Sport: The GridIron – Quarterbacks Beaten Up In Week 10
When we come to reflect on the 2012 NFL season next spring, the events of Week 10 may ultimately be regarded as the most significant of the season with no less than four teams losing their starting quarterbacks to injuries during their weekend game. The fact that three of these teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders means that the trajectory of the entire season may be about to change.
Jay Cutler (Chicago), Alex Smith (San Francisco) and Michael Vick (Philadelphia) all suffered concussions on Sunday that forced them out of the game. Concussions and head trauma are a hot topic in the NFL right now with the backdrop of legal action being brought by former players who claim they suffered long term effects of concussions, and a Congressional hearing on head injuries in the game. As a result the NFL has introduced stricter rules both during the games (banning helmet to helmet contact) and for players returning after concussion.
Players diagnosed with concussion must now be cleared by an independent neurologist before they are can return to action. As a result, Chicago and San Francisco are currently unsure who their quarterbacks will be when they face each other on Sunday, with news that Alex Smith is seeking a second opinion in attempt to be cleared for Sunday’s game. Chicago’s Jay Cutler is more likely to play Sunday, however, this incident once again raises questions about his durability and his team’s ability to protect him, with Cutler being the second most sacked QB in the league.
The implications of Alex Smith having a prolonged absence are intriguing. Famous mostly for being picked ahead of Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft, Smith had struggled throughout his career until Jim Harbaugh arrived as the 49ers head coach last year. Harbaugh, himself an ex-quarterback, helped transform Smith into one of the steadiest game managers in league, where his mistake free style (only 5 interceptions last year) allied with a strong run game, saw the 49ers get to the NFC Conference game last year. However, when they got there the 49ers fell short to the eventual champions, the Giants, with many citing Smiths inability to make plays as a reason for the loss (the 49ers converted only once on 3rd down during that game).
Smith was replaced on Sunday by second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. At the time the 49ers trailed 14-7 before Kaepernick overcame a steady to start to lead them to a tie after overtime against the Rams. Kaepernick has been used occasionally this year in the wildcat and is essentially a less physical version of Tim Tebow with a better arm. He showed flashes on Sunday of being able to make plays, particularly with his feet, as evidenced by him ending with 66 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The 49ers are built to run the ball and control the clock. Given some time to develop Kaepernick may prove a better fit at quarterback than Smith for the 49ers, essentially giving San Francisco what Tebow gave the Broncos last year, minus the ineptitude for the first 3 quarters. If Alex Smith misses a game or two then watch this space.
However, perhaps the most significant QB injury of the week, both in terms of the time he may miss and the impact his absence would have on his team, was suffered by ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh quarterback suffered an injury to his right shoulder, his throwing arm, and to his ribs on Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tests this week on the shoulder have revealed that he suffered an SC sprain (a sternoclavicular joint sprain), an injury that can take anything from a few days to several weeks to recover from.
Although the team have clarified the type of injury suffered, they have yet to disclose the severity of the injury or how long ‘Big’ Ben may miss, merely confirming that he will not play this weekend and will be replaced by Byron Leftwich. Roethlisberger has a history of injuries to this particular shoulder dating back to 2008 that may complicate his recovery. However, he is also notoriously tough with a reputation for ‘playing hurt’ most of his career.
This Sunday the Steelers (6-3) play host to the mortal enemies and divisional rivals, the Baltimore Ravens (7-2). In that context the timing of his injury is nothing short of disastrous for the Steelers, who have rallied significantly in recent weeks after a poor start to be just 1 game behind the Ravens.
Sunday’s game is a must win for the Steelers if they are to have a realistic chance of winning the division. It comes against a Ravens team who have been distinctly average away from home this season as they struggle with their own injuries concerns, particularly on defence. However, Byron Leftwich under centre for Pittsburgh on Sunday will no doubt give the beleaguered Baltimore defence a fillip, and with the return fixture set for Baltimore 2 weeks later, put the Ravens in pole position to secure the AFC North this year and the Steelers in the race for a wildcard.
Four Downs From Around the League
- The other quarterback injury was of course suffered by Michael Vick, who left the Eagles game versus the Cowboys. It gave Andy Reid the excuse he may have been looking for to bring in rookie Nick Foles. That may be the last we see of Michael Vick as the starting quarterback in Philadelphia.
- Is Adrian Peterson human, because the NFC North must be wondering after the first 10 weeks of the season. After tearing his ACL and MCL on Christmas eve last year the best running back in the game has defied even the most optimistic expectations, averaging 112 yards a game so far. He’s on target to finish as the league’s top rusher again this year.
- Fans of the New England Patriots must be down to their knuckles at this stage, as their team continue to find ways to shred their nerves with a succession of close calls against bad teams. The Bills were the latest team to carve the Patriots secondary on Sunday night in Foxboro. The Patriots better hope newly acquired cornerback Aliq Talib can work miracles for the secondary or the league’s best offence will be watching other teams play for Lombardi in January.
- Sunday’s loss makes 5 straight for the Giants in November, as the Giants continue their alarming slide. Eli Manning has managed 1 TD and 6 interceptions in his last 4 games as the offense has ground to halt. The Giants will hope to rebound following their bye week when they host Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.