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The Big Injuries And Epic Comebacks From Week 2 Of The NFL Season

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 2 of the NFL season saw a classic Sunday night matchup, a very familiar collapse and a list of brutal injuries.

Let’s start with the worst part of the day: Sunday brought major injuries to major stars across the league, with massive implications for the rest of the season. Giants running back Saquon Barkley tore his ACL. Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor was briefly hospitalized with trouble breathing. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey injured his ankle. The Denver Broncos lost quarterback Drew Lock to an injured shoulder and wide receiver Courtland Sutton to a torn ACL. And the San Francisco 49ers lost a host of players: quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a high-ankle sprain, running back Raheem Mostert to a sprained MCL, and defensive end Nick Bosa and lineman Solomon Thomas to what the Niners believe are torn ACLs.

The injury list was long and brutal. Guys, what was going on out there?

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter):

^ every coach on Sunday.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): The weirdest injury is Tyrod’s, for my money.

neil: As someone who updates QB injuries for our model each week, it’s not often you get the starter missing the game due to injury being announced after the game starts.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): The narrative is going to be that there are more injuries because there was no preseason, but I’ve never heard of greater injury risk for teams that basically ignore the preseason when it comes to playing starters. I maybe could buy that with soft-tissue injuries like last week. But sprains and torn ligaments? Seems like just really bad luck in a game that puts you at risk of this on every play.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, I do not buy the “no preseason” narrative. Almost all quality-of-play metrics seem to show that the on-field product has not been affected by having more chances to injure yourself playing a contact sport. I would be inclined to trust the players if they have strong feelings that the turf they are playing on is poor.

neil: And that was a big factor in the U.S. women’s national team’s lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, too, right — that they were playing disproportionately on turf and being exposed to injuries? Athletes have long been suspicious of these surfaces.

Salfino: That sticky turf. (I’d say it was sticky from the tears of Jets fans, but there were no fans.) Remember, the Jets played at MetLife Stadium last week, and there were no issues. But I agree that the players should know if something is off.

sara.ziegler: And they certainly thought something was off:

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike, Pittsburgh’s Zach Banner tore his ACL on that turf when the Steelers played the Giants.

Salfino: Bosa got planted by Trevon Wesco on his injury, bent over backward. I can’t see how that was the turf.

neil: For what it’s worth, the Jets were the most injured team in football last year. (The Giants were kind of middle of the pack.)

sara.ziegler: The Niners play at MetLife Stadium again next week against the Giants, and some players said they’re worried about playing on that surface. Are they right to be concerned?

Salfino: The NFL is looking at it. But San Francisco’s Jordan Reed said the turf was fine.

sara.ziegler: It’s hard to know whether this is just the randomness of injuries or if there’s something else going on, though I guess I can’t blame guys for not wanting to play on the same field where they just lost four important teammates.

Salfino: It’s so weird they’re here again next week.

neil: It used to be rare for a team to play at the Jets and Giants back-to-back.1 But it happened to two teams last year, and the Browns will face them back-to-back later this year, too.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Are the Niners actually worse without Jimmy G? I’m … unsure.

sara.ziegler: That’s a great question! What do these injuries really mean for them?

Salfino: I agree they are not worse off.

neil: They are worse off without Bosa, though.

Salfino: And Thomas. Mostert would be a problem because Tevin Coleman is not good and Jerick McKinnon probably isn’t 100 percent or able after the layoff to withstand a large role.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Losing two highly drafted edge rushers is terrible for a team that relies on the pass rush for a lot of what they want to do on defense. I recall an interview coach Kyle Shanahan did with Chris Simms this offseason where he mentioned that for the first time in his career last year, he called plays on offense knowing that his defense could carry the game.

Salfino: The Niners are unique because they have a big-play rushing offense out of conventional sets, with all different backs. No tricks.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mostert’s touchdown runs look like deep passing plays.

Salfino: This season, Mostert has the two fastest runs by miles per hour recorded since 2018.

sara.ziegler: That’s wild.

Barkley’s loss is also huge, though obviously not as much is expected of the Giants as the Niners. What will losing him mean for New York?

Salfino: N.Y. football is in full shutdown mode unless you count the Bills.

Career-threatening injury risk is another reason not to spend premium draft capital on running backs. The Giants are in a tough spot now with extending him. We know they should not, but he’s too big to fail in New York. He’s the Giants’ identity.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Honestly? This is just some cover for Joe Judge being another 0-2 Bill Belichick disciple. Barkley’s loss, for as good as he is, doesn’t really move the needle for the Giants.

neil: It can’t be good for Daniel Jones, though, just because losing Barkley leaves you with one fewer target with any kind of explosiveness.

(Even if he is a running back.)

Salfino: “Disciple” is the key word. Belichick literally has them. The good coaching trees are more diverse in personality. Belichick has wanna-be clones. But those guys don’t have rings and therefore lack the credibility to get the buy-in.

sara.ziegler: Just @ Matt Patricia next time, Mike.

