Here's the latest on the NFL's most significant injuries.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys (back): In the second half of the Dallas Cowboys' 24-23 win over the Washington Redskins, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo bailed out of yet another pressure situation and limped through most of the rest of the game as a result. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass to running back DeMarco Murray with 1:08 left, but after the game, team owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett disagreed about the nature and severity of Romo's injury.
The team was awaiting an MRI, and according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the news that came across was the worst possible -- Romo will miss the rest of the 2013 season with a back injury. That puts backup Kyle Orton in the spotlight for next Sunday's winner-take-all NFC East matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In his Monday press conference, Garrett would not confirm that Romo was out for any specific length of time, saying that Romo was day-to-day, and that the team would continue to evaluate the situation as the week went on. Garrett also said that the team would sign another quarterback in the next few days, as Orton is the only quarterback on the roster available to practice.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen said via Twitter that Romo has suffered a herniated disc and that surgery is necessary.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos (knee): Miller walked off the field under his own power after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter of Denver's 37-13 win over the Houston Texans. Miller told teammates that he hoped he'd be back for the playoffs, but that won't be the case -- several reports indicate that he has been diagnosed with a torn ACL in his knee, and now the hope is that he'll be back in time for 2014 training camp.
It's obviously a major blow for a Broncos defense that has played unevenly all season, and it's exacerbated by the injuries to ends Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe. Veteran pass-rusher Shaun Phillips has been a pleasant surprise, especially when Miller missed the first six games of the 2013 season due to an NFL suspension, and rookie first-round tackle Sylvester Williams has logged sacks in each of his last two games.
Miller had just six sacks on the season due to that limited time frame, but he also tallied eight quarterback hits (tied for the team lead with underrated lineman Malik Jackson) and 27 quarterback hurries (only Phillips and Wolfe have more). Denver will hope to get more out of Nate Irving, who took Miller's place in the Texans game, and inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard is always good for a few quarterback pressures per game. But in the NFL postseason, pass rush is more important than ever, and there's no way to spin this positively for the Broncos.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (knee): Smith left the Panthers' win over the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter after he pulled up following an incomplete pass from Cam Newton. He tried briefly to re-enter the game in the second quarter, but was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the contest. On Monday, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said that Smith suffered a PCL sprain, and while it's highly unlikely that he'll play in the regular-season finale against the Falcons, Smith's injury is a week-to-week proposition at this point. It would obviously help if the Panthers could clinch the NFC South and the NFC's No. 2 seed, affording them a bye week. Ted Ginn will step up in Smith's place in the short term.
Carl Nicks, OG, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (toe): On Sunday, FOX Sports' Mike Garafolo reported that there is some fairly serious concern about Nicks' NFL future. The two-time Pro Bowler and one-time First Team All-Pro with the New Orleans Saints has played in just nine games since he signed with the Buccaneers before the 2012 season. He lost nine games of that season with a toe injury, and he was one of three Tampa Bay players to catch the MRSA (staph infection) virus in the 2013 offseason. Nicks gave it a go for two games in 2013, but Garafolo says that he's heard from sources that Nicks may be experiencing nerve damage, and he's seeing several specialists to get a more detailed diagnosis.
"I will just have to deal with it my whole life," Nicks told reporters this summer. "I would lie if I told you it didn’t affect me at all. It affects the way I walk, the way I stand around. I have to stand a certain kind of way. It is something I just have to deal with. I don’t want to get into taking painkillers and not knowing if it is hurting.”
Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract in March 2012. $6 million of his $7 million base salary in 2014 is guaranteed for injury, and he's scheduled to make $7.75 million in base salaries in 2015 and '16.
Russell Okung, OT, Seattle Seahawks (toe): Okung left Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals with what head coach Pete Carroll called a toe injury, the same kind of injury that sidelined Okung for eight weeks earlier in the season. During his Monday morning show on ESPN Radio's Seattle affiliate, Carroll said that Okung's toe was sore, and that the team would not have a more comprehensive diagnosis until later in the week. Okung has been a rare bastion of strength along Seattle's offensive line -- he's allowed just one sack in seven games. Alvin Bailey, who replaced Okung on Russell Wilson's blind side, would be a fairly serious downgrade in the short term if Okung is out for any part of the playoffs. It's possible that Seattle could move left guard Paul McQuistan back out to left tackle as they did when Okung was previously injured, though that's hardly an ideal solution -- McQuistan allowed eight sacks in those eight games. Kenny Vacarro, DB, New Orleans Saints (ankle): On Monday, Saints head coach Sean Payton confirmed that Vacarro suffered a fractured ankle in the Saints' Sunday loss to the Carolina Panthers. Vacarro, the team's first-round pick in 2013, was carted off the field after his left leg was bent in a pile. The Texas alum has played very well in several positions throughout his rookie campaign, and as the rest of New Orleans' secondary has been inconsistent this season, this could be a very big deal as the Saints head into the playoffs. Vacarro can play everything from deep safety to slot corner to blitzing DB with impressive adeptness. He'll finish his first season with a sack, five quarterback pressures, an interception, and 79 tackles.