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Ryan Grant and the NFL's Biggest Season-Altering Injuries of the Last 10 Years

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst ISeptember 15, 2010

Ryan Grant and the NFL's Biggest Season-Altering Injuries of the Last 10 Years

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Yesterday's announcement that Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant will miss the rest of the 2010 season is devastating news to Packer fans and inside the team locker room.

    After back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, Grant was emerging as one of the league's top backs.

    Now, to make up for the loss, Aaron Rodgers will have to play even better than he did last season.

    If the Packers don't reach the Super Bowl like many predicted just a week ago, Grant's injury will be reason No. 1 in most people's minds.

    Here are 10 other cases in the past 10 years when an injury completely altered a team's fortunes.

No. 10: Brian Urlacher, 2009

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    Regardless of whether or not Urlacher is considered “overrated,” he is one of the most physically talented linebackers in the NFL. Furthermore, the Bears defense is built around Urlacher in Ray Lewis fashion.

    Removing that piece of the puzzle will irrevocably damage a defense’s game plan, even for one game. Urlacher missing the last 15 games of the 2009 with a dislocated wrist crushed the Bears' high hopes.

    Chicago finished the 2008 season winning three of its final four games to post a 9-7 record. With recently acquired Jay Cutler at quarterback, the team seemed to be headed in the right direction.

    Without Urlacher the Bears finished 21st in the NFL in points allowed and stumbled to a 7-9 record. Chicago might not have won the Super Bowl that season or even made the playoffs.

    But Urlacher’s loss was still a crushing blow.

No. 9: Osi Umenyiora, 2008

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    Even more so than David Tyree’s catch or Eli Manning’s scramble/throw, the Giants won Super Bowl XLII over the undefeated Patriots because of New York’s front four.

    Although Michael Strahan was the big name on that defensive line, Osi Umenyiora was the unit’s only Pro Bowler.

    The Giants knew that Strahan would retire after the 2007 season and there would be one huge hole to fill up front.

    So when Umenyiora tore cartilage in his knee during a preseason game—he would miss the entire season—the Giants lost half of the unit that made them world champions.

    Justin Tuck stepped up in a big way for the Giants' 2008 defense, posting 12 sacks and earning All-Pro honors.

    The Giants actually posted a better regular season record in 2008 than they did when they won the Super Bowl a year earlier, in addition to winning the NFC East, which they didn’t in 2007.

    But they were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round, at home against Philadelphia. Umenyiora’s injury certainly hurt the team that lost four of its last five games.

No. 8: Chad Pennington, 2005 and 2009

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    No one would consider Pennington a franchise quarterback in the category of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But two different franchises have put their faith in him only to see Pennington lead his team to playoff berths.

    After the Jets selected him in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft, Pennington took them to the playoffs in 2002 and 2004. But early in 2005, he injured his right rotator cuff for the second time in two seasons and missed 13 games.

    With Brooks Bollinger and 42-year-old Vinny Testaverde filling in, the Jets went on to finish the season 3-10. That cost Herm Edwards his job.

    Enter Brett Favre in 2008, forcing Pennington to Miami, where—finally healthy for all 16 games—Pennington guided the Dolphins to the AFC East title.

    But again, the injured right shoulder sidelined Pennington in 2009, and Chad Henne took over and Miami missed the playoffs.

No. 7: Daunte Culpepper, 2005

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    Because he now plays for the Sacramento Mountain Lions and before that played for two other minor league teams (the Raiders and Lions), people forget about how great Daunte Culpepper was in the early part of the previous decade.

    In his second year, he took the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, leading the NFL in touchdowns, and then recovered after three straight subpar seasons to become the conference’s best quarterback in 2004.

    His 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns were only overshadowed by Peyton Manning’s historic performance that season.

    Midway through the 2005 campaign, Culpepper suffered a gruesome knee injury, tearing the ACL, MCL and PCL.

    At 2-5, the Vikings weren’t going to the playoffs that season, although they did win six straight in Culpepper’s absence. But after the injury, Culpepper never returned to anywhere near the form he showed in 2000 and 2004.

    This is one of the sadder cases of injury ruining a very promising NFL career: He was only 27 at the time.

No. 6: Terrell Owens, 2004

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    When Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams horse-collared T.O. in Week 15 of the NFL season, Philadelphia fans were distraught. The Eagles and Donovan McNabb finally had the go-to receiver that they believed would take them to a Super Bowl.

