Warning sign: Injury-filled week proves NFL should not add games
NEW YORK -- So what do you think of a 17-game season now? Anyone for 18?
It can't happen, folks. It shouldn't happen. I'm not so naïve as to think if there's a few more pieces of gold under some TV network rock that the NFL won't find it. All I'm saying is, after watching Tom Brady go down, probably for the year, and with injuries to Donte' Stallworth, Vince Young, Brodie Croyle, Nate Burleson, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and ... well, I'm missing another 15 or 20 guys, I have zero interest in the league tempting fate and adding another game or two to the regular season, which it seems inclined to do beginning in 2010 or 2011.
"They're talking about cutting the preseason,'' Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said Sunday night. "They could cut the preseason and then just play 16 games in the regular season.''
No, I told him. The league is investigating cutting the number of preseason games to two or three, and playing 17 or 18 regular-season games.
"No, no,'' Woodley said. "Too many.''
My opposition is simple: Every week, 15 or 20 solid contributors are lost, some for a couple of weeks, some for the season. Some weeks, like this one, there's a monumental loss. That's my preamble this opening weekend of the season. I continue to be amazed that owners forget every year how pervasive injuries are. But the further the season gets in the rear-view mirror, the easier it is to forget how beat up teams get by December. I maintain the only way to go is to slash the preseason to two exhibition games (one, even), plus two scrimmages, with the bottom 40 or 45 on each roster meeting at neutral sites.
That's for another day, though. I wanted to throw it out there so I could beat you over the head with it again. However, fans need to oppose an increase in regular season games because even though it would to lead to more football on TV you care about, there would be a steep price attached.
"I tried to apologize to him,'' Bernard Pollard said over the phone from Foxboro. "But I'm not sure he heard me. He was screaming.''
This was no dirty hit by the Chiefs' safety on Brady's left knee at 1:18 p.m. Sunday afternoon, causing it to hyperextend and, quite probably, doing some serious ligament or cartilage damage, or both. I was told Sunday night that the injury is "serious'' and it "threatens Tom's season.'' I've seen the spate of reports about Brady being out for the year, and though I don't refute them, I cannot corroborate them. I was told things certainly don't look good, but because Brady won't have an MRI until today, nothing is etched in stone.
Pollard told me, as he told reporters in Foxboro, that he was striving to get at Brady when running back Sammy Morris blocked him -- and the combination of the block and his own momentum caused him to lunge into Brady's leg.
"I tried to make a play, and Tom went down,'' he said. "I knew something was wrong. He was in pain, screaming. The running back [Morris] was asking for a personal foul, but it definitely wasn't one, and the ref didn't give it to him. It was most definitely a clean play. It was an accident. It's tough. It's football. I'm sorry it happened, obviously. I can't do anything but apologize to him. I went to Herm [Chiefs coach Herman Edwards] after the play and told him how sorry I was.''
Added Pollard: "I'll pray for [Brady].''
As I said on NBC Sunday night, the big telltale sign for Brady was not coming back out to the field once he got hurt. If the injury was minor, the never-let-'em-see-you-sweat idol would have made his way back to the field. He didn't. Some Patriots thought the play was dirty, including Randy Moss.
I spoke with two recent retirees, John Lynch and Vinny Testaverde, Sunday night about the injury and the play.
Lynch, watching from home in Denver, didn't think it was dirty. Important man to ask; he's spent his career in football blitzing and trying to get at quarterbacks the way Pollard did Sunday. And he got fairly close to Brady on a recent short trial with the Patriots.
"There's no way that was a dirty play,'' Lynch said. "It's easy to look at a play in slow-motion and say, 'Oh, he should have been able to stop.' Totally unrealistic. Things are moving so fast out there. Pollard was going for Tom, and it looked like he was somewhat blocked into him.''
Somewhat blocked into him. Good way to put it, if you saw it. As Lynch says, it's impossible to even imply that Pollard's intent was to crash into the side of Brady's knee.
Testaverde was watching the game from his home in Tampa. And he flashed back to Sept. 12, 1999, the day he had his own nightmare injury in a season-opener. Brady's happened in the middle of the first quarter of the first game, Testaverde's in the middle of the second. That Jets team was coming off a 12-4 season in 1998 and a loss in the AFC Championship Game at Denver; there were very high hopes for '99. This Patriots team was coming off a 16-0 season in 2007 and a loss in the Super Bowl; there were very high hopes for '08.
"I never was able to get back to that point, ever in football,'' said Testaverde. "And for me, it was heartbreaking.''
I spent 45 minutes with Brady one day in training camp, sitting on a golf cart in the Gillette Stadium tunnel. He was expansive, almost philosophical. He talked about how much he loved practice, how much he loved playing with Moss. "If you could pick the traits for the perfect wide receiver, Randy would have every single one of them," he said. "Long, lean muscles. Speed. Quick hands. Tremendous second gear when the ball's in the air. So smart. He wants to practice. He wants to work.''
I remember sitting there thinking, how lucky is Moss to have Brady, and vice versa. Now I wonder if Moss is going to turn into the leader he needs to be to help the Patriots save this season, and whether he'll mesh with Matt Cassel the way he'll need to if Brady is gone for the year.
I asked Brady that day about the Super Bowl loss.
"You control what you can control,'' he said, applying a moist wrap, painstakingly, around his right elbow. "Just because you lose the Super Bowl, it's not the end of your career, or the end of the world. You practice, you prepare, you do everything in your power to come out on top. And then you don't. You move on. Life gets simpler when you get older.''
It won't be as simple if the 45 minutes in the MRI tube today shows what we all fear it will show.