Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, one of the NFL's top free-agent acquisitions this past season, will play Super Bowl LI with a fracture in his left fibula that he suffered in the NFC Championship Game, according to sources.
One source said that if this were the regular season, Mack could miss six to eight weeks, and the fact that's he's playing Sunday is a big concern among the Falcons.
The Falcons' staff is confident Mack will hold up in pass-blocking, but is uncertain whether he will be effective on downfield blocks or whether his leg will hold up. Mack didn't practice the week after the NFC Championship Game, then was limited in practice this past week.
"Getting him a chance to see him practice at full speed on Wednesday, Thursday was really important for me," Falcons coach Dan Quinn told ESPN's Ed Werder on Saturday. "I wanted to make sure he could go do his thing and just really fly and haul. He's such a unique player because of the quickness he plays with, so I was pleased to see that. We held him the week prior to heal and get right. I was pleased he got the work in. It was totally by design. We were going to give him half his normal reps on Wednesday and Thursday and let him do the normal Friday, and that's how we laid out the week for him. It went exactly like we thought."
Mack will receive a pain-killing injection to help him get through the game, per sources.
The fracture occurred above the plate that Mack had inserted in his left leg after he broke his fibula in 2014. The plate might have helped to support the leg, which suffered what one source theorized could be a "chip fracture."
"I just know his toughness and strength is so great," Quinn said earlier this week. "The good thing is, I know he's feeling better than he did in the NFC Championship Game. But yeah, I'm concerned. I'm not panicked, but I'm concerned."
Mack was hurt in the second quarter of the Falcons' 44-21 win against the Packers. He left the game for one play, then re-entered and played until sitting out the final series. Ben Garland is his backup.
"This game, because of multiple fronts by New England, requires a lot of prep work by the center," Quinn said. "Identifying this look, this front, this player's positioning, [Mack and Garland] spend a lot of time in the film room together normally ... and I would say it's been even more these two weeks because this opponent requires even more."
If Mack plays, he'll join an exclusive list of stars who played in the Super Bowl with major injuries, including former Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood, who played in Super Bowl XIV with a broken fibula; Charles Woodson, who played in Super Bowl XXVII after having surgery for a crack in his right fibula a month earlier; and Terrell Owens, who played in Super Bowl XXXIX with a fractured fibula and torn ligament in his right ankle that he suffered seven weeks before the game.