Ron Rivera sounded relieved. The Washington coach noted that Brandon Scherff would still miss several weeks because of the right knee injury the Pro Bowl right guard suffered in Sunday’s 30-15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals — but Rivera called the diagnosis “good news” given the possible alternative.
After all, Scherff could have been like the slew of other NFL stars that went down in Week 2: He could have been lost fo the season.
“It was all positive,” Rivera said.
The second week of the NFL season saw a rash of devastating injuries to notable stars, altering the league’s landscape. Here’s a sample: New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley tore his ACL during a loss against the Chicago Bears and is out for the season. The San Francisco 49ers lost pass rusher Nick Bosa (torn ACL), quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high-ankle sprain), running back Raheem Mostert (MCL) and defensive lineman Soloman Thomas (knee). Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey suffered an ankle injury that will sideline him for four-to-six weeks. The Denver Broncos saw quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder) and receiver Courtland Sutton (ACL) get injured.
The list goes on and on.
By one count, there were at least 20 injuries — six of which were season-ending.
Injury data can be hard to gather, making it unclear whether Sunday’s injuries occurred at a higher rate than normal. But anecdotally, at least, it sure felt like a lot — even for a sport in which players crash into each other on every play. “Don’t remember the last Sunday quite like this one,” ESPN insider Adam Schefter tweeted. “Beyond brutal.”
Many — including Rivera — wondered if the league was due. In this pandemic-affected season, teams went without a full offseason program. The league canceled in-person OTAs and the preseason. Are players more susceptible to injury without their normal workload?
“We’re asking these players to go from 0 to 60, to play at such a high, intense level so quickly,” Rivera said. “We were fortunate last week that there weren’t a lot of injuries. This week there was. So, is there a concern that’s what’s going to happen because we haven’t had these guys playing at such a high level?”
The last time the NFL went through an altered offseason, it saw a dramatic increase in injuries. After the 2011 lockout, the league saw a 25% spike in injuries the following season, according to the players’ union. “Achilles injuries more than doubled and hamstring strains went up 44%,” NFLPA president and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter wrote in a letter in July.
The league and the NFLPA tried to adjust teams’ workouts this time around. When teams gathered for training camp in July, the NFL forced teams to incorporate a gradual ramp-up period as a way to try and cut down on soft-tissue injuries. Rivera was pleased with the plan, thinking it helped Washington avoid injuries.
The types of injuries suffered in Week 2, however, extended far beyond soft-tissue injuries like hamstrings. Former New England Patriots doctor Thomas Gill told Sports Illustrated he didn’t see a direct correlation between the lack of preseason and the injuries that happened on Sunday.
“If someone gets injured because someone missed a block or ran the wrong route from lack of practice, or pulled a muscle from deconditioning, then yes,” Dr. Gill texted the outlet. “But for straight traumatic injuries (like a torn ACL), no.”
There were other factors that possibly contributed to the injuries. After their win over the New York Jets, several members from the 49ers complained of the installed turf at MetLife Stadium. Coach Kyle Shanahan said his players were “concerned” about the field entering the game, adding that their injuries validated their opinions. San Francisco defensive lineman Arik Armstead told reporters that he’s “anxious” about playing on the field again next week when the 49ers take on the Giants.
Then, there were also freak accidents. Scherff, for example, got rolled up on by a defender in the final minute of the first half. Even with Scherff’s injury history — the 28-year-old has missed 13 games across the last two years, ending both seasons on injured reserve — the play appeared to be the type that could hurt anyone.
“There was some positive news on it,” Rivera said of Scherff’s knee injury. “We’re very fortunate. He’s very fortunate and we’re very happy for him.”