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Tuesday November 8th, 2011

Though seemingly minor, Frank Gore's ankle sprain could be a wake-up call for the 49ers to use backup Kendall Hunter more. (Cal Sport Media)

Time for our now-weekly look at the key injuries suffered during the NFL's Sunday slate of action.

Once again, the medical perspectives are provided by SI.com's injury expert, Will Carroll. Here  are a few of the guys feeling the pain after Week 9:

Frank Gore, RB, 49ers (ankle): Gore rushed 19 times for 107 yards in San Francisco's win in Washington Sunday. But he sprained his ankle midway through the game and seemed gimpy afterward.

SI.com injury expert Will Carroll: Frank Gore has always had injury problems and it's always been his legs. The thing is, he knows how to deal with it. Gore had a minor ankle sprain during the game, got it taped tight on the sidelines and was back in the game. He adjusted his style, going more straight ahead, and the offense shifted as well, not asking him to make sweeping runs or cutbacks. It worked Sunday and should work next week if the ankle is even still a problem.

Who takes Gore’s spot?: The 49ers have the luxury of a solid backup at running back in Kendall Hunter. He may see more time going forward anyway, in an effort to keep Gore fresh, since the NFC West is all but locked up already.

Greg Salas, WR, Rams (leg): Salas fractured his fibula in the fourth quarter Sunday, a season-ending injury. He had been developing into a reliable target for Sam Bradford, with 27 catches in his rookie season.

Carroll: The Rams are just cursed this year. I'm not sure what changed for them, but the team simply can't stay healthy at any position. Salas will likely head to IR, given that even a fibula fracture would take six to eight weeks to return from, and there's little value in getting Salas back for Week 17. He should make a full recovery and be a deep WR option for the Rams next year.

Who takes Salas' spot?: Austin Pettis, another rookie, should see a bump in playing time. Dominique Curry could see some action too -- he's been a special teams contributor thus far.

Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys (hamstring): Just when it looked like Dallas was getting healthy, Austin came up lame in the Cowboys' Week 9 win over Seattle.

Carroll: Austin missed time with a left hamstring strain earlier this season. Now he'll miss time for the right hamstring. Austin said he felt it "grab up" as he was running, an out-of-the-blue injury that's one of those things that happens to tightly-wound (literally) speed receivers. Austin's continued muscular woes are something he and the Cowboys are going to have to address or these recurrent problems will push him out of the league in a hurry.

Who takes Austin’s spot?: The silver lining to Austin and Dez Bryant frequently being banged up this year is that Dallas has discovered Laurent Robinson. He had another TD catch Sunday and will get an increased workload if Austin is out.

Dallas Clark, TE, Colts (leg): Clark exited the Colts' ninth straight loss with what the team dubbed a "lower leg injury" and was seen later on the sideline in a walking boot.

Carroll: Lower leg injury? The Colts are either trying to sound like a hockey team or just have more control, as is their M.O. Clark's injury appears to have been an ankle or Achilles sprain. He left in a boot and was set to be evaluated further on Monday. Given the Colts' record, they'll likely be very conservative with Clark, especially considering TE is one of few positions where they have depth.

Who takes Clark’s spot?: Jacob Tamme made 61 catches with Clark hurt last year, and he'll be the No. 1 option again. Of course, he had Peyton Manning throwing to him in 2010 ...

Dustin Keller, TE, Jets (head): Keller landed awkwardly on his shoulder and head when he tried to leap over Buffalo's Terence McGee after making a reception. After an extended absence from the game, Keller returned to action.

Carroll: If the NFL wants to show that their new concussion policy is working, Dustin Keller should be Exhibit A. Keller made a ridiculous leap, got upended and landed hard. My initial reaction was that he'd have a sore back, but one of the officials thought Keller hit his head and asked the Jets to evaluate him. Keller was taken to the locker room, checked, and came back out for the second half. The system worked, it appears, and the openness of how it worked is good for the Jets.

Who takes Keller’s spot?: Keller should be fine going forward, assuming he doesn't have any setbacks this week.

Hines Ward, WR, Steelers (head): Ward took a huge hit -- which appeared to be helmet-to-helmet -- from Ray Lewis in the first quarter and had to be helped from the field. He stayed on the Steelers' sideline but did not return to action.

Carroll: The reverse of Keller's situation, the Steelers called what looked like a clear concussion of Hines Ward a stinger. Now a stinger is a real injury, caused by the brachial nerve being stretched -- it's painful and can have chronic issues if done over and over. I'm not saying Ward didn't have a stinger, but it also didn't look like he was evaluated for a concussion. One of the protocols is that a player cannot be left alone afterward, and there were shots of Ward sitting quietly by himself just after he came off the field.

Who takes Ward’s spot?: Just as in Week 8 against the Patriots, Pittsburgh simply forged ahead without Ward. Antonio Brown saw more and more looks -- and he delivered big time in the Steelers' loss.

Nate Washington, WR, Titans (hip): Washington exited Tennessee's lost to Cincinnati in the closing moments with what was deemed a hip pointer.

Carroll: Washington left Sunday's game with a nerve injury to his hip. He was kneed in the hip earlier in the game, but when he fell on the hip later, he said his whole leg went numb. There was likely some swelling and bruising from the earlier contact and when he hit it, the nerve was shocked and entrapped. It's normally something that clears up quickly as the swelling and bruising dissipates, but Washington is smart to be concerned.

Who takes Washington’s spot?: Already without Kenny Britt, the Titans can't afford another receiver injury. Lavelle Hawkins led the team in receiving Sunday, but Damian Williams would see more targets if Washington is out next week.

Brandon Spikes, LB, Patriots (knee): New England suffered a big blow against the Giants when Spikes left in the second quarter after injuring his knee. The Patriots never announced what the exact issue.

Carroll: It wasn't one of the big hits that hurt Brandon Spikes, but one of the awkward ones -- he had his knee hit from the side and stayed down. It looked like it could be a mild to moderate knee sprain, but we'll have to wait and see what the exact diagnosis is before we set any expectations for how it will affect him. Spikes has a history of ankle injuries, but no knee issues.

Who takes Spikes’ spot?: Gary Guyton filled in for the most part Sunday. He's a decent player but a definite step down from Spikes.

Tracy Porter, S, Saints (head): Porter had to be taken off on a stretcher Sunday, following a scary collision. Porter went low on Mike Williams to make a tackle and smacked his head on Williams' thigh.

Carroll: Porter's head was hit by Mike Williams' thigh - if it had been his knee, it would have been worse. Porter fell awkwardly, bending his neck after having it whipped by the initial contact. While it's unclear whether Porter was concussed (probably), that's always secondary to any cervical concerns. Porter had movement in all extremities and waved to the crowd as he was carted off. Heck, he was tweeting later!

Who takes Porter’s spot?: Patrick Robinson slid into Porter's spot for the remainder of the game -- Porter was injured on the first play from scrimmage.

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