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Week 2 Injuries Threaten to Reshape the NFL Season

The early slate saw a number of marquee names go down, including Saquon Barkley and Nick Bosa, who reportedly suffered ACL injuries

AP/Ringer illustration

When Jimmy Garoppolo began hobbling around MetLife Stadium in the first quarter Sunday, the 49ers were concerned. Later in the quarter, star defensive end Nick Bosa was carted off the field with a knee injury, which coach Kyle Shanahan called an ACL injury afterward. Just a few plays later, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was also carted off with a knee injury. Garoppolo muscled through a right ankle injury to lead three scoring drives, but San Francisco ruled him out at halftime. Running back Raheem Mostert, who coasted to an 80-yard touchdown on the Niners’ first play from scrimmage, was also ruled out at halftime, with what was determined to be an MCL sprain.

San Francisco cruised to a 31-13 win against the hapless Jets on Sunday. The defending NFC champions already came into the weekend missing star players Richard Sherman (calf), George Kittle (knee), and Deebo Samuel (foot), and the losses they suffered in Week 2 could loom large moving forward. But the Niners weren’t the only team significantly impacted on an injury-laden day. The NFL as a whole saw an exasperating amount of injuries to marquee players:

  • Giants tailback Saquon Barkley may have tore his ACL.
  • Broncos quarterback Drew Lock didn’t return against the Steelers after suffering a right shoulder injury.
  • Bears running back David Montgomery injured his neck, but returned.
  • Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr injured his shoulder and didn’t return.
  • Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones didn’t return after a groin injury.
  • Packers receiver Davante Adams didn’t return after suffering a hamstring injury.
  • Rams running back Cam Akers didn’t return after a rib injury.
  • Colts safety Malik Hooker was ruled out with an Achilles injury.
  • Colts receiver Parris Campbell was carted off the field with a knee injury.
  • Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary didn’t return after suffering a knee injury.
  • Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo didn’t return after injuring his knee.
  • Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey injured his ankle and didn’t return.
  • Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton was ruled out after a leg injury.
  • Jets receiver Breshad Perriman was ruled out with an ankle injury.
  • Chargers starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered a pregame chest injury that forced him to sit out Sunday’s game.

Football is a contact sport, so injuries are an accepted and understood by-product of the game. But even players and those who’ve covered the sport for years were amazed at the spate of injuries suffered on Sunday.

During a normal week, Taylor’s chest injury might be an even bigger deal considering that his late scratch led to no. 6 pick Justin Herbert getting his first career start. Herbert surprised through the first half, rushing and passing for touchdowns to give Los Angeles an early advantage on the defending NFL champion Chiefs.

Many wondered what effects the COVID-19 pandemic might have on NFL players’ physical preparation for this season. There were no OTAs and no minicamps, placing even greater emphasis on players’ personal training regimens than ever before. When plans for a season were finally green-lit, uncertainty over how the NFL would combat COVID-19 led to opt-outs. Perhaps most significantly, there was no preseason or scrimmages held between teams.

The sudden ramp-up from training camp to competitive action sparked concerns over the amount of soft-tissue injuries NFL players could sustain this year. In 2011, injuries increased dramatically after the NFL lockout. NFLPA president and Browns center J.C. Tretter noted in a letter before the 2020 season that injuries increased by 25 percent in 2011, with Achilles injuries more than doubling and hamstring strains increasing by 44 percent. The injury list above includes a few knee injuries, a groin strain, a hamstring strain, and an Achilles injury. And that was just through 11 of the day’s first games. In late August, the conversation over these types of injuries cranked up when defending MVP Lamar Jackson missed practice time while nursing a groin injury that Ravens coach John Harbaugh would describe only as a soft-tissue injury. There are studies highlighting how these types of injuries correlate with sharply increased training workloads for football players. The Broncos had to cancel practices last month after incurring so many injuries.

Week 2’s high number of injuries could possibly be a manifestation of the pandemic-shortened offseason program. There may have also been individual factors at play in some situations: Niners players described the new turf at MetLife Stadium, installed in May, as “sticky,” which players complained about both during and after the game.

The 49ers play in MetLife Stadium again next week to face the Giants. San Francisco should be favored to win, but the result isn’t a certainty with Bosa’s injury and Garoppolo’s unclear status. And while the Niners boast a talented backfield, backup Tevin Coleman also injured his knee Sunday, leaving Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson Jr. as the only healthy backs on the depth chart. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead told reporters after the game that he’s anxious about playing on the turf again next week.

“It was something our guys were concerned about right away,” Shanahan told reporters. “And the results definitely made that a lot stronger. Unfortunately, this is [the] place we got to go back to next week.”

Week 2 isn’t over yet. But Sunday’s slew of injuries emphasizes a point that rings true every year, but is arguably more critical than ever in the 2020 NFL season: Talent is a key ingredient to succeeding, but team health is just as—if not more—important to making it to the finish line in pole position.