It wasn't all good news last week, but lots of players returning from injuries saw time in the third preseason game and looked healthy. Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Matt Forte, Sammy Watkins, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Victor Cruz, Joe Flacco, and Jared Cook all returned to play and finished their games without any obvious setbacks. Bell, Elliott, and Gordon looked particularly good. We may not see Jamaal Charles or Thomas Rawls or Jordy Nelson until the first week of the season, but all three continue to progress toward full contact practices.
A.J. Green | Knee injury | Day-to-Day
Green limped off the field in last night's preseason game. It was a non-contact injury and fear of a long-term recovery immediately blew up my Twitter mentions. The Bengals very quickly sent word to the press box that Green's injury was minor. Green never went to the locker room and was seen casually chatting with Andy Dalton later in the half. Green also gave an interview to Michele Tafoya on the sideline later in the game. That's a very reassuring detail. While it's likely Green's injury is minor, I trust absolutely nothing the Bengals say officially about their players' injuries.
I think Green's injury occurred at the top of his route when he stutter-stepped into his break before turning toward the sideline. That injury mechanism -- hyperflexed knee -- can sometimes be associated with PCL sprains or bone bruises. It can also just result in a "jammed" knee without any structural damage. If Green walks into the training room without swelling or localized knee pain Monday morning and the team isn't concerned enough to send him for an MRI, there are no worries. If we do hear reports that imaging studies are necessary, there's new reason for concern.
I'll update this feature if necessary.
Julio Jones | Low ankle sprain | Day-to-Day
Television replays of Jones' injury clearly showed a low ankle sprain mechanism. Jones wanted to return to the game and there were no reports of concern the following day. Expect Jones to return to practice in advance of Week 1.
Tony Romo | L1 compression fracture | 8-10 Weeks
Romo is among the best in the league at extending plays in the pocket. He's arguably the worst in the league at avoiding big hits. Long time readers know I don't like to use the term injury prone, but I've repeatedly referenced Romo's playing style as too risky to trust he can avoid future injury on our live Thursday night show.
Unfortunately, Romo tried to extend a play in last week's preseason game and put himself in a position to be injured again. This time, Romo did not take a direct hit to his body, but the way he was tackled bent his body at the waist. That compression mechanism crunched his spine and caused a crack in a vertebra in his lower back.
The Cowboys said Romo was dealing with tightness in his back after the injury. That explanation didn't make sense -- it's unlikely Romo would have been in such intense pain from spasm immediately after the event and the mechanism didn't fit either -- and it was no surprise that Romo had an MRI to rule out more serious injury.
This fracture is different than last year's transverse process fracture. Last year's injury was away from any critical spine structures, including the spinal cord and intervertebral discs, and it was safe for Romo to return to play when his pain was controlled and he was able to protect himself. This fracture is to the vertebral body and must be allowed to heal fully before Romo will be cleared for contact.
Most early reports have Romo's return in the 8-10 week range. While there are very few comps for this injury, that's a reasonable expectation. It will be a minimum of six weeks before Romo can be cleared for contact. The Cowboys have a Week 7 bye. A Week 8 return would be right at the ten-week recovery margin. While the team will have some leeway to push for an earlier return, the Week 8 target feels right.
Once healed, this injury shouldn't be a longer-term concern. It's unlikely this fracture is associated with additional injuries and Romo's previous surgeries were at a higher level of the spine.
Tyler Eifert | Deltoid ligament repair | Week-to-Week
Players are usually overly optimistic when discussing their return to play timetables. Teams have no reason to release any information about the severity of their players' injuries. Our most trustworthy national beat writers get the most accurate information as they trade details for details with players, agents, coaches, and front office personnel -- but even that information requires some interpretation.
It's rare when we get specific and actionable details about an injury. In Eifert's case, we got two key details in July. First, there was confirmation that Eifert's surgery was to strengthen a ligament in his ankle. Second, a local writer noted that Eifert's scar was to the inside of his ankle. Even though many reports continued to suggest Eifert had a chance to return in Week 1, those two details argued otherwise. Most players who have had the same surgery as Eifert needed at least five months to recover. Eifert had his surgery in late May, which put his most likely return in October.
Not surprisingly, Ian Rapoport tweeted this week that Eifert was targeting the Week 4-6 window -- October -- for his return. There have been no setbacks here. It takes eight weeks for the ligament repair to heal. It takes 2-3 months for players to adequately rehab the ankle joint to regain strength and range of motion after the ligament heals. In the end, it's best for Eifert not to rush this. Allowing his ankle to fully recover will make it much more likely he's ready to produce when he returns.
One other note here: It's still possible Eifert stays on the inseason PUP list. If the Bengals aren't convinced he has a chance by Week 5 (Cincinnati has the Thursday night game in Week 4), there's no reason to float him on the active roster.
Dion Lewis | Arthroscopic knee surgery | Week-to-Week
Last Monday, I wrote about Lewis' pending arthroscopic knee surgery. As so often happens in New England, there hasn't been a single followup report on Lewis this week. Absolutely nothing. So I've got nothing for you this week either. Hopefully, we get an Eifert-like break in this case sooner than later.
Larry Fitzgerald | MCL sprain | Week-to-Week
Fitzgerald returned in less than a week after what was reported to be a mild MCL sprain two weeks ago. After a single practice, the team noted Fitzgerald had "overworked" his knee and has held him out of practice over the past seven days. While likely nothing more than due caution, it's possible Fitzgerald aggravated the MCL injury and will need still more time to recover. As of now, there's no indication Fitzgerald's injury will limit him in Week 1.
John Brown | Concussion | Week-to-Week
Brown missed practice the day after returning from the concussion protocol due to a headache. The Cardinals didn't seem too worried about the headache and allowed Brown to return to practice last Thursday -- only to see him leave practice early with a trainer. It's not clear why Brown left practice, but he's yet to return to workouts and missed the third preseason game. If Brown is back in the concussion protocol, it's unlikely we'll see him practice until the week leading into the first regular season game -- if then. I'm anxious to hear what Bruce Arians has to say in his early week press conference.
Dez Bryant | Concussion | Day-to-Day
Carlos Hyde | Concussion | Day-to-Day
Bryant suffered a concussion early last week and was held out of the third preseason game. Hyde suffered a concussion during the Niners' third preseason game. Both are expected to return to practice soon. As always, keep an eye on practice reports for more details.
Bruce Ellington | Hamstring strain | Week-to-Week
The rap against Ellington is durability. He's missed time during the preseason with an ankle injury already and, while it's dangerous to ascribe too much concern to a limp, his body language while coming off the field after last week's hamstring strain suggested a mid-grade injury. Those commonly take 3-4 weeks or longer to rehab.
Kenneth Dixon | MCL sprain | Week-to-Week
Adam Schefter reported Dixon's return to play timetable as four weeks or more. This MCL sprain is to the same knee as Dixon's MCL sprain earlier this preseason and the mechanism was fairly severe. There are no indications Dixon will need surgery, but it would appear his injury is mid to high grade.
Ben Watson | Achilles tear | Out for season
Jared Goff | Tailbone contusion | Day-to-Day
Two other minor offensive injuries of note here.
Check back for more injury analysis throughout training camp and the regular season. Also, follow on Twitter @JeneBramel for breaking injury news, commentary and analysis of this injury and others around the NFL.