Week 2 Injuries Could Shape 2021 NFL Season

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 20, 2021

Week 2 Injuries Could Shape 2021 NFL Season

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The second Sunday of the 2021 NFL regular season was loaded with electric performances, memorable plays and exciting finishes.

    Unfortunately, a wave of injuries for key players put a damper on all of that. 

    Let's wrap up an entertaining but painful day by reviewing the fresh injuries that could have the greatest impact on the rest of the NFL season. 

The Broncos Can't Afford to Lose Bradley Chubb

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    The Denver Broncos won just five games in 2020, but they were 4-2 in contests in which pass-rushing star Bradley Chubb recorded at least one sack. The fifth pick in the 2018 draft made his first Pro Bowl, but he entered this season hampered by an ankle injury. 

    That held him out of Denver's Week 1 game against the New York Giants. And although he made his season debut Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he left the game in the first half and did not return, and his status for next week is unclear.

    With the margin for error minuscule in an AFC West that contains the Super Bowl favorite Kansas City Chiefs and the rising Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers, the 2-0 Broncos would be in serious trouble if Chubb were to miss an extended period. 

    Von Miller recorded two sacks in Week 1, but he's 32 and has also had trouble with durability, and there isn't a lot else on the edge in Denver. The Broncos sacked Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence just once Sunday in the 23-13 win.

The Steelers Are Toast Without T.J. Watt

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    Matt Durisko/Associated Press

    The margin for error is even smaller for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North, especially after they lost to the Raiders in Week 2. This team hemorrhaged talent and experience in the offseason, and star edge defender T.J. Watt is a question mark after suffering a groin injury Sunday. 

    Watt's partner in crime, Bud Dupree, escaped in free agency in March, and the team didn't have the means to replace him with a veteran of similar caliber. 

    Established Steelers defenders Devin Bush and Joe Haden didn't play at all Sunday due to their own groin injuries, and Pittsburgh gave up 425 yards and 26 points to a so-so Raiders team traveling cross-country on short rest. 

    There's no word yet on Watt's status, but a Week 3 game with the Cincinnati Bengals won't be a walk in the park sans Watt and Co. And after that, they have to go to Lambeau Field. 

    Without Watt for multiple weeks, it's easy to see Pittsburgh falling behind quickly in that strong division. 

Landry and Mayfield Injuries Could Put More Pressure on OBJ in Cleveland

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    The Cleveland Browns have yet to get wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. back as he completes his recovery from a torn ACL. At least Cleveland has the talent and depth to get by without Beckham, as we saw down the stretch last year.

    But new injuries to quarterback Baker Mayfield (shoulder) and receiver Jarvis Landry (MCL) could put considerable strain on the Cleveland offense. 

    They held on Sunday to beat a bad Houston Texans team in closer-than-expected fashion, 31-21, and Mayfield doesn't appear likely to miss time, but operating without both Beckham and Landry would be difficult for a quarterback who seems to be far from 100 percent. 

    Upcoming opponents such as the Chicago Bears, Chargers, Cardinals and Broncos will also be a lot less forgiving than Houston. Landry will head for an MRI Monday, head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters

Will Andy Dalton's Injury Launch the Justin Fields Era in Chicago?

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    With rookie first-round pick Justin Fields waiting in the wings, the Bears understandably opted to throw veteran bridge quarterback Andy Dalton to the wolves in a Week 1 prime-time road matchup with Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams. 

    That didn't go well, but Dalton got one more start Sunday against Cincinnati. The question now is whether Dalton will start again in Chicago after suffering a knee injury in the 20-17 victory over the Bengals. Fields replaced Dalton and struggled with just six completions and an interception on 13 attempts, but he did rush for 31 yards. He told the media afterward that he wasn't "pleased" with his performance, but his head coach sounds OK with making the change if Dalton has to miss time. 

    "Like I've said with Justin, he's probably further along than we thought at this point right now," Matt Nagy said after Sunday's game. "If that's the case [and Dalton has to miss time], we feel good about it with Justin. He has worked really, really hard to get to this point."

    Dalton is a backup-caliber player. He doesn't give the Bears a better chance of beating the Browns next week than Fields does. It's time to launch the Fields era, regardless of Dalton's status. 

Same Old Story for the 49ers as 3 More Backs Go Down

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers were ravaged by injuries during a brutal 2020 season. Sadly, 2021 isn't off to a promising start in that department. 

    One week after losing standout running back Raheem Mostert to a knee injury, San Francisco saw three more backs go down as Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), JaMycal Hasty (ankle) and Trey Sermon (concussion) departed the team's victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. 

    Only Mitchell returned, but he isn't 100 percent. 

    "He said he was good enough to come back in, so that's when you think it's a stinger, but until you have time to go and get an MRI and stuff like that, you never know," head coach Kyle Shanahan told the media afterward. "But we're hoping it was just a stinger. You usually feel good about it the way he was talking and the way he was able to come back in the game."

    A competitive 49ers squad would certainly prefer not to use journeyman Trenton Cannon for a long stretch. They're also without defensive starters Dre Greenlaw (core muscle) and Jason Verrett (torn ACL), so it doesn't seem as though the injury gods are on their side this year either. 

Deja Vu in Philly as 2 Key Eagles Trench Players Are Injured

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Eagles spent much of last season without multiple key offensive linemen as Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard and Isaac Seumalo suffered serious injuries. Those ghosts returned in the trenches for Philly on Sunday, with Brooks (pectoral) and veteran defensive end Brandon Graham (Achilles) going down in the 17-11 home loss to the 49ers. 

    The former will have an MRI to determine the seriousness of his injury, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, while ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Graham has a torn Achilles. He's done for the year. 

    These hits are tough because the Eagles entered this season loaded with question marks essentially everywhere except along both lines. Sure, they could most afford to lose a defensive lineman in particular, but they weren't a contender to begin with, and now it's even more difficult to see them surprising in 2021. 

Tyrod Taylor Injury Gives the Texans a Chance to Assess Their Future at QB

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Tyrod Taylor's injury might not have an impact on the playoff field this winter, because the Texans aren't expected to contend anyway. But with the 32-year-old going down with a hamstring injury Sunday in Cleveland, the Texans will have a chance to assess rookie third-round pick Davis Mills. 

    Taylor is likely just a bridge quarterback, but he's been QB1 in Houston as incumbent starter Deshaun Watson faces 22 lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women accusing him of sexual assault or sexual misconduct while he received massages (allegations he denies).

    A Watson trade looks like a strong possibility at some point between now and the 2022 season, so it's important the Texans get a feel for Mills' ability before navigating free agency and the draft next year. 

    You hope Taylor will be OK, but Mills' starting debut will be intriguing Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers. 


    Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.