Two Seasons Turn on Hinges

Rich TandlerSenior Analyst IAugust 24, 2008

Two plays in the second quarter of two preseason games, taking place at roughly the same time, one in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the other in Charlotte, North Carolina and both involving famous defensive ends.

The seasons of the New York Giants and Washington Redskins hinged on hinge joints.

In Charlotte, Washington's Jason Taylor got pushed backwards on a running play. About five yards downfield he turned just in time to see Reed Doughty tackling the ball carrier. With his right foot planted, a player fell on Taylor's shin just as the other side of the pile hit him from behind.

It looked bad on TV and the reaction of the players on the field as they urged the Washington medical staff to hurry to tend to Taylor, who had screamed in pain when the knee bent the wrong way, seemed to confirm a grim prognosis. Although Taylor did leave the field under his own power, he was limping badly.

In Jersey, Osi Umenyiora lined up wide on a third-down play. He took an outside rush to try to go around tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson to get to Brett Favre. About five yards into the backfield, Ferguson gave Umenyiora a little shove to make the outside rush an even longer route to the quarterback. Umenyiora lost his balance slightly, fell to the ground, and started limping as he got back up to see Favre's pass fall incomplete. At the end of the play, he went back to the ground and the training staff came out.

Both injuries were described as knee sprains and initial examinations revealed no ligament damage. In both cases, the prognosis was preliminary pending an MRI examination.

Today, the MRI's were done. Taylor does indeed have a knee sprain. While he may or may not be available for the regular season opener, he will be back within two weeks.

That opener is against the Giants. Umenyiora will not be playing in that game, nor will he line up for New York at all this season. The pictures revealed a torn MCL and he will have season-ending surgery.

And so it goes. The incident in which Taylor was hurt was looked extremely dangerous. The knee appeared to be bent severely. But for whatever reason—good training, flexibility gained by dancing with stars or, most likely, plain dumb luck—the injury was relatively minor.

Umenyiora appeared simply to stumble. But exactly the wrong combination of forces acted on his knee joint in exactly the wrong way and a ligament popped.

The Redskins survived their moment of truth. They still have active visions of Taylor and fellow end Andre Carter providing a pass rush the likes of which hasn't been seen in a couple of decades in DC.

The Giants, on the other hand, suffered a key loss. Umenyiora's injury comes in the wake of the retirement of his bookend partner Michael Strahan. Suddenly, the New York pass rush, the key to their advance through the playoffs and their upset win over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, has gone from an exclamation point to a question mark.

In a fraction of a second, an unforeseen and unpredictable pivotal moment, each team's season came to a sudden turning point. Thousands of man hours and hundreds of millions of dollars that each team spent in planning the 2008 season came down to a few strands of sinewy material in a hinge joint.