Now that we're a month into the season, we have begun to see the effects of guys playing when they are less than 100 percent healthy. Most football players will tell you that after a week or two of the regular season, nobody on the roster is 100 percent, simply because of the physical nature of the game. Bumps, bruises, sprains and strains are all part of the job, and many times players are practicing and playing through these minor ailments, with no formal mention on the team injury report.
Sometimes, however, as evidenced by the injury reports, players will experience injuries that are serious enough to keep them out for a week or longer but are not enough to sideline them for the remainder of the season. Nonetheless, these are often the types of injuries that might require an offseason of rest to fully heal. Although an athlete might be cleared to play, the possibility remains that the still-recovering tissue might be more easily re-injured. For example, a mild ankle sprain might heal enough to allow a player to play, even at a high level, but one wrong move or one awkward landing can send the athlete back to the training room for the week, and perhaps cost him even more recovery time.
This week we saw several instances of players aggravating prior injuries, now rendering their status uncertain. And, of course, there are always a few new injuries to add to the list. Unfortunately, as you'll see, the list of disabled quarterbacks continues to grow.
Here's a first look at Week 5 injuries as we begin to focus on Week 6:
Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles:
Westbrook's fantasy owners have reason to be concerned -- and not because of his ankle. Westbrook, who played Sunday despite being listed as questionable, left the game early and went to the locker room, prompting speculation that he had aggravated the ankle injury he sustained in Week 3. It turns out Westbrook had taken a shot to the ribs, although he was cleared to return later in the game.
In his Monday news conference, coach Andy Reid indicated Westbrook suffered fractured ribs, although he did not include any more details (how many ribs, which ones, projected time out, etc). There are a number of variables that will factor into whether Westbrook can play and whether he will require protection, such as rib padding, if he does play. Although Westbrook shows up on the injury report regularly, he also manages to play through a great deal of ailments, so it's important not to count him out just yet. After all, he did finish the game and even made some nice plays after sustaining the injury. That definitely gets him my vote in the toughness category. That said, a wise Westbrook owner will secure a backup for Week 6.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers:
Unfortunately for Tomlinson, he is the case study this week for aggravating a previous injury. Tomlinson, who injured his big toe in the season opener, has not been himself in the early going, which is no surprise given the nature of his injury and the relevance of the big toe for pivoting, cutting and pushing off. Each week, though, Tomlinson had maintained that he was improving, that the toe was finally feeling better, particularly while running straight ahead. As such, he rushed for more than 100 yards against Oakland in Week 4 and looked to be on the upswing.
That all changed in Week 5, when Tomlinson exacerbated his toe injury against the Dolphins. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Tomlinson had his toe "twisted into the ground" when he was stepped on by a member of the Dolphins' defense. These big toe problems occur primarily where the big toe meets the ball of the foot, and any excessive force across that joint -- either from hyperextension, torsion (twisting) or impact -- will potentially injure the ligaments and the capsule around the joint. The risk is that if the tissue does not completely heal, the joint can become arthritic down the line -- a very painful scenario.
It would not be surprising to see Tomlinson limited this week in practice, and his return to top form might now require an extended timeline as well.
Gates is another Charger who has been playing while recovering from injury. Gates' offseason toe surgery has been well-documented, and he was very upfront about the toe limiting him throughout the preseason and early into the regular season. But even as his toe has improved, Gates also has been dealing with a hip injury that he sustained early in the season. Although it has not kept him out of any games, the hip injury has limited him in practice, and this week it also limited him on the field. Gates was held to only one reception and seemed to have limited mobility Sunday. Gates' comment to the San Diego Union-Tribune reflects the mentality of tough athletes trying to play through pain, knowing their bodies are not fully cooperating but not letting that be the rationale for subpar performance: "Obviously there are some things I need to do physically ... But once you decide to get on the field, you have to put everything else behind you." It's an admirable stance, but it does not hide that being at less than full health impacts his performance. It will be interesting to see if Gates has a lighter work week in advance of Game 6.
Meanwhile, Gates' teammate, Chris Chambers, injured his leg on the last play of the fourth quarter Sunday. The Union-Tribune is calling Chambers' injury an ankle sprain, and there is no word yet as to the severity of the injury. The Chargers have to be hoping this injury is not a long-term concern.
Trent Edwards, QB, Bills:
Edwards took a shot from Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, who flew in untouched and sent Edwards reeling. Edwards was on the ground for several minutes after the hit and was eventually helped off the field. Later seen on the sidelines, and even later as he was carted into the locker room, Edwards still appeared dazed. According to Associated Press reports, after visiting with his injured quarterback after the game, coach Dick Jauron said Edwards was "responding, but he was still a little groggy." Jauron added, "It's a good time to have a bye." That might be the ultimate understatement. Edwards will have an extra week to recover from his concussion, but as is typical of head injuries, it is impossible to predict a recovery time frame -- it will simply be measured by how Edwards feels from day to day.
