When Robert Griffin III limped off the field last Sunday, it figured to be a devastating injury for the Washington Redskins. He’s their most dynamic player and the reason they’ve made a race out of the NFC East. His loss would’ve changed the outlook of the entire division.
It appears now that RGIII is OK, and may even play this weekend, so the Redskins Nation can breathe a big sigh of relief. But his sprained knee ligament served as a reminder how one awkward step, one dangerous hit, one bad moment, one untimely injury can change absolutely everything for a team, especially this late in the season.
Sometimes the changes are good. Sometimes they’re bad. So here’s a look at 5 of the most season-changing injuries in the NFL this year:
Seahawks QB Matt Flynn’s elbow
Flynn wasn’t the biggest name on the free-agent QB market last spring, but he was one of the most intriguing. And when Seattle signed him to a three-year deal worth as much as $26 million in March, it made sense. It didn’t even bother anyone when they drafted Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in the third round.
Now, maybe Wilson would’ve won the job outright anyway, but when he hurt his elbow in August it paved the way for Wilson to be one of the biggest surprises of the season. The rookie QB has completed 63 percent of his passes and has an unexpected 20 touchdown passes with just nine interceptions. More importantly, he’s led the Seahawks to an 8-5 record and has them nipping at the heels of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.
Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray’s foot
It’s hard to completely gauge what’s responsible for another middling season by the Cowboys, but the loss of their top rusher for six weeks didn’t help. They were only 2-3 when he suffered a sprained foot in October, but they had little chance to right their ship without him. They were 3-3 during his six game absence.
Notably, they’re 2-0 since his return. In an NFC East that suddenly became up for grabs when the New York Giants fell back to Earth, maybe Murray could’ve been enough to take some pressure off QB Tony Romo and help the Cowboys separate themselves from the pack.
49ers QB Alex Smith’s concussion
This might be one of the gustiest coaching decisions of all time. Smith had led the 49ers to a 13-3 season in 2011 and took them to the NFC championship game. And they were 6-2-1 and leading their division when he suffered a concussion … and lost his job to Colin Kaepernick.
The 49ers are 3-1 since, so it’s not like Jim Harbaugh’s gamble hasn’t paid off. But he’s replacing a playoff-tested, 8-year veteran with a second-year player who now has four NFL starts under his belt. That’s going to be a playoff risk for a team that had designs on winning the NFC.
Ravens Terrell Suggs torn Achilles/Ray Lewis torn triceps
Suggs tore his Achilles tendon and missed the first six games of the season, and just as he was set to return Lewis tore his triceps and was presumably lost for the season. If you want to know why the once fearsome Baltimore Ravens’ defense ranks 25th in the NFL, it’s because they haven’t had these two defensive stars on the field together all season.
With an offense that scores 25.5 points per game and a division crumbling around them, the Ravens should be running away with things and cementing themselves as an AFC power. They are 9-4 and likely will win the AFC North, but without Suggs and Lewis they have an unusually suspect defense and might be the third choice (behind New England and Houston) to get out of the AFC.
Eagles QB Michael Vick, concussion
In many ways, this injury could have the most wide-ranging and long-lasting aftershocks. When Vick left the game against the Cowboys on Nov. 11, Philly was already in a freefall, having lost four straight to fall to 3-5. But in a division that might produce a nine- or 10-win winner, they weren’t out of it at all.
Once Vick went down, though, they completed their fifth straight loss and then would lose their next three, bringing them to a dismal 3-8. They’re now playing out the string under Nick Foles, possibly fighting for a Top 5 draft pick. And by this spring, both Vick and head coach Andy Reid could be looking for a new job.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO