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NFL has become M*A*S*H unit after just two weeks of play

Updated September 26, 2020 - 8:05 am

This was a main concern of NFL teams, right? That after a pandemic shut down the sports world, pro football would eventually pay for it in the operating room.

No minicamps. No OTAs. No exhibition games. No in-person practices until a shortened training camp. No banging of limbs for weeks on end.

Wasn’t the fear that such a lack of traditional preparation would lead to a rash of injuries once the regular season began?

This could be one time the NFL hates being correct. If, of course, it actually is.

Maybe the only reason so much attention has been placed on all the early injuries are those elite names that have been lost for the season or an extended period. Nick Bosa. Saquon Barkley. Christian McCaffrey. In Week 2 alone, 40 players suffered game-ending injuries. Seven tore ACLs. There seemed to be more players carted off stadium fields than there were empty seats.

Think about it: San Francisco lost four key players — Bosa and fellow defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Raheem Mostert in a road game against the Jets. The 49ers already had star tight end George Kittle out with injury.

Talk about a brutal Super Bowl hangover.

Raiders also hurting

The Raiders play at New England on Sunday and it’s not as if they will arrive at Gillette Stadium with a clean bill of health. They will be down starters on the offensive line (Trent Brown and Richie Incognito), wide receiver (Henry Ruggs) and linebacker (Nick Kwiatkoski).

The team listed 15 names on this week’s injury report.

“Some of the injuries that have occurred (in the NFL) are very disappointing, some of the faces of this league,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

More questions and concerns arise with each blown knee. Each sprained ankle. Each pulled groin. Each strained hamstring. Each damaged hip. Each and every trip by another player under the blue pop-up medical tent along the sideline.

The only thing missing from such a M*A*S*H unit is Hawkeye Pierce.

“I think we’re all looking for reasons and who or what to blame,” said Dr. Caleb Pinegar, a surgeon for Crovetti Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Henderson. “Everybody didn’t know if they would play or not this season because of (COVID-19), so they probably got a little lazy and then suddenly burst back into activity without being as strong or prepared as they usually have been. You’re seeing some of the aftermath.”

Pinegar said such a diagnosis is just one of what could be several reasons for this many injuries. He said it could also be as simple as a running back sticking his foot in the ground and cutting in such a way that his knee doesn’t agree.

Which means there is the science part of this … and then the bad luck part.

History might also be telling us that this has nothing to do with a pandemic and condensed schedule. That, at least when it comes to those ripped up knees, the numbers aren’t unusual at all.

“The answer is complex,” wrote Dr. David Chao, who spent 17 seasons as team doctor for the then-San Diego Chargers. “There have actually been fewer ACL tears this year leaguewide so far through Week 2. The league average the last five years during the preseason alone was 25. Given the lack of an offseason program, preseason games and live practice time, it actually lowers the number of ACL tears for training camp. But there seems to be a shift early in the season.”

Chao, in his article for Outkick.com, wrote that when you balance a relatively healthy Week 1 for the league against the ACL spike of Week 2, it equals a manageable rate of four tears per week. That while the sample size is small and no firm conclusion should be drawn, “the evidence does not prove a lack of preseason games has led to an overall increase in ACL tears.”

Carr: Study up

Derek Carr would be interested in a detailed study of the entire issue.

The seven-year quarterback of the Raiders reminded reporters on Zoom this week about the difference between lifting weights and training in pads. Between a bench press and a 245-pound linebacker rumbling straight at you. Between the calmness of an air-conditioned room and the abyss that is the trench warfare on the offensive line.

His point: Until you know how each injured player trained during the pause, it’s impossible to know what exactly led to someone getting hurt.

“It’d be an interesting study, to see what led up to this,” Carr said. “I don’t have all the answers. I think that a lot of it comes down to how you train. A lot of it is also freak (accident). It’s hard to say it’s one thing or another. It would be interesting to have some stats on it. We don’t know when the virus is going to go away. We don’t know if we’ll have to do this again for another offseason.”

I’ve always been against the farce that are preseason NFL games. Glorified practices. Just another fleecing of fans by billionaires.

But the same isn’t true for those joint scrimmages that have become more and more popular during training camp. Star players might still be either held out or limited in how many snaps they receive, but there isn’t the sham factor to it. It’s all work and no entertainment.

Work that players needed this year against those from different teams — if only to awaken their bodies to things like tempo and the sort of intense contact Sundays bring.

“Look, you can be in perfect condition and just be in the right place at the wrong time and get hurt,” Pinegar said. “There could be some of that going on here. But with so much time off, if you’re not practicing how to tackle, how to fall correctly, how to absorb hits, how to brace and support yourself, you’re going to get hurt.”

This is where the NFL stands after just two weeks: In New York, the miserable Jets are down their top three wide receivers because of injury.

When asked who he expects to be catching passes from quarterback Sam Darnold, coach Adam Gase offered: “Anyone with a pulse.”

How much all of this is about a pandemic or bad luck can’t be totally be determined. It has to be some of both.

But here’s guessing that’s not the first thing on the minds of those being carted off fields.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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