Brian Griese, QB, Buccaneers:
Griese took a big hit from Champ Bailey on Sunday, and it was anyone's guess as to which body part was injured. It looked as if it could have been his head, his neck or a shoulder. But the St. Petersburg Times is reporting Griese said he sustained an "elbow bruise" as a result of the hit. He also reported immediate swelling, which is not surprising but perhaps very limiting as far as the function of the elbow. The elbow might just have been the body part that got the worst of it. At this point there are no further specifics, but we will keep an eye on Griese's status this week.
Hasselbeck was hit on the first drive of Sunday's game and sustained what the Tacoma News-Tribune is reporting as a hyperextended knee. Hasselbeck said he was initially in a great deal of pain, which subsided to some degree over the next few minutes. He is scheduled for an MRI on Monday.
After the near depletion of their receiving corps, the Seahawks were very excited about the return of their two injured stars, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch. Engram's season debut was quite successful; Branch's was not. Branch, approximately eight months removed from left ACL reconstruction, suffered an injury to his right heel, according to the Seattle Times. Coach Mike Holmgren implied that Branch's injury could cause him to miss time, but there are no further specifics as of yet. Nonetheless, Branch's fantasy owners may want to make other plans.
Rookie Eddie Royal, who was initially projected to be primarily a special teams player, had quite a welcome to the NFL as a wide receiver in Week 1 when he put up 146 receiving yards and a touchdown versus the Raiders. That was also the week Royal initially injured his ankle. Royal has been listed on the injury report since that time, because of the ankle, but has been able to practice and play with the injury, which appeared to be minor.
That minor injury might have become more significant in Week 5 -- Royal aggravated the ankle on a punt return in the third quarter. The Denver Post reports that although X-rays were negative, Royal left the locker room on crutches and limping well after the game was over.
Teammate Tony Scheffler left the locker room in the same condition as Royal -- on crutches and limping -- but for a different reason. The Post is reporting that Scheffler suffered a left groin injury. After initially experiencing some discomfort in the first half, Scheffler continued to play, but the problem seemed to worsen on his final catch of the game. As Scheffler put it, "You go through the game, and there's some soreness and tightness in there, and then something happens at the end that kind of puts it over the edge."
You never like to see athletes on crutches, since it implies a degree of seriousness to the injury, but crutches also permit unloading (non-weight bearing) of the injured part, which can go a long way in the early stages to improve tissue healing. It certainly helps prevent worsening of the injury, and it also helps keep an athlete from compensating by limping, which can lead to problems in another area. As a result, it is important not to read too much into these injuries just yet. We will hear more from the teams as the week progresses, and we will see what Scheffler and Royal are able to do in practice (if they are able to practice). Meanwhile, receiver Darrell Jackson, sidelined since Week 1 because of a calf strain, can help fill a potential void if he is ready to go in Week 6. As Mike Shanahan told the Denver Post, "That's why you have to have depth." Yes, Mike, fantasy owners know all about that.
Other noteworthy injuries:
On a positive note for Week 5, Aaron Rodgers was able to throw for his first 300-yard game at Lambeau Field, despite his sprained shoulder. Rodgers was a game-time decision to start because he had not been able to throw much during the week and had to prove to the coaches Sunday morning that he had the strength in his arm to get the job done. Rodgers was able to deliver some nice sharp passes in the Packers' loss, although he acknowledged to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that his shoulder was painful throughout the game. Don't be surprised if he is allowed to rest his shoulder in practice this week in preparation for Week 6.
Jon Kitna was removed as the Lions' quarterback because of back spasms. Although some speculated his removal was due to poor performance, coach Rod Marinelli said in his postgame news conference that the switch was made as a result of Kitna's back problems. Kitna has dealt with back spasms before, so this is nothing new. How limiting this episode will be remains to be seen. Backup Dan Orlovsky sustained a high ankle sprain late in the game, so it is unclear who will get the start for the ailing Lions this week.
New York Giants receiver Domenik Hixon, taking advantage of the absence of Plaxico Burress (suspension), suffered a concussion that kept him out of the second half, or his numbers might have been even better. The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that Hixon wanted to return, suggesting his injury might not be too serious, but the team declined his request, choosing to err on the side of caution. Never a questionable call when it comes to head injuries.
Patriots running back LaMont Jordan left Sunday's game with an undisclosed injury on a non-contact play in the first half. He did not return to the game, and his status for Week 6 is uncertain. We may not hear much more as to the nature of his injury from the Patriots, but as always, we will stay tuned to the practice and injury reports.
Be sure to check back here throughout the week as we update these and other injuries. Also, stop by my injury chat (11 a.m. ET on Tuesdays and Fridays) to discuss the status of your injured players. Hope to see you there!