Salfino: Hey, Judge has the coaches running laps. True story!

neil:

sara.ziegler: All right, let’s move on to the more fun part of the chat — the games! Sunday did not disappoint, unless you’re a Vikings fan. Or an Eagles fan. Or a Jets fan. But other than that, great games!

The Seattle-New England game felt like one of their playoff matchups.

neil: Cam Newton looks GOOD.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Tremendous game to watch. Cam looked great, the Seahawks are learning how to use Russell Wilson nine years into his tenure, and even after five TD passes, Sneaky Pete Carroll ran it back with a run-run-pass on the Hawks’ last offensive series.

Salfino: Newton had the most downfield completions this week. What a change for the Patriots offense. Julian Edelman with 179 yards on eight catches seems like a misprint. He’s been a 13-catch, 79-yard guy.

neil: They hung around and were on the precipice of a casual multi-score comeback in the last five minutes. It was almost like Tom Brady never left!

Salfino: The story in Seattle is that Wilson has been unleashed, clearly. Why it took so long I have no idea.

sara.ziegler: Russ, as they say, is finally cooking.

Salfino: The Patriots are in love with that shotgun rush, but should they have just sneaked it in with Newton under center? Went to the well once too often.

neil: Yeah, that exact same play call worked wonders on the previous drive. Not so much on the final play.

Salfino: Ironically, would Brady have scored there just sneaking it in?

joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t know. Hard to second-guess the call too much. Put the ball in the hands of your best player, do the right thing strategically by running it. Even for me that’s too much Monday morning QB-ing.

neil: I’m with Josh. Can’t argue with that too much tbh.

Salfino:

neil: As for Russ, no QB has completed passes relative to expectation at a higher rate than Wilson so far, according to Next Gen Stats.

Will this be the year we finally put that “no MVP votes” factoid to rest forever? Sure hope so.

Salfino: Well, the NFL has a weird voting system. It’s not like baseball where so many people get votes. I’d say yes, but Josh Allen is probably the MVP right now. Or Aaron Rodgers.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I hate MVP debates, especially early, but it’s Rodgers for me. He’s been sensational, and he leads the NFL in QBR.

Salfino: The Packers have 1,000 yards of offense already. Insane. And they’re just the fourth team in 40 seasons to score 40 points in the first two games of the season.

sara.ziegler: So let’s talk about those Packers! They looked a little shaky early against the Lions … and then they went ahead and dominated.

Salfino: The Lions love blowing double-digit leads. That’s their jam. First team ever with four straight losses this way.

neil: My Matt Patricia over/under from last week has lowered. LOL

sara.ziegler: Haha

joshua.hermsmeyer: Who gets the hook first? Patricia or Adam Gase?

neil: Oooooh. Great Q.

Salfino: Patricia since Gase basically hired the GM.

Gase is so toxic that even if you want to defend him for having such insanely bad injury luck, he has to go. He’s a distraction now.

joshua.hermsmeyer: This is a breakthrough!

Salfino: I have never said Gase was a good coach. Just super unlucky and not underachieving in terms of wins. Still not even this year. They would be 0-2 with average coaching.

sara.ziegler: LOL, walking back your breakthrough.

Love it.

neil: Therapy takes a lot of work.

sara.ziegler: 🤣

Salfino: Let’s talk Vikings, Sara!

neil: Yes, let’s.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Oh, no.

sara.ziegler: Well, this is what’s always fun about the beginning of the season: The Packers have looked very good, but have they just played two of the worst teams in the league? (They definitely played one of the worst teams in Week 1, as we saw with that team’s Week 2 effort.)

Green Bay plays at New Orleans next week, and I think we’ll know more about them then.

Salfino: The Packers offensive line has been the bigger story, I’d say. It’s probably the best in football right now. Aaron Jones rushes for all those yards, and there’s no basically pressure on Rodgers.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The Bills face their first real test this week as well.

sara.ziegler: Josh Allen was Salfino’s other MVP. How much will the Rams test him?

Salfino: Josh Allen is only the fourth quarterback ever with 700 yards passing and six touchdowns with no picks the first two weeks (after Patrick Mahomes last year, Tom Brady in 2015 and Peyton Manning in 2013).

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s the Rams secondary that has looked pretty good and might be an issue.

Plus Jalen Ramsey called Allen trash, so it’s going to be tremendous content this week.

neil: The Rams have surprised me. Given how much they fell off last year and how capped out they are, I didn’t expect them to come out 2-0 with Jared Goff playing pretty well.

Then again, the Eagles might be legit bad.

