It’s always been painfully obvious the NFL can be a brutal sport, its players always one step or hit away from a possible career-ending injury. We’ve watched it happen too many times to think otherwise.
But it’s not often an injury occurs that can single-handedly derail a team’s postseason dream and impact an entire conference.
The broken leg suffered by Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith in the third quarter of their 23-21 loss to the Houston Texans was gruesome, the result of being buried by the weight of J.J. Watt and Kareem Jackson.
“I know it was very painful for [Smith] and heartbreaking for a lot of people,” said Redskins coach Jay Gruden. “He’s a great guy and a hard worker and one of the key leaders on this football team. These things happen in pro football unfortunately.”
Smith, 34, who was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs before the season, underwent surgery on Sunday night. His season ends with 2,180 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Smith’s injury may very well have dire consequences for the Redskins (6-4), who came into the game with a two-game lead over the Dallas Cowboys (5-5) in the NFC. They now turn to Colt McCoy to save their season. McCoy has started just four games since going the Redskins in 2014 and had not thrown a pass in a game since 2015.
McCoy’s assimilation will need to be immediate because the Redskins play in Dallas on Thursday, their lead in the conference now one game after the Cowboys’ second straight win. Complicating matters is their lack of a ready backup, other than wide receiver Trey Quinn.
Still, its Washington’s division to win. Their next three games are against divisional opponents.
New Era In Baltimore
It has always seemed just a matter of time before the Baltimore Ravens would change their course by giving rookie Lamar Jackson the QB job. Of the five QBs drafted in the first round, he was the only one who began the season as a tutor – to veteran Joe Flacco.
But with Flacco nursing a hip injury, and the Ravens slumping badly, coach John Harbaugh pulled the switch on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. And the result was startling.
Taking advantage of Jackson’s mobility, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg filled his game plan with plays that would accent his skill. And against the league’s worst defense, the Ravens took flight during their 24-21 win.
“I thought he played winning football,” said Harbaugh. “He managed us, operated us, got us in the right formations. Cadence was excellent. For a first-time out, rookie in an environment like that to have all those operational things go well speaks to his intelligence, his studiousness just his ability to run the show.”
It didn’t take long for Jackson impact to become clear. He didn’t attempt a pass in the Ravens game-opening drive of 11 plays and 75 yards that resulted in a touchdown. Jackson broke runs of 12 and 21, converted a pair of third downs and gained 46 yards.
Since 2000, only one other team, the 2003 Oakland Raiders in their Week 10 game, had ever scored a TD on an opening drive without attempting a pass.
Jackson ended with 27 carries for 117 yards. And with Baltimore churning out 269 rushing yards (Gus Edwards added 115), Jackson threw only 19 times, completing 13 for 150 yards with one interception.
Roethlisberger Steeled Team For Comeback
At this point, there’s really no reason to think the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t win the AFC North. They have moved past early-season distraction, said goodbye to Le’Veon Bell and put their offense back on the rails.
The question now is how far can they go. Can they finally beat the New England Patriots, generate the points to outrun the Chiefs?
On Sunday, we discovered their have the resiliency to fight back. Down 16-0 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road, Ben Roethlisberger put the team on his wide shoulders and brought it back after it gained only 66 yards in the first half.
Big Ben, who had three interceptions, threw for 261 yards and two TDs, then powered his way into the end zone from the 1 in the final play to give the Steelers (7-2-1) the win.
Scoring passes to Antonio Brown (78) and Vance McDonald, one of the league’s emerging tight ends, got them moving to their sixth straight victory.
Maybe just as important was their defense, which quieted the slumping Jags (six straight losses) by forcing four straight three-and-outs while the offense was rallying. Jacksonville gained only 74 yards in the second half.
Maybe The Giants Were Right
While there isn’t a lot to celebrate about consecutive wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Giants are breathing again at 3-7.
Most of the joy concerns their revitalized offense. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr., are connecting. And rookie halfback Saquon Barkley continues to justify the team’s decision to take him – and not a QB – with the second overall pick.
“I think there is some excitement going around,” said Manning, who was 17-of-18 for 231 yards and two TDs. “It is good. It is a good feeling to have in the locker room and you see some growth. You see the improvement.”
The Giants had not won consecutive games since 2016. And Barkley helped build the first home win in Pat Shurmur’s rein by carrying 27 times for a career-high 142 yards. He scored two TDs, on receiving. He has been tough to tackle, quick to find holes. He has been a remarkable weapon who you can envision pairing with OBJ for years to come.
Believe it or not: The Giants will be just two games behind in the NFC East if they can beat the Eagles this weekend.
Eagles Too Hurt To Fly
Considering the circumstance, the Philadelphia Eagles really had no shot to stay close to the New Orleans Saints. And the 48-7 final score was proof.
The Saints (9-1) won their ninth straight by using their strength to exploit the Eagles weakness. New Orleans scored 17 points on their first three possessions and then another 31 after the Eagles scored their only TD. They have outscored their last three opponents 144-56.
It was the third straight game in which the Saints scored at least 40 points. Drew Brees threw for 363 yards and four TDs against a secondary that was decimated by injuries coming in and totally disabled by others by the time it left.
Of most importance to the Saints, who host the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving, was the emergence of rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith. Worried about providing Brees a second option to Michael Thomas, the Saints first signed Dez Bryant, then immediately lost him to an Achilles injury. Then last week, they brought in Brandon Marshall.
Smith quelled the apprehension with 10 catches for 157 yards and one TD. Another rookie, Keith Kirkwood caught three for 33 yards. Thomas had four catches for 92 yards and a TD. The Saints gained 546 yards.
But let’s face it. What could the Eagles do about it? Cornerback Avonte Maddox, who was starting for Corey Graham, hurt his knee in the first quarter. Their safety is Tre Sullivan, who had only 27 plays before Sunday’s game.
Cornerbacks De’Vante Bausby, Chandon Sullivan and Cre’von LeBlanc were not on the opening day roster. Sidney Jones left the game with a hamstring injury. Jalen Mills missed the game with a bad foot. Ronald Darby is on IR.
You get the point.