When a team’s season goes bad, one common response is to point to injuries.
At least at the moment, the Panthers lead the division with 13 players on injured reserve. They are linebacker Jon Beason, defensive tackle Ron Edwards, cornerback Chris Gamble, center Ryan Kalil, defensive end Thomas Keiser, cornerback Nate Ness, linebacker Kenny Onatolu, receiver Kealoha Pilares, guard Mike Pollak, safety Sherrod Martin, defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite, running back Tauren Poole and tackle Lee Ziemba.
The Buccaneers are right behind them with 10 players on injured reserve. They are receiver Arrelious Benn, linebacker Quincy Black, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, safety Cody Grimm, guard Davin Joseph, guard Carl Nicks, tight end Danny Noble, receiver Sammie Stroughter, tackle Jeremy Trueblood and offensive lineman Desmond Wynn.
Beason, Edwards, Gamble and Kalil were starters and Pilares was the kick returner. No doubt those injuries have hurt the Panthers.
But, guess what? Tampa Bay’s injury situation is virtually the same. Black, Clayborn, Joseph and Nicks were starters and Benn was returning kicks before he went down.
The difference is Tampa Bay has used its next-man-up philosophy, especially on the offensive line, and fared pretty well. The Panthers are 3-9 and I’ve got a hunch their record might be pretty close to the same even if all the injured guys were healthy.
Injuries matter but they’re not a cover-it-all excuse. We can look to the other two NFC South teams for proof of that. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints each have eight players on injured reserve.
New Orleans’ injured reserve list includes linebacker Chris Chamberlain, receiver Chris Givens, tackle Bryce Harris, tackle Marcel Jones, defensive end Greg Romeus, guard Andrew Tiller, receiver Nick Toon and tackle Fenuki Tupou.
Grimes was a starter for the Falcons and Ewing might have been. Reynolds was starting up until his injury, but I think there’s a chance the Falcons still might have put rookie Peter Konz into the lineup. Chamberlain might have been a full-time starter for the Saints, but none of the rest of their injured guys would have been key players.
You could make a case the Falcons were hit harder than the Saints by injuries. But the Falcons are 11-1 and the Saints are 5-7.