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14 Dec 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 15

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 – a changed but useful role – 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 “season� 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 – 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 “four-year extension� 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 “significant tear� 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.

Bumps and Bruises

Byron Leftwich is a freak. He'll be back in Week 17 … 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? … Brian Urlacher dodged a bullet, if not the other car, coming away unscathed after an auto accident … 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 … 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 … Kevin Jones is hurt. Heck, my fantasy team is dead, so what's he complaining about? Yes, those two facts are related … 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.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 14 Dec 2005

18 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2005, 3:01pm by footballlover


by ElAngelo (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 2:30pm

Any thoughts/word on Vick?

by mactbone (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 2:56pm

Is there any way to tell if Grossman is fully healed yet? Will there be any lingering effects?

Speculation by some Bear fans is that Grossman isn't completely healthy and that's why he's not starting. I think that's bunk because they wouldn't elevate him this late in the season if he couldn't play.

by B (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 3:04pm

Any word on Brady's leg injury? The Patriots are saying as much about it as the Colts are about Manning.

by ChrisFromNJ (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 3:16pm

Just to add to the chorus of "what about X injury," I'd like to know what the deal is with Antonio Pierce, and perhaps engage in some doomsday speculation as to how his absence could tank the Giants' heretofore excellent run defense (after all, how else can you explain Ryan Moats's performance last week)? I mean, it's certainly one of the more important injuries of the week, and one we haven't heard too much about yet.

by Al H (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 3:29pm

Whoa whoa whoa whoa.

Leftwich back in Week 17? Where's this news coming from?

by bobothemajicchimpanzee (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 5:20pm

Michael Vick?

by zwgman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 6:13pm

This just in about Pierce:

"EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce and defensive tackle William Joseph will miss Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs with injuries.

Pierce suffered a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Giants' 26-23 overtime win at Philadelphia on Sunday.Joseph also got a high ankle sprain in the first quarter against Philadelphia. It was his first game back after missing three games with a dislocated elbow."

Expect to see lots of Larry Johnson.Lots.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 7:32pm

Brady has been downgraded to "questionable (right shoulder, shin)".

And the Pats have put up one I've never seen before "Asante Samuel - questionable (infection)".

Back to Brady, it's like Kremlinology to figure out what things might be, all the way down to analyzing the clothes Brady wears to his press conferences. See Mike Reiss's blog at:
which is far and away the best Boston-based coverage of the team.

by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 8:15pm

Leftwich, by all indications, should hopefully be ready to test his ankle against the Titans in week 17 (hopefully the Jags will have clinched by then). He's started putting weight on it again, and as a quarterback who seldom leaves the pocket his recovery time should be much quicker than you would expect for a guy who rolls out a lot more (Vick, Plummer, etc.) It will be hard to get a read on the situation until the very last minute tho as Jack Del Rio is notorious for keeping everything secretive, including players health and availability. Leftwich was actually asked about the ankle after the Colts game and said that for a breif moment before the game, he actually felt like he could play before coming to his better senses.

by Paul (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 9:24pm

Would there be any good reason for Leftwich to play week 17?

by Vash (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 9:32pm

Massive props for saying nary a word on Roethlisberger's thumb.

by RCH (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 10:56pm

On Tuesday I searched the gambling sites for the spread on Pats/Bucs and many of them had the game off the board. I knew then that there was injury question surrounding Brady. I was very surprised that he stayed in as long as he did last week, especially running sneaks and throwing blocks.

by stan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 11:00pm

Manning tripped over James' leg or foot. It looked that way on the TV when it happened and they confirmed it after the game.

by tunesmith (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 6:25am

Washington is hosting Dallas and then hosting the Giants. In that same two-game stretch, the Giants play Kansas City and Dallas plays Carolina. It seems very possible to me that Washington could make up two games on the other two teams in those two weeks - in fact, the power ranking system I wrote (that's based off of only wins and losses) says that those are the favored results.

by cjfarls (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 6:47pm

This article misses perhaps one of the most significant injuries of the past week... Darrent Williams (CB,Denver) pulling his groin. While all the talk has been about the improved depth in the Bronco secondary this year, that now makes the 3rd CB Curome Cox... I'm already having nightmares that that may be a pseudonym for "Roc Alexander".

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 12/15/2005 - 11:35pm

#10: Nah, No good reason to play in week 17 if he's healthy enough. Why would he actually want to play at game speed a week before he goes on the road for the first round of the playoffs. Especially when he only has 1 receiver with more than 2 years experience. Surely they're timing will be perfect after 5 weeks with a different QB, those young guys are known for their ability to adjust without notice!
If they get a lead and look comfortable and back to normal, of course you yank him just for rest and injury concerns. If his ankle is healed, then its healed. It's not gonna just break again for no reason. If he's healthy he has to start so he can get a rythm back. They were really starting to click right before he got hurt.

by BoyerXL (not verified) :: Sat, 12/17/2005 - 2:52am

What's the word on LT? Did Danny Clark's knuckles have anything to do with Miami shutting him down? Did he dig his knuckles into Tomlinson's chest? Will the injury impact his play? Can Larry Johnson be stopped, by anyone?

by footballlover (not verified) :: Sat, 12/17/2005 - 3:01pm

I'm surprised Leftwich isn't back by now! He is so tough. He played on a broken leg in college and he has bounced back from injuries in half the usual time. Still, when heathly he couldn't beat Maurice Clarett in a footrace so I would sit him until the playoffs.