The NFL injury list grows. Rams quarterback Steve Bartkowski went down with a sprain of his oft-injured right knee during Sunday's 34-20 loss to the Eagles. Bart left Philadelphia on crutches, with a temporary cast extending from his ankle to his thigh, and he is doubtful for this week's game against Tampa Bay.
"It's not the soreness I'm worried about," says Bartkowski, who has had five operations on that knee. "I've been playing with that for seven years. But I've got to have some range of motion in the knee in order to do my job."
Elsewhere, the Packers lost veteran linebacker John Anderson for the season (broken left ankle), and Giants wide receiver Lionel Manuel will miss at least four weeks of action because of a sprained left knee.
So what is going on down on the field? Why all the injuries?
Says Dick Steinberg, Patriots director of player personnel: "Players are bigger, faster and stronger. They are lifting weights on an organized basis at a much earlier age. There is concern that they are also using steroids at an earlier age, too. The result is they are packing a lot more strength on their frames. Two things happen: There is a greater impact upon collision, and there is greater stress on their own joints, ligaments and tendons. It's asking for trouble."
Says Oilers wide receiver Tim Smith: "With the new 46 defenses, there is potential for more violent blitzes. Blindside stuff. It's not black and white anymore out there—there's a lot of deception."
Says Lions wide receiver Leonard Thompson: "The referees have so much to look for that they're letting a lot of things slide. They've lost control of the game."
Perhaps the most devastating injury of the season occurred on Sept. 22, during the Bears' 25-12 win over Green Bay, when Packer cornerback Tim Lewis collided with Bear receiver Willie Gault. Lewis's head whipped forward, jamming his neck, and he lay on the Lambeau Field turf, as he later said, "paralyzed for 15 minutes and numb for at least an hour. But, of course to me, it all seemed like an eternity.
"I was flipping out. I tried kicking my legs, and then I looked down at my feet and they weren't moving. The trainers came out and said, 'Don't worry. Everything is all right.' I said, 'No, it's not. I can't move anything.' "
For Lewis, it was the second time he had been temporarily paralyzed after a tackle. In a 1984 practice session, when he collided with teammate Jesse Clark, Lewis's body went numb. Last week, X-rays revealed he has a narrow spinal canal between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, making him susceptible to this type of injury, and possibly to permanent paralysis. So at age 24—and on the verge of being recognized as one of the best players in the game—he was forced to retire.