NFL games weren’t chess matches Sunday. They were more like dominoes.
Player after player had to be helped off fields — some by teammates, others by carts — leading to teams losing some of their most prominent talents, a few for the entire season.
Even in a game filled with violent collisions, this rash of injuries was unusual in that it involved a constellation of star players.
Among the injured were New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa — selected No. 2 overall in consecutive drafts — who are both finished for the season with torn anterior cruciate ligaments. Solomon Thomas, a 49ers defensive tackle selected with the third pick in 2017, also suffered a serious knee injury.
Ankle injuries claimed Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey and San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, with McCaffrey expected to be out multiple weeks, including Sunday's game against the Chargers. Denver’s best wide receiver, Courtland Sutton, is done for the season with a torn ACL, and Green Bay receiver Davante Adams (hamstring) was sidelined for the day.
This could be an anomaly, a weird week when a bunch of household names were hobbled.
Then there’s the notion that some of these injuries are connected to the league shutting down team facilities and scrubbing preseason games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That theory proposes these are injuries that might have happened in training camp but intruded on the season because there were no preseason games and no hitting in practice until mid-August.
Dr. Neal ElAttrache, among the world’s top sports surgeons and a team physician for the Rams and Dodgers, said the pandemic had a seismic impact on the way players train and prepare for their seasons, and that disruption created a ripple effect that’s become evident.
“Most observers and fans of sports don’t realize what these guys are doing from the moment that last game ends from the previous season to when they start to prepare for the next season,” he said. “There’s a big routine to that. And this was completely thrown haywire in baseball and football.”
For instance, ElAttrache said he typically performs the vast majority of Tommy John elbow surgeries in the first 12 weeks of the baseball season, from March through May. However, those surgeries were taking place in July this year.
That informed him that, because of the disrupted training and training camp schedules, knee injuries that typically happen in August likely would come later, even though teams have been meeting and working out since late July.
“All that 2020 did was make it much more probable that there was going to be inconsistent preparation for those peak times of injuries,” he said. “So you can imagine what a mess that is. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The NFL is meticulous about tracking injuries and looking for the root cause. The league retains independent biomechanical engineers to study every injury that occurs in a game, including examining all available video angles, and maintains a database that informs an injury-reduction plan.
The defending NFC champion 49ers, devastated by the cavalcade of injuries in their road game against the New York Jets, have contacted the NFL about the playing surface at MetLife Stadium. The surface was used Sunday for the second time and is under scrutiny, the 49ers complaining it was “sticky.”
In addition to Bosa and Thomas, San Francisco running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman also suffered knee injuries.
The NFL said the field was inspected two days before the Giants’ season-opening game against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14 and “was in compliance with all applicable league policies.” Also, the field passed the routine inspection during a 72-hour window before Sunday’s game.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch contacted NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent on Monday regarding the condition of the field.
“They’re definitely looking into it,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said.
It’s top of mind for the hurting 49ers. After all, they play there again Sunday against the Giants.
So far, the NFL has done astoundingly well in terms of being impacted by the pandemic. Between Aug. 12 and Sept. 12, the latest available data, the league conducted more than 200,000 COVID-19 tests with just seven positives among players and 24 among other team personnel.
More data is scheduled to be released this week.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had a terrific debut Sunday in an overtime loss to Kansas City, even though he was a surprise starter because of a chest injury to Tyrod Taylor. Herbert wasn’t the only young quarterback to excel.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew each threw for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in Week 2. That marked the third time in NFL history that three quarterbacks younger than 25 compiled those numbers in the same week.
In victories over Minnesota and Detroit, Green Bay has compiled 85 points and 1,010 yards of offense. The Packers join the 2019 Baltimore Ravens, 1998 49ers and 1991 Bills as the only teams that recorded at least 80 points and 1,000 yards through the first two weeks of a season.
Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, scored on an 84-yard touchdown grab against Denver. It was the longest touchdown from scrimmage by a Canadian-born player in NFL history.
Tennessee’s Stephen Gostkowski kicked a game-winning field goal for the second week in a row, putting away Jacksonville on Sunday with a 49-yarder down the stretch. Gostkowski beat the Broncos with a kick in the opener … after four failed kicks earlier in the game.