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There’s More To NFL Injuries Than The Jets’ Crappy Turf

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 20: Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers scores a touchdown as Bradley McDougald #30 of the New York Jets defends during the second half at MetLife Stadium on September 20, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

With the panic-averting caveat that the final clause of this sentence is figurative, every NFL player died last weekend. The injury list is long and star-studded, with name-brand players the likes of Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Nick Bosa going down hurt, and in too many cases, out for the year.

The hardest-hit team may have been the 49ers, who in Week 2 lost Bosa, Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, and Solomon Thomas. After their game against the Jets in New Jersey, Niners players and coaches had unkind words for the artificial turf, calling it “sticky,” “spongy,” and “trash.” The 49ers will be back on the same turf, which claimed as war prizes the ligaments of Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Zach Banner in Week 1, playing the Giants this weekend, and called on the NFL to investigate. But the NFL says there’s no need.

The Meadowlands turf, newly installed this year, was inspected and certified before the season, the NFL says, so there’s reason to do any special inspection now. (The field is also inspected by home teams ahead of each game, including last week.) So we and the 49ers are forced to take the league’s word that the turf is safe. Which isn’t actually any sort of stretch.

The carnage in East Rutherford is likely indeed a red herring, given that injury reserve lists were being brutally populated across the league in Week 2. The NFL and the players’ union are aware, and they are just as confused as you. It’s natural to wonder if the pandemic-caused lack of preseason games is at least partially responsible for this, and maybe even expected. NFLPA President JC Tretter produced data from 2011, when a lockout shortened preseason activities. The data indicated that injuries were up by 25 percent that year, with hamstring and Achilles injuries in particular rising even more sharply.

But if this were the full explanation, wouldn’t we have expected to see havoc in Week 1? (A fine theory, which remains only a theory, is that the abbreviated training camp meant players’ bodies didn’t get any practice with recovering, hence the Week 2 injuries.)

Some combination of a compressed preseason and just plain bad luck/coincidental timing is probably sufficient to explain Week 2’s butchery without having to invoke the Death Pellets that make up the Jets’ and Giants’ playing surface. But as for the individual injuries themselves, none of them are particularly weird. Bosa was pushed backward over a pile. Garoppolo was speared by a pass rusher below the knee. Thomas was pancaked at an awkward angle by a 300-pound man. These are normal football injuries, which is to say, normal football plays. If the NFL says the New Jersey turf is safe, the logical implication is that the game is not.