tell -- and made him a more upright target, always a concern, moreso for running backs. As Hilliard went down, you can clearly see his arms "lock out," the clearest sign that he was unconscious. It's unknown how long he was out, but he was released from the hospital Monday and the Bucs say he could be available on Sunday. I'm sure they'll have him pass all the tests and baselines, but the idea that he can come back within a week? Maybe Hilliard needs to read this. Maybe we all do.
Pansy game? Maybe if Troy Polamalu dialed it back a bit, he wouldn't be suffering from yet another concussion. While Polamalu says it's his sixth, sources tell me that it's at least his tenth as a pro and that he was "flagged" before he was drafted as someone who had concussions in college. I'll point again to the article about Ryne Dougherty, the high school football player who died after a second head injury within a month. It's gotten to the point where I know I sound like Chicken Little, claiming that the sky is falling while Polamalu and others claim that the idea of safety and health is anathema to what they do. I'm not challenging anyone's manhood, just their intelligence. Race drivers wear seatbelts and helmets and quickly adopted new cars and restraints after the death of Dale Earnhardt. If players and teams won't do something, it's time for the league to figure out what's necessary, from taking control of medical staffs to a Manhattan Project for helmet research. Polamalu? He'll be back out there soon, I'm sure, not being a pansy and hoping that his brain isn't turned to mush by the next hit.
I'm sure some of you are stunned that Steven Jackson is this far down the page. It should tell you just how serious I think this is ... or rather, how serious I think it isn't ... or how ... wait, I'm confusing myself. Jackson's quad strain is not serious, a Grade I+ that is uncomfortable, but not a major problem. Where this could affect the Rams is in knowing that they're not really a good team despite two big wins and knowing that without Jackson, they're a really bad team. That will lead them to be very conservative. While I expect Jackson to play, the slightest issue will cut into his carries and the Rams' effectiveness. I'd expect to see him back practicing on Friday and getting the majority of the carries come Sunday, but not his normal feature load.
Bumps and Bruises
Brodie Croyle didn't tear his ACL, but the MCL sprain will end his season. Worse, Damon Huard looks out this week with a hand injury, putting Tyler Thigpen back under center ... Speaking of MCLs, Willie Parker thinks he'll be back this week, but sources in Pittsburgh seem less sure. They think Parker will be in a timeshare with Mewelde Moore "at best" ... If that's how Clinton Portis plays on a painful hip pointer, the Skins are going to keep him injured. Portis leads the league in DYAR by leaps and bounds ... Plaxico Burress will play with a torn pinkie. We did learn that he played through the same injury last season, just on the other hand ... Marques Colston made it through his first game back without any problems with the thumb ... Jeremy Shockey "did the splits" on an early play in his first game back, but says the pain is in a different spot than his hernia repair. We'll have to keep an eye on his practice reports to see the real effect ... Drew Bennett isn't back from his broken foot just yet, but he's not far off ... The Bears seem very concerned about Devin Hester's latest injury, a strained quad. Their wide receiver corps is very thin ... Roy Williams (the defensive one) is done for the season after re-breaking his arm. That's a really bad injury and one that's a black eye on the medical staff ... Rodney Harrison is done for the season and maybe longer. Variously reported as a knee injury and a quad strain, it appear Harrison has torn the quad very near the patellar tendon. That's bad.