A lot happened this last week in the NFL, but just because its behind us, it doesn't mean we leave the lessons learned behind. Let's examine some main injuries heading into Week 15.
It’s mid-December and two playoff contenders (one of them a legit Super Bowl contender) just lost their starting quarterbacks due to injuries. Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Indianapolis’s Matt Hasselbeck both failed to finish their games on Sunday. Let’s take a closer look at the QB situation in Indy and Cinci moving forward.
Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck hurt both his ribs and his neck in Indy’s 35 point loss to the Steelers last week, and he took some big hits in the blowout loss at Jacksonville on Sunday. The final blow to knock him out of the game for good is being called a rib injury, even though he left the field holding his shoulder.
Two weeks ago, owner Jim Irsay said that their regular starter, Andrew Luck, was targeting a Week 15 return from his lacerated kidney. Monday morning reports this week indicate that the organization is “not optimistic” that Luck will be able to return as they face off against the Texans this coming Sunday.
That means if Hasselbeck’s injury is serious (MRI results pending as I write this), the Colts will be down to ineffective third stringer Charlie Whitehurst, who completed just two passes for ten yards with an interception in his eight attempts on Sunday. Whitehurst has been nothing short of awful in previous stints with the Chargers, Seahawks and Titans, all of whom moved on from him rather quickly.
Head coach Chuck Pagano: “(Hasselbeck) took a couple good shots there. Still basically the ribs that he's dealing with. We'll know more (after the MRI)…..We’re all going to come under fire (after two straight blowout losses). We can’t do anything about it. We made this bed. It starts with me and everybody else. We’re in this thing together. This team will stick together, I know that.”
Tight end Dwayne Allen: “We have to man up. We’ve taken our bumps, our bruises and our ass-whuppings the last two weeks. Nobody in this locker room has quit. We have to dig down and grab a little bit of what our mamas and daddies gave us and go out and get the job done.”
Indy is a fringe playoff contender. Cincinnati, on the other hand, was a legitimate Super Bowl contender and the single best pointspread team in the NFL heading into their showdown against the Steelers yesterday. Then Andy Dalton got hurt, fracturing his thumb after making a tackle following a red zone interception on the Bengals first drive.
Dalton has developed a well-deserved reputation as a ‘bet-on’ QB in the regular season, despite his repeated postseason failures. This has been, by far, his best year as a pro. Dalton had a 106.3 QB rating when he got hurt, well above his previous career best of 88.8. He’d thrown a career low seven interceptions and averaged a career high 8.4 yards per attempt, spreading the ball around to Cinci’s bevy of skill position weapons. It’s an impact injury, for sure!
Former Alabama QB AJ McCarron got his first meaningful NFL action following the Dalton injury. McCarron didn’t settle for dinks and dunks, taking his fair share of shots down the field, throwing for 288 yards, while connecting on completions of 20 yards or more with four different receivers. McCarron looked fairly poised in the pocket despite a difficult situation – trying to come from behind, using a one dimensional pass heavy attack – although he did throw a pair of interceptions. And his post-game quotes were encouraging.
"You have to embrace [the situation]. I love it. You have to love pressured moments. That's where the great ones really shine. I guess Tom Brady was in the same situation when he had the opportunity. I've got to make the most of it and do my job each week. I know we have an unbelievable defense and if we don't turn the ball over, we have a great chance…..I stepped in, and I have to play better. I'm going to play better. I promise you that."
McCarron’s teammates certainly have faith in him, if we believe this quote from left tackle Andre Whitworth: "Whether he was really thinking he would play today or not — most backups probably don’t think that, even though they prepare that way every week — he has a great attitude and a great charisma about him in the huddle. That’s one of those things people said about him when he came out, and I think he continues to show that…..AJ can make the throws, he can direct the offense, and we still have all the talent around him, so I think we’re still good. It’s not going to be that just he has to play great. If we don’t play well around him, we won’t have success. Today wasn’t good enough for anybody, not just AJ McCarron.