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21 Dec 2005

Black and Blue Report: Week 16

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 – 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 – 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 – some of the reports on Gado's injury in-game had him “tweaking� 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 “Gado left with an undisclosed knee injury.� 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 – that's guard, not Nate Newton wannabe – 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 “season-ending� 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' …

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 – 12 degrees at kickoff, Michael David Smith tells me – 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: “I 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.� It's worth watching for.

Bumps and Bruises

Watching "Lazy Sunday" over and over isn't changing me. Word … 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 … 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 … 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 … A jammed thumb won't jam up Chris Simms and the Bucs. He'll make the weekend start … 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 … Eric Parker is out for the Chargers game against the Chiefs. Sprained feet don't heal that quickly, especially for receivers … Eddie Kennison has a Grade I MCL sprain. No bigs, he's in for the Chargers matchup … I hate seeing Brett Favre go out like this.

Thanks to everyone who e-mails – over 2000 of them over the course of the season – comments, or helps with this column in any way. I hope everyone has a happy holiday and that you have few grievances to air.

Posted by: Will Carroll on 21 Dec 2005

27 comments, Last at 24 Dec 2005, 6:34pm by Dave


by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 1:54pm

By "Clinton Portis getting slam dunked by Roy Williams" I'm sure you mean "Clinton Portis getting horsecollar tackled, without a penalty flag as usual because the NFL rules committee stupidly included a loophole in the Roy Williams rule that allows Roy Williams to still make ridiculous horsecollar tackles on opposing players as they fly by his slow moving feet"

Also, the Redskins placed their best offensive lineman, Randy Thomas on IR after he suffered a fractured fibula. How well do linemen recover after leg fractures?

by MitchW (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 2:03pm

Any word on Gus Frerotte's finger injury?

I read somewhere that he didn't practice on Tuesday and is questionable for Saturday's game against Tennesse.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 2:06pm

Did Randy Thomas go out last week? How's his replacement look? Inquiring Portis fantasy owners want to know...

by foos (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 2:53pm

Re: #3
It is my understanding that 42 year old Ray Brown will replace Thomas.

by Craig B (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 3:46pm

"I guess I should be glad there’s only one armpit to armpit name like this in football..."

Roethlisberger is just as long as

by Craig B (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 3:48pm

Re #5:
Oh wow, that didn't turn out right. They were the same length in the text box. Anyway, the two names have the same number of letters.

by DGL (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 3:57pm

#6: One could observe that the fixed-width typeface used for the name on the Steelers uniform would make "Roethlisberger" as long as "Houshmandzadeh", but then one would risk sounding like ESPN Page 2's Uni Watch.

by JG (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 4:44pm

Hey, I like Uni-Watch. One of the more entertaining things on ESPN.com nowadays.

by bobman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 6:11pm

Does Howie Long dress like a hooker these days too? I never noticed. I'm just saying....

And isn't the preferred term Persian-Americans? I only know one, born in Tehran and moved here as a kid, and he prefers the term Persian. Kind of puts some sanity space between him and the loonies who mourned Khomeni so deeply that they tore his corpse off the bier and shredded him like rabid dogs at his own funeral. Slight exaggeration. Only slight.

I am not clear on what is meant about the Colts with "all should be out..." Do we mean that medically they should be out but they'll probably play, or do we really expect them to be out? I would expect to see George Bush Frenching Barbara Boxer live on TV before Manning keeps out of a game while still able to stand--even if only for a series or two. In interviews, he appears to take more pride in his consecutive games streak than just about anything else.

by Kaveman (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 6:45pm

Any inside scoop on Darrent Williams? :-)

Fascinating as usual, thanks Will.

by turbohappy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 7:35pm

All those Colts will be listed questionable or out and most likely none of them will play when they get routed by the Seahawks.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 11:25pm

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 – 12 degrees at kickoff, Michael David Smith tells me – 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: “I 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.� It’s worth watching for.

