If Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season was a blast of football-laced endorphins courtesy of a loaded schedule and three days worth of incredible games, Week 2 was an emotional regression to the mean as the stark reminder of how easily and often injuries to key players happen. Sunday was a rough day for quarterbacks around the NFL, with a number of starting QBs going down to injury.
So who's going to play and who won't? How will the timeline for these various injuries affect each team over the short- and long-haul? Let's see if we can size up the schedule and medical updates to figure it out before diving into some Jekyll and Hyde NFL teams.
It's never good news when the player in question suffers an injury that forces him to sit on the sidelines in a ball cap, staring emptily at second-year player Jacob Eason trying to complete his first NFL pass and mount a comeback against Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. The Colts fell to 0-2 on the year after the loss -- Wentz wasn't able to return to the game because the ankle injury he suffered "stiffened" up, according to Indy head coach Frank Reich. The Colts QB suffered the injury after Donald tackled him and rolled up on his ankle. His frustration with the injury was visible, as Wentz slammed his helmet after being hurt and was spotted with his head in his hands while talking to trainers.
"I could feel it underneath the pile right away," Wentz said via the Indy Star. "I think the guys around me could hear me yelling, because it was rolled up on pretty good. It's definitely frustrating. Obviously, shouldn't have thrown my helmet like that, but I knew at that point that I probably wasn't going to come back out this game."
And now we have news Wentz is actually dealing with injuries to BOTH ankles. Wentz notably returned early from foot surgery this offseason, so we've got a guy with a litany of lower leg injuries he's currently dealing with. The Colts should be concerned, especially with three straight road games against AFC playoff contenders (Tennessee, Miami, Baltimore) coming up, along with a Houston matchup and another Tennessee battle over the next six weeks. If Wentz is missing for any extended amount of time, the Colts could find themselves in too big a hole to dig out of.
Tua was carted off from the Dolphins' blowout loss to the Bills with a rib injury but given the score, it never made sense to even consider bringing Tua back onto the field. There's good news on this front for the Dolphins as X-rays were negative but the Dolphins wanted Tua to undergo additional tests to see if there was any cartilage damage. Even better news: Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reported Monday Tua appears to be clear on that front as well, which means it's all about whether he can functionally play with the bruised ribs from a pain and performance perspective.
Miami plays in Las Vegas on Sunday, which means we're probably not finding out about Tua's final status until the Friday injury report comes out. Interestingly, the line appears to be up almost everywhere -- the Raiders are a four-point fave at Caesars Sportsbook -- which likely implies an expectation of Tua playing. Or the idea of Jacoby Brissett not being a massive drop-off for this particular roster.
If I had to guess on Monday, I would say Tua plays next week but will have a short leash if he struggles because of the injury.
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Can this guy catch a break on the injury front? Taylor keeps landing starting jobs and keeps losing them when a young player comes in and plays well. Maybe Davis Mills will be the guy this week. It won't be Deshaun Watson -- David Culley confirmed on Monday Watson would be inactive against the Panthers this week.
That game is on Thursday, by the way, and Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury, is going to be hard-pressed to get ready on such a short week. Which means the Texans have to sign someone right? Taylor is hurt and unlikely to play, Watson will be on the active roster but remain inactive and Mills is the only quarterback left.
By doing this, the Texans are putting themselves at a very serious competitive disadvantage. They will likely be using two of their 53 roster spots on inactive quarterbacks and another two roster spots on active quarterbacks. And if they don't sign someone, it's going to be weird if Mills gets hurt. Wildcat anyone?
This is an awkward situation for Bears fans, because they all want Justin Fields to play, but no one wants to root for Fields to play at the expense of Andy Dalton's health. Dalton tweaked his knee against the Bengals while running out of bounds on Sunday, suffering a non-contact injury. He came back in the game on the next series, but wasn't able to return in the second half. Fields didn't look very good in his relief duty, finishing 6-of-13 for 60 yards and a pick.
Fortunately it doesn't appear Dalton's injury is an ACL and might just be some kind of a bruise instead. So who starts in Week 3 against the Browns? Guess it depends on Dalton's health. Maybe? Or the scheme? The whole thing sparked a weird debate between Matt Nagy and reporters on Monday.
Reporter: “Is Andy [Dalton] still your starter if healthy?"— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) September 20, 2021
Matt Nagy: “That’s something that I’m not going to get into with scheme.”
Reporter: “That’s not scheme.”
Nagy: “Yes it is."
Obviously Dalton's health isn't related to scheme. Nagy knows as much. Which is why he sent someone back out to clarify.
What a weird exchange. That feels very much like someone whose team is 1-1 and struggling to put a competent offense on the field. Fields' outing after replacing Dalton was rough. The Bears are more than a touchdown 'dog to the Browns this week -- I would bet it's Fields who plays and Nagy will have his hands full cooking up a gameplan for Chicago's offense to keep pace with what looks like an explosive Cleveland running game.
Jekyll or Hyde?
The first week of the NFL season is always important, but oftentimes we read too much into it. That appears to be the case again in 2021, with a number of teams laying monster eggs in Week 1 only to bounce back in Week 2. Or vice versa. Let's see if we can figure out which is the real team we should expect to see moving forward.
Tennessee Titans: An embarrassing loss to the Cardinals in Week 1 had the Titans installed as 6-point dogs to the Seahawks. Seattle, with Russell Wilson throwing bombs up top to Tyler Lockett and Freddie Swain, looked well on their way to covering and winning easily in their home opener. And then Derrick Henry happened. The Titans managed to uncork the monstrous running back for a 182-yard day that helped lead a double-digit comeback. That's hard to do! But when you look at the Titans identity, Week 2 fits the mold a lot more than Week 1. This isn't a team incapable of run blocking or completely unable to play defense. It wouldn't be shocking if they did manage to give up plenty of points through the air, though. And we saw the passing game open up here too -- if A.J. Brown catches more balls or Julio Jones isn't hosed out of a touchdown, maybe the comeback isn't necessary. I'd lean more towards Week 2 as the Titans' real identity than Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers: After going into Buffalo and taking care of business with an incredible defensive performance and a strong second-half comeback, the Steelers got humiliated by the Raiders at home on Sunday. It's a shocking result given the matchup -- the Steelers couldn't pressure Derek Carr at all and with injuries piling up on the defensive line, Pittsburgh was unable to slow down the Vegas passing game at all. Offensively there's already chatter about Ben Roethlisberger being upset at offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The offensive line looks like a problem and Big Ben isn't challenging downfield very well or even considering using the middle of the field.
I don't want to bury the Steelers completely here. Getting T.J. Watt back quickly from his groin injury would be massive. But if the defensive line doesn't stay intact from a health perspective, it's hard to see how this is a legitimate contender coming out of Pittsburgh. An inability to get after the passer could cause this defense to crater. This warrants monitoring for sure.
New Orleans Saints: Maybe Sean Payton didn't flatten out the Jameis-coaster after all. The Saints went from beating the Packers 38-3 to getting completely smoked by the Panthers 26-7. Winston was back to his old ways with some questionable decision-making, although it mostly appeared to come after the Saints were out of the game. And the Saints were missing eight coaches because of COVID protocols, which absolutely feels like a big deal. And it's entirely possible the Panthers defense is just taking a step forward this year, a full season ahead of expectations. Add on the Saints being away from home for multiple weeks because of hurricane concerns and it shouldn't be too shocking they struggled. I put a lot more in those excuse factors than I do in the Saints just being a terrible football team. We may find out pretty quickly based on this coming week's matchup against the Pats.