Injuries have shaped the NFL's playoff landscape all year long. With just two regular-season games remaining after Week 15, big losses are keenly felt. For team's with playoff aspirations, those losses hurt even more.
Though the game of football is certainly a team sport, some players represent vital cogs in a machine that simply doesn't function the same without them. The loss of Aaron Rodgers, for example, has crippled Green Bay's offense this year, and New England's defense has suffered badly without Vince Wilfork.
The playoffs are just a few weeks away, and losing a top player could have devastating consequences for teams in contention. With that in mind, here's a look at this week's wounded stars.
During a physical battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham was forced from the action with a right hip injury.
Michelle Tafoya had the scoop, per SNF on NBC, noting he was questionable to return:
TAFOYA: Jermaine Gresham is questionable to return with a right hip injury.— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) December 16, 2013
He did not return.
The injury to Gresham pushes rookie tight end Tyler Eifert into the forefront for Cincinnati. He's a capable young player who has superstar potential, but there's no doubt the Bengals will miss Gresham as long as he's out for his run-blocking ability.
In the midst of a blowout, things got worse for the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15.
Linebacker James Harrison was forced from the contest against his old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, after suffering a blow to the head that left him with concussion symptoms. The Bengals on Twitter provided the news, noting he was doubtful to return, and Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer later reported he was out for the remainder of the game:
James Harrison doubtful to return with concussion symptoms. #CINvsPIT— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 16, 2013
Harrison with a concussion. Out for rest of the game— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 16, 2013
At the time of Harrison's injury, Cincinnati was already down by a score of 21-0, and Pittsburgh's offense was moving the ball at will. Though his role with the Bengals has been reduced this year, Harrison is still a force to be reckoned with, and losing him for a significant amount of time would hurt this team.
The Arizona Cardinals need all hands on deck during the final two weekends of the season to make it into the playoffs, but All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was forced from Week 15's game against the Tennessee Titans.
UPDATE: Monday, Dec. 16, 2:01 p.m. ET by Donald Wood
After suffering a concussion in Sunday’s game, Fitzgerald’s father took to Twitter to update his son’s health status:
---End of update---
As noted by the Cardinals on Twitter, Fitzgerald was being evaluated for a concussion and was ruled out of the remainder of Sunday's contest:
ESPN's Adam Schefter confirmed that it was a concussion, while providing the details of how it occurred:
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion trying to recover onsides kick in the fourth quarter of Arizona's OT win over Tennessee.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 16, 2013
With the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers coming up on the schedule to close out the season, the Cardinals will need Fitzgerald to play in order to win those games. With two games left, Arizona trails San Francisco and Carolina by one game for a playoff spot.
It's hard enough to win games for the Oakland Raiders with future Hall of Fame safety Charles Woodson roaming the secondary.
Unfortunately, the defensive back injured his ribs during Week 15's contest against the Kansas City Chiefs and was ruled questionable to return, as noted by the Raiders on Twitter:
Charles Woodson has a rib injury; his return is questionable.— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) December 15, 2013
With upcoming contests against AFC West rivals San Diego and Denver—two of the hottest passing teams in the league—Woodson will be sorely missed if he's unable to play in the final two games of the season for the Raiders.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree needed medical attention after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 30-14 in Week 15.
As reported by Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, Crabtree hurt his left hand during the fourth quarter, and he appeared to be headed for a post-game X-ray:
Michael Crabtree appears headed to get postgame X-rays on left hand. He hurt it in 4th qtr— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 15, 2013
A serious injury would be a devastating blow to Crabtree and the 49ers. He has only been back for three games since missing the entire first 12 weeks of the season with an Achilles injury.
The Seattle Seahawks have been known to knock people silly, and Victor Cruz was the latest victim of the "Legion of Boom" when the New York Giants receiver took a big shot during Week 15's contest.
UPDATE: Monday, Dec. 16, 2:01 p.m. ET by Donald Wood
According to a report from Ebenezer Samuel of The New York Daily News, Cruz is dealing with a head injury and a knee sprain that could cost him the rest of the regular season:
But Cruz hit the turf hard, landing on his shoulder and his head, and he lay motionless for a few moments. He was immediately removed from the game, and the Giants said he was evaluated for a concussion and a knee sprain. He did not return. Asked if Cruz was in danger of missing the rest of the season, coach Tom Coughlin said he was unsure.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t looked at that play, but the kid went up and made a heck of an effort and came down on the side of his helmet. . . . But anyway, I haven’t had a chance to visit in there. I know he came down on the side of his head, so we’ll see.”
---End of update---
Jarrett Bell of USA Today shared these details:
Victor Cruz flipped over and shaken up as head crashed on turf. He walked off on own power, now being evaluated on sideline.— Jarrett Bell (@JarrettBell) December 15, 2013
After the play, Cruz didn't immediately get up, but he eventually made it to the sideline under his own power. However, the team's medical staff then began evaluations to determine if he had suffered a concussion, as relayed by ESPN's Dan Graziano:
Giants announce Victor Cruz is being evaluated for a concussion.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) December 15, 2013
At the time of Cruz's injury, Seattle led New York 16-0, and the receiver had managed just two catches for 25 yards. It's been a rough season for the Giants, and this is just another in a long line of disappointments.
It's been a brutal year of injuries for the New England Patriots, and you can add offensive tackle Nate Solder to the list of walking wounded.
During Week 15's game against the Miami Dolphins, Solder went down with a head injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the game, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported:
Pats LT Nate Solder, who had a concussion last week, has a head injury and will not return.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) December 15, 2013
Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald also noted it was Solder's fourth career concussion and his second in the last eight days:
Patriots are calling it a head injury for Solder, so all signs point toward the fourth concussion of his career and second in 8 days.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) December 15, 2013
The Patriots will be hard-pressed to do any damage in the postseason without Solder protecting Tom Brady and plowing through opposing defenses on running plays. His immediate backup is veteran Will Svitek.
During an intense battle between the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears, superstar cornerback Joe Haden was taken to the locker room with a hip injury.
ESPN's John Clayton provided the news:
Browns CB Joe Haden is being taken to the lockerroom— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) December 15, 2013
After being examined by team doctors, Haden was ruled out of the remainder of the contest, as reported by NFL: AroundTheLeague:
Joe Haden ruled out for Browns with hip injury.— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) December 15, 2013
After the game, it was revealed that Haden had suffered a hip pointer, as Nate Ulrich of theAkron Beacon Journal reported:
#Browns HC Chud said CB Joe Haden suffered hip pointer injury.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) December 15, 2013
The Browns entered Week 15 with a 4-9 record, and it's been another disappointing season for the franchise and its fans. Haden is one of the team's leaders and core players, however, and losing him is a tough pill to swallow.
It seems like the Atlanta Falcons have been bit by the injury bug on a weekly basis in 2013, and the pesky bug bit again against the Washington Redskins.
Sean Weatherspoon has been dealing with injuries all year. He was forced from the game against Washington with a knee injury, and the Falcons announced on Twitter he was questionable to return:
INJURY UPDATE: Falcons starting LB Sean Weatherspoon left game with knee injury. His return is questionable. #WASvsATL— Atlanta_Falcons (@Atlanta_Falcons) December 15, 2013
Jay Adams of the Falcons noted that doctors were looking at his right leg on the sideline:
Sean Weatherspoon being looked at on the sideline. Seems to be pointing to his right leg. #WASvsATL— Jay Adams (@FalconsJAdams) December 15, 2013
It's been an extremely long season for Weatherspoon and the Falcons. After missing the Super Bowl by one or two plays in 2012, Atlanta will be one of the teams picking at the top when the 2014 NFL draft kicks off next May.