Salfino: Did you hear how the Eagles piped in boos and unleashed them on their offense? Legend.

neil: And the Rams’ Week 1 opponent, the Cowboys, needed an absolute MIRACLE to avoid going 0-2. (And for the Falcons to completely forget the onside kick rules.)

sara.ziegler: I’m pretty tired of the 28-3 narrative, but man…

Salfino: That onside-kick play was designed, and it was rather brilliant. From Sports Illustrated: “The idea was to tee the ball up at a 45-degree angle and boot the front tip, so it would spin back-to-front to cover the 10 yards it needed to go before the kicking team could legally recover it, but cover that 10 yards as slowly as possible. The logic went that the hands team would have to decide whether to charge the ball (and risk touching it but not covering it, making it a live ball) or let it go 10 yards, with the kicking team around it (making it a 50/50 ball).”

And on topic, Cowboys special teams coach John Fassel came up with it when he was with the Rams.

joshua.hermsmeyer: That’s a tremendous pull, Mike.

neil: That’s all well and good. But if you are allowed to touch the ball before 10 yards and they aren’t … JUST FUCKING GRAB IT.

joshua.hermsmeyer: 😂

Salfino: I said it was like watching my kids when they played soccer. The Falcons needed their dads to yell, “Get the ball!”

From Elias: Teams had been 440-0 when scoring 39 points and committing no turnovers since 1933.

neil: Unreal.

Salfino: And 1933 is when they started tracking turnovers, so it’s not arbitrary. This has probably NEVER happened.

sara.ziegler: What a disaster.

After such a great game for Atlanta, too.

neil: Shaping up to be another classic Matt Ryan season. Great stats, can’t win.

Salfino: Sara is deftly avoiding talking about Kirk Cousins’s Blutarksy, with a 0.0 passer rating entering the fourth quarter.

neil: Yes, Cousins was AWFUL.

Sara, you slacked me asking how the QB Elo rating he produced (-215.3) was even possible.

sara.ziegler: LOL

It was a fair question.

Salfino: I thought you got 38 points of passer rating for just putting on your helmet.

neil: I found that it was one of the worst single-game performances ever, in terms of lowering a QB’s Elo rating in our system:

The games that made us think less of the QBs

Largest negative change in QB Elo ratings (relative to an average NFL starter) based on performance in a single game, 1950-2020

QB Elo Rating vs. Avg.
Date Quarterback Team Opponent Pregame Postgame Change
9/15/1991 T. Aikman DAL PHI +4 -43 -47
9/30/2007 D. McNabb PHI NYG +66 +19 -47
11/15/2015 P. Manning DEN KC +10 -35 -44
10/9/2005 A. Smith SF IND +6 -38 -44
9/15/2002 D. Carr HOU LAC -7 -50 -43
9/13/2012 J. Cutler CHI GB -12 -55 -43
1/14/2001 D. Culpepper MIN NYG +122 +80 -42
11/10/1974 J. Ferguson BUF TEN +13 -29 -42
12/6/1998 D. Hollas OAK MIA -48 -90 -42
1/2/2011 M. Cassel KC OAK +34 -7 -42
9/20/1987 M. Malone PIT CLE -2 -44 -41
9/20/2020 K. Cousins MIN IND +3 -37 -41
11/9/2008 J. Delhomme CAR OAK +21 -19 -41
12/16/2007 T. Romo DAL PHI +108 +68 -41
9/29/1985 W. Moon TEN DAL -17 -57 -40

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Cousins went from a little above average to well below average

Salfino: Maybe WR is not fungible. Look at the Bills with Stefon Diggs and the Vikings without him. Josh?

sara.ziegler: (They would also be terrible with Diggs.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m just pouring one out for the Elo priors that Cousins murdered.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

neil: Jake Delhomme thanks you, Kirk.

Salfino: Mike Zimmer may never pass again.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Before we go, I have a kicker chart, which I know we all love. I noticed that the Chargers tried to ice Kansas City kicker Harrison Butker on Sunday, and since we know that stuff doesn’t work, I was curious about how often teams still do that. The rate is way up so far this season. So weird!

neil: I gotta say, props to Harrison Butker for making three straight game-winning FGs — one of which actually counted!

(I am biased: He’s from my hometown and went to my alma mater.)

Salfino: Butker’s display at the end of that game was the greatest exhibition of kicking I’ve seen: 3-for-3 from 53, 58 and 58 yards.

neil: Unfazed by the penalty. Unfazed by the icing. Fifty-eight yards for the win. Kicking badassery if I’ve ever seen it.

sara.ziegler: And the Chiefs come back yet again!

joshua.hermsmeyer: He did a Steph Curry walk-off.

Salfino: Crazy that Mahomes has an all-time comeback record this early in his career.

The game also gave us an excuse to bring up an old-timey player: Justin Herbert of the Chargers is the first QB to throw and run for a TD in the first half of his first game since Bobby Clatterbuck did it for the 1954 Giants.

neil: “Bobby Clatterbuck”

joshua.hermsmeyer: Look at that hair.

neil: OMG

sara.ziegler: Wow. What a way to end this.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Footnotes

  1. I found just eight all-time instances of a team playing road games at both teams in back-to-back games through 2018.

Sara Ziegler is the sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer is a football writer and analyst.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on The Athletic and the Wall Street Journal.

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