Injuries, large and small, constitute a part of the storylines of any long NFL season. However, looking back at Week 2’s list of injuries, the names among the casualties would make any gridiron fan’s eyes open quite widely.
Among the most significant names and their injuries:
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (suspected torn ACL)
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffery (ankle injury, MRI pending)
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor (ribs and chest pains)
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (hamstring)
Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker (suspected torn Achilles, MRI pending)
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tavon Young (left knee, season-ending)
That’s a random sampling, for the most part – and arguably, enough to form a nucleus of a whole new team on its own.
And then there’s the San Francisco 49ers.
Their depth of injuries, to a quartet of key starting players at their positions, may hamper last year’s Super Bowl runners-up in their attempts at maintaining their supremacy towards a bid to finish one step further towards winning their sixth Super Bowl title.
For openers, their respective offensive and defensive leaders, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and defensive end Nick Bosa, suffered ankle and knee injuries in the team’s 31-13 win at the New York Jets – but their diagnoses may have opposite fortunes for those players.
For Garoppolo – who tore his ACL early in the 2018 season, his first full season with the 49ers after his trade from the New England Patriots the prior October – his injury is a high ankle sprain, and the early mail indicates that he’s certain to miss San Francisco’s next game at the New Jersey Meadowlands against the New York Giants. His availability for the 49ers’ home game in Week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles or beyond that is yet to be determined.
Bosa, on the other hand, has a much more dire outcome, as he’s suspected to have torn his ACL, which would put him out for the season, as may line mate Solomon Thomas – and oddly enough, just plays apart in the first quarter.
The 49ers also incurred injuries to running back Raheem Mostert – who ran for the game’s opening touchdown on an 80-yard run in the game’s first play against the Jets – with a knee injury, and Thomas suffered a knee injury serious enough to require a cart to come out on the Met Life Stadium field to carry him off for locker room treatment.
While no prognoses outside of Bosa’s season-ending injury available currently, debates will rage as to how much that group of injuries will affect the 49ers’ championship ambitions, for the short term under the best possible injury outcomes, or for the long term if the worst suspicions are realised.
In addition to existing injuries to tight end George Kittle, defensive back Richard Sherman and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the 49ers’ couldn’t have afforded any other injuries heading into the game against the Jets. And while that trio of players will be back sooner rather than later, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has a nervous wait to endure on hearing about the other foursome.
“We’ll see how everything plays out these next couple of days,” Shanahan said after the win over the Jets.
“We’ve got some guys on our practice squad that we have a lot of confidence in. We'll see who's out there and however we can help our team. I know [general manager] John [Lynch] and his group will bring those guys in. “We’ve also got some guys here that can step in and help us too,” added Shanahan.
After Garoppolo excelled on 14-for-16 passing for 131 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Jordan Reed before leaving the game at halftime, Nick Mullens was efficient if unspectacular on 8-of-11 passing for 71 yards and one interception.
As Mullens will start against the Giants, Shanahan lauded his step-in role against the Jets and remains confident that he will do well to hold down the fort until Garoppolo returns.
“I thought Nick came in and made a couple of big plays. I think he’ll be a lot more ready next week with preparation,” Shanahan said.
Mostert, seen by a lot of 49er observers as starting to come into his own, ran for 92 yards on eight carries and caught two Garoppolo passes for 15 yards in his first-half duties. For as long as he is out, his role will probably be a “tailback by committee” effort, led by Jerick KcKinnon, who ran for 77 yards on just three carries and scored a touchdown against the Jets.
But replacing Bosa and Thomas may be the toughest challenge facing Shanahan, Lynch, and their staff, if both players are suspected to have season-ending ACL injuries. In the 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV last year, their defence was seen as their overall strength area with Bosa – in his NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year season – leading the way with nine sacks from his edge rushing position, and Thomas a vital member of a strong supporting cast.
By contrast, against the Jets, the 49ers only recorded one sack, from Arik Armstead, and Fred Warner led the team with 12 tackles from his linebacker position. All this in a game where the 49ers’ defence still didn’t allow a touchdown – albeit against much inferior competition – until the final two minutes.
“We knew we were going to bend a little bit, but our defence never broke, not till the end when they let them get into the endzone. But I was happy with the defence as a whole,” Shanahan said.
Pending full analyses on their injured players’ statuses, Shanahan may have to rely on the same philosophy to stop opposing teams’ offensive threats, and get the 49ers through the long season.