Denver has had players come down with cramping problems twice this season. One was obviously week 1 in Miami. I forget the other one, but it was a cooler game- 40 degrees or so, if I'm recalling correctly. Either the Denver Post or Rocky Mountain News ran an article on it, saying that it doesn't really need to be hot to lead to cramps, as long as you have the right combination of conditions. I realize that I'm being absolutely no help here, so I'll see if I can find the link for you.

by JonL (not verified) :: Wed, 12/21/2005 - 11:33pm

What does the age of the coach have to do with team conditioning?

by MRH (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 12:23am

Any good infantryman knows dehydration (main cause of cramps) is a real risk... during cold weather training and operations. In the cold, soldiers still sweat during exercise, and breathing in cold, dry air draws water out of the airways. Indeed, some soldiers on cold weather deployments may actually lose more fluid than those operating in temperate or warm environments because the insulation provided by their clothing can reduce heat loss and promote sweating. If clothing is inadequate and the body cools, they will lose water by urinating more often. Despite this, the cold will make them feel less thirsty.
-from the QinetiQ (British defense contractor) web site cold weather tips; similar discussions can be found in US Army cold weather training manuals.

I'm sure the same concerns apply to NFL players.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 12:59am

Here's an amazing stat for 2005 -- with OL Matt Light being placed on IR today (thus taking him off the injury report for the coming game), the Pats injury list only has one player on it ("Brady - probable (right shoulder)").

by NF (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 4:05am


Along with talk of Clemens returning to Boston, and Damon signing with the Empire, truly a sign of the coming New England Apocalypse.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 2:15pm

Light on IR? Crudballs. I was still holding out hope that he might make it back for the playoffs. Although Ashworth is doing better than Kaczur was.

by mikeabbott (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 5:34pm

PatsFan: I wonder if the league may have finally said something to Bill about his '53 players questionable' style of injury report.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 12/22/2005 - 7:16pm

mikeabbott (#18 )--

Maybe they did, and this is his reaction.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 12:27am

Re #17: It was inevitable that Light was going on IR. Bellichick probably knew it the moment he saw the injury, and chased away the Steeler's trainer so that he wouldn't know it, too. He then waited until week 16 before putting him on IR so that if the Colts started preparing for the New England Patriots 5 weeks early, then they'd be preparing for Light and they'd only have 4 weeks to re-prepare. Which everyone knows isn't NEARLY enough time.

Man, that Bellichick sure is a genius.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 3:55pm

If that's the plan, why put Light on IR now instead of waiting till the playoffs? Is there some rule that you can't go on IR after week 16?

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 5:16pm

B (#21 )--

Putting Light on IR now is aimed at Jack del Rio. Watch for Belichick to not add anyone to the roster, to confuse other potential playoff opponents.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 8:47pm

Given that NE is only $38,500 under the cap (since they are paying 60+ players due to all the people on IR), I doubt anyone else will be added to the roster, and so the Pats will stick with 52 players.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 9:00pm

PatsFan (#23 )--

Nonononono. It's a plan, I tell you! Belichick's just waaaaaaiting 'til everyone's looking the other way, then he's gonna POUNCE!

Jeff George at safety! You heard it here first.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 12/23/2005 - 9:53pm

$38,500? I'll sign with the Pats for that. i think I can play saftey better than [insert name].

by RCH (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 2:32pm

18 - After the Vick incident earlier in the year I doubt that the league has the gumption to bring up the injury report to BB.

I'll be interested to see how much BB rests the starters over the next 2 weeks. Last years SF game was the only one I've missed in the last few years...does anyone recall how much the varsity played?

by Dave (not verified) :: Sat, 12/24/2005 - 6:34pm

The Pats played really slack in the sanfran game and as punishment Belichick kept them in until the end of the 3rd quarter. They blew their NFL record for scoring first in consecutive games by giving up like 14 points before they got serious and won.