The first week of the NFL season isn’t yet in the books and already there are a slew of injuries which are challenging teams with playoff aspirations. Some will point to the fact that the starters, and especially the superstars, play very little in the preseason before being thrust into the heat of battle, at which time they are expected to play at 100% intensity. There may be some validity in this as the causative agent, but often the injuries are just a case of bad luck.
One team whose status as a legitimate Super Bowl contender may have taken a hit, courtesy of the injury bugs in week one of the season, is the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens were involved in an intense defensive struggle against the Denver Broncos and were holding their own for most of the game. This Baltimore team is built around a strong defense and a devastating pass rush, much like the Super Bowl XXXV Ravens.
That pass rush got much thinner on Sunday afternoon, as six time Pro-Bowl defensive end Terrell Suggs went down clutching his heel following a standard pass rush. Suggs limped from the field before being carted to the locker room for evaluation from what turned out to be a torn Achilles tendon. Ironically this is not the first time Suggs has had this injury. In the 2012 offseason he ruptured the tendon and was out of action for six months. That time frame, which is seen as a relatively quick recovery in an impact sport like football, means that Suggs is done for the entire 2015 season.
A torn achilles tendon, like the one Suggs suffered on Sunday, is a painful injury that occurs most often in athletes or people playing recreation sports. The Achilles tendon is, in the simplest of terms, a strong cord which connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. If this cord is overstretched, from a wrong foot placement or similar misstep, the tendon tears either completely or partially. The initial pain is preceded by a pop or snap and immediately walking, let alone beating an offensive linemen, becomes difficult. To return to active status in a high level league, such as the NFL, surgical repair is the only option.
Suggs has been a leader both on and off the field since the Ravens drafted him out of Arizona State in 2003. While he has had his share of injuries, he has been surprisingly healthy for an NFL player, having played in all 16 games in 10 of his league seasons. Last year he was a dominant defender. The Ravens now must find a way to replace his 61 tackles and 12 sacks worth of production. It is expected that backup Za’Darius Smith will take over the role, but unfortunately he was a scratch on Sunday. That leaves Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil as the only active outside linebackers.
The bright side for Suggs is that the prognosis for an Achilles tendon tear is relatively good. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, had two players (Derrick Johnson and Mike Devito) go down with Achilles ruptures in week one of the 2014 season. Both Johnson and Devito started for the Chiefs on Sunday a year after their injuries and Johnson in particular (8 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 sack) stood out as one of the best defenders on the field during the Chiefs’ victory over the Houston Texans. If Suggs commits to his rehabilitation process there is no reason that the 32 year old cannot come back and have the same impact in the first week of next season. Keeping our fingers crossed!