Here's the latest on the NFL's most prominent injuries.
Sunday was rough for two potential playoff contenders, as major knee injuries ended the seasons of crucial players.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (knee): In the third quarter of the Patriots' 27-26 comeback win over the Cleveland Browns, Gronkowski took a direct hit to his right knee from Browns safety T.J. Ward. He stayed down on the field and had to be carted off. Initial fears were that Gronkowski suffered a knee injury, and the prognosis lines up -- on Monday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Gronkowski had torn the ACL and MCL in his right knee. The injuries will keep him out for the rest of the season, and may impact his 2014 season.
It's also the latest in a string of injuries for the talented player, who clearly redefined New England's offense when he was able to return from multiple forearm surgeries on Oct. 20 against the New York Jets. Tom Brady's passer rating blew up from 61.6 in October to 115.0 in November, and 97.5 in December. Gronkowski was clearly the force multiplier in the Patriots offense, and Brady and Bill Belichick will now have to figure out how to keep things on the right path. The 10-3 Pats have the inside track on the AFC East, but it's the playoffs that could test this offense past its current limits.
"I don’t think too many teams have players of that caliber at any position to just put in another Rob Gronkowski or put in another Vince Wilfork or put in another Jerod Mayo," Belichick said Monday, adding the key defensive players who have also been injured this season. "Whoever is in there is going to have to fulfill some of those duties but it may expand to more people, like we ended up having to do offensively -- using more four-receiver sets instead of three receivers and a tight end or something like that. Or it might result in the tight ends getting more plays, or some combination there. Some of that may change from game to game, but obviously we’ve unfortunately had to play without Rob for games at the beginning of the season and we may be in that situation again."
During his weekly appearance on WEEI, Brady reiterated the "Next Man Up" belief.
"Gronk provides a certain margin of error because of how talented a player he is, and the other guys play different roles for us," Brady said. "Those roles are going to have to shift, kind of what we did on the last two drives of the game. We had four receivers at points, at different points we had more [tight ends] with [James] Develin and [Matthew] Mulligan on the field."
Selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, Gronkowski signed an eight-year, $55.23 million contract extension in June 2012. He's missed time with forearm and knee issues, back surgery, and now this. He's been an amazing performer when healthy, but even at age 24, it's reasonable to wonder how much more his body can take.
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Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona Cardinals (knee): The Cardinals' third-round gamble on Mathieu, who missed the entire 2012 LSU season due to multiple drug issues, has been an unqualified success. Not only has Mathieu kept his nose clean in the NFL, but also he has been one of the league's best first-year defenders, and an absolute contender for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Sadly, that process was brought to a halt in Arizona's 30-10 win over the St. Louis Rams, as Mathieu tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee. It's a big blow for one of the league's best defenses. Mathieu had become defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' Swiss army knife, excelling at multiple positions and becoming a huge factor in the slot -- he had allowed a 62.0 opponent passer rating on 312 slot snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
The injury could affect Mathieu's ability to work through training camp next season, but the Cardinals have every right to be excited about his future.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (foot): Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier told reporters on Monday that Peterson is still being examined after suffering a mid-foot injury in Minnesota's loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Schefter originally speculated that Peterson's season could be over, but SportsCenter's Twitter account reported that Peterson may play next Sunday after torn ligaments and Lisfranc injuries were ruled out. Peterson will receive a CT scan to confirm, but the initial news looks good.
"Well, it’s a little painful," Peterson said Monday. "Obviously it kept me out of the game. The MRI came back great, so that’s good. Just got to get a CT scan to make sure the bone is OK ... Initially you don’t know exactly what’s going on when you’re feeling it. That initial contact definitely didn’t feel good. I was kind of worried. But kind of cleared up a little bit after getting the MRI."
K.J. Wright, LB, Seattle Seahawks (foot): After the Seahawks' 19-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said that Wright suffered a broken foot and will be out for about six weeks. It's a major blow for the Seahawks' outstanding defense, as Wright is a tackling machine and one of the best cover linebackers in the game. Malcolm Smith will likely take his place on an every-down basis.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers (knee): Stewart left the Panthers' Sunday night loss to the New Orleans Saints following a tackle from New Orleans cornerback Keenan Lewis in the third quarter, and initial reports indicate that he may have suffered an MCL tear. Such an injury would end his season, leaving more carries for DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert through the Panthers' playoff run and beyond.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (hamstring): Jones-Drew strained his hamstring in Thursday's win over the Houston Texans, but he's confident that he'll be ready to go for the team's Sunday game against the Buffalo Bills. Jones-Drew said Friday that he's positive about a return to form.
“It’s what we, I think, what we figured out was just a strained hamstring,” he said. “I’ve played with those before, so it’s not that big of a deal. You just have to get the necessary treatments and things done so you can get back and get on the field for Sunday.”