    Owens missed the rest of the regular season and the entire NFC playoffs only to return for an incredible nine-catch, 122-yard performance in Super Bowl XXXIX.

    So the ankle injury that T.O. suffered against Dallas didn’t destroy the Eagles' season as everyone feared. But you’ve got to wonder how well he would have played in the Super Bowl with a healthy ankle.

    However, the play did forever change the NFL: The horse-collar tackle was promptly outlawed the next season.

No. 5: Carson Palmer, 2005

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    Bengals fans had waited a decade and a half to see their team reach the postseason, and it finally happened in 2005. Cincinnati won the AFC North to set up a home playoff game against the hated Steelers.

    But on their offense’s first snap, Palmer tore his ACL courtesy of a borderline late hit from Pittsburgh defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. Palmer missed the rest of the game, and Jon Kitna stepped in as the Bengals lost 31-17.

    This is the only entry on the list that didn’t cause the player to miss a single start. Palmer was back under center for the 2006 season opener.

    But Palmer has yet to duplicate what he did in 2005, when he led the NFL in completion percentage and touchdown passes. Furthermore, the injury cost the Bengals a legitimate shot to win their first playoff game since 1990.

No. 4: Tom Brady, 2008

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    Of all the injuries in the NFL in recent years, this one was probably the most high-profile since L.T. snapped Joe Theismann’s leg.

    Fresh off his historic 2007 season, Brady tore his ACL in the season opener against Kansas City. The league MVP missed the entire season.

    But there is one reason why Brady’s injury isn’t AS significant as others during the previous decade.

    The Pats still went 11-5 in his absence and only missed the playoffs because Chad Pennington’s Dolphins owned a tiebreaker.

No. 3: Troy Polamalu, 2009

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    In the 2009 NFL season, the world champion Steelers' star defensive back Troy Polamalu made one of the greatest interceptions in recent history. Against the Titans he leapt into the air and pulled down a ball seemingly out of anyone’s reach.

    It was just another incredibly athletic and graceful play for the perennial All-Pro safety. But later that day, Polamalu sprained his MCL and missed the next four weeks.

    He returned to play four more games but then re-injured the knee and missed the remainder of the season.The Steelers defense never compensated for his loss.

    A year after boasting the NFL’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense, the Steelers tumbled to 12th.

    Worse yet, the Steelers could not protect a handful of fourth quarter leads and endured a pitiful five-game losing streak that cost them a playoff spot.

No. 2: Michael Vick, 2003

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    In early January 2003, the Atlanta Falcons did something no other team had ever done before: They went into Lambeau Field and defeated the Packers in a postseason game.

    Michael Vick’s scrambling and throwing accounted for most of Green Bay’s problems in a shocking 27-7 loss.

    The Falcons lost the next week at Philadelphia, but heading into the 2003 NFL season, the Falcons were a popular Super Bowl pick—until Vick fractured his right fibula in a preseason game.

    Vick missed the first 11 games of the season, and the Falcons went 2-9. Vick returned briefly in Week 12 and then in his first start pulled off a huge upset of the eventual conference champion Carolina Panthers, rushing for 141 yards and a wonderful, acrobatic, late go-ahead touchdown.

    Atlanta finished 3-1 under Vick and the next season returned to the postseason, where they lost in the NFC Championship Game.

    Soon Vick was out of Atlanta for obvious reasons, but that 2003 season might have been his, and Atlanta’s, best shot at a title.

No. 1: Drew Bledsoe, 2001

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    In terms of destiny-altering injuries, this one is tops. Not only did it change the fortunes of the 2001 New England Patriots, it pretty much changed the course of NFL history as well.

    When Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of a Week 2 loss at home to the Jets, the Patriots looked buried. He was their No. 1 overall selection, $103 million franchise quarterback. His replacement was a skinny, second-year quarterback who the team took in the sixth round.

    Of course, Tom Brady went on to win 11 of his 14 starts and emerged as a superstar in the snowy playoff win over Oakland and Super Bowl XXXVI.

    It’s impossible to say that the only reason Brady ever got on the field was because Bledsoe got hurt. You cannot assume that he would not have emerged as a great player down the road, maybe even taking Bledsoe’s job outright in the 2002 preseason.

    But just maybe Brady being forced into such a difficult situation midseason is what forged his intrepid game. For Brady, it was do or die, and he flourished like no one expected him to.

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