Nate Burleson leaned over early Tuesday morning to try to adjust one of the pizza boxes falling off a seat in his black 2009 GMC Yukon. By doing so, the Detroit Lions wide receiver could be out of action for a long time.
Burleson broke his left arm in a single-car crash on Interstate 696 heading westbound near Drake Road in Farmington Hills, Mich., around 2:25 a.m. Tuesday. Police were called to the scene. Burleson, who complained of pain in his arm, was transported to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, according to Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw.
Turns out his arm is broken in two places, coach Jim Schwartz said Tuesday. Burleson will have surgery Wednesday to repair the broken bones in his forearm but will not be placed on season-ending injured reserve, as Schwartz said the receiver is expected back at some point this season. Burleson will still travel with the team while he is injured.
"It was actually a whole pizza," Shaw said. "He had purchased two whole pizzas, and one was sitting on top of the other one, and I guess when he was driving one of them was slipping off, and he was reaching over to push it back onto the seat and overcorrected and hit the median wall."
Shaw said alcohol was not a factor in the crash and that police did not do a drug screen because the 32-year-old Burleson showed no signs of impairment. Sarnoff told Werder that Burleson had been watching "Monday Night Football" and crashed his Yukon on the way home.
The Lions can't use their short-term injury reserve designation on Burleson because the team already used it on reserve running back and special teams contributor Montell Owens.
"He'll be missed," Schwartz said. "But he'll be back and he won't miss a beat."
Schwartz said Burleson was fortunate, with the type of accident he had, to only have a broken arm.
"Anytime you're in a highway accident, there's potential for worse than broken bones," Schwartz said. "And I think he was fortunate in this case and we were fortunate in this case that it wasn't more than that.
"We've all dealt with some sort of distraction driving before. I cured myself of texting and driving. I did it for about two months and now I have that sync thing with the Fords. I never even touch my cell phone in the car.
"The one thing I probably need to cure myself of is eating and driving. There's too many times I'm leaving the office late at night and you grab something. I've had it happen to me, drop it on your lap or do something else. That's stuff we all need to learn from."
Running back Reggie Bush was among Lions players to react to the news on Twitter.
Wow thoughts and prayers with my fallen teammate Nate Burleson wishing him a speedy recovery! Hate having to learn about this on ESPN
— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) September 24, 2013
Burleson leads the Lions (2-1) with 19 receptions this season -- including six for 119 yards in a 27-20 win over Washington on Sunday, his most productive game with the franchise. Matthew Stafford has completed 82.6 percent of his attempts (19 of 23) to Burleson this season, which is the highest completion percentage in the NFL for a quarterback-receiver combo (minimum 10 attempts), according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Stafford on Tuesday described Burleson's injury as "tough."
"Obviously Nate had a great game last game and has been a big part of our team ever since he's been here," he said. "Not only with his play on the field but just his leadership. But we won't miss that. He'll be around. We understand that. It's unfortunate, but next guy up. That's the way we've always preached things around here."
Detroit will likely look to Ryan Broyles, who was active for the first time this season Sunday, as a replacement for Burleson. Broyles stepped in last season after Burleson broke his leg.
"Even last year, when Nate went down then, I didn't really have much of a workload and I went in and felt like I played well, so we go out here in practice every day," Broyles said Tuesday. "It's football at the end of the day. So when guys get their shot on game day, you expect good things out of them."
Burleson's injury comes nearly a year after he broke his right leg during a 13-7 loss Oct. 22 to the Chicago Bears. He missed the final 10 games last season and received the team's Ed Block Courage Award for his return.
The same surgeon who repaired Burleson's knee last year will perform the surgery on his arm Wednesday.
The Lions face the Bears (3-0) on Sunday in Detroit.