Quarterback Injuries May Reshape N.F.L. Playoffs

It happened again Sunday, when , starting for the because Matt Schaub is out for the season with a foot fracture, took a long, doleful walk to the locker room late in the second quarter, only to emerge in street clothes with his left arm in a harness. Leinart’s broken collarbone will end his season. He joins a long line of quarterbacks whose late-season injuries have imperiled their teams’ playoff chances.

Peyton Manning’s neck injury before the season caused the Indianapolis Colts to implode, and Chad Henne’s injury early in the season doomed the Miami Dolphins. But in the past few weeks, there have been injuries to Schaub, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford. Tony Romo has recovered after breaking a rib this season, and Carson Palmer is playing for the Oakland Raiders because Jason Campbell is done for the year. Sam Bradford and Kevin Kolb were injured, too, but they have been relegated to small print because of their minimal effect on the playoff races.

So far this season, 22 of the league’s 32 teams have started the same quarterback for every game or made changes for noninjury reasons, according to the N.F.L. On Sunday, there were new starters for Chicago (Caleb Hanie) and Houston (Leinart). Twenty-two is not a particularly startling number. Last year through 11 weeks, 18 of 32 teams had started the same quarterback every game or made changes for noninjury reasons.

But the number of significant injuries — those that end a player’s season or require several weeks for recovery — so late in this year threatens to reshape the playoffs.

“It’s hard, down the stretch, looking at a team like Chicago, they’re playing so well, they were really in a rhythm, which is what the playoffs are all about,” said Kurt Warner, an analyst for the NFL Network who, as a quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, saw what could happen when a soaring team lost a player to injury at that position. “Then you get into the ultimate dilemma. Regardless of how Caleb plays, when Jay gets back, when is the right time to put him back in? It’s definitely one of those things that can hurt the momentum of the team, even though the team will tell you it’s no big deal.”

In the Rams’ case, Warner’s injury in 2000 — after St. Louis had won the in the 1999 season and started the next season 6-0 — did derail them. In the first six games in 2000, the Rams never scored fewer than 37 points. Warner was hurt in the seventh game. He returned for the Rams’ 13th game, in which they scored 3 points. They were 2-2 to finish the regular season, then lost their first playoff game. “We were almost unstoppable before I got hurt, and we never recaptured that,” Warner said.

Before Leinart’s injury, Warner said he thought the Texans were better suited to withstand the injury to Schaub than the Bears were to deal with Cutler’s. That was based on Warner’s belief that Cutler’s skill allowed the Bears to overcome their greatest weakness: the offensive line.

In Houston, so much else is going right — the running game is superb, the defense is among the best in the N.F.L. — that the Texans should be able to prevail in a division that is far weaker than the N.F.C. North of the Bears.

Sunday’s results will not change that perception. Houston beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, although Leinart’s injury puts the Texans’ prospects for the next five games in doubt. But in their 25-20 loss to the Raiders, the Bears allowed Hanie to be sacked four times. He also threw three interceptions and could not prevail even though Chicago’s defense held the Raiders to field goals on their first six trips inside the 30-yard line.

The Bears are 7-4, the same as the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons. It is practically impossible to imagine Chicago beating the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Christmas night without Cutler, but given their current state, the Bears must worry about the Kansas City Chiefs (who, given how Tyler Palko played Sunday night, could be starting Kyle Orton) and the Denver Broncos first.

Quarterback Injuries May Reshape N.F.L. Playoffs

It happened again Sunday, when , starting for the because Matt Schaub is out for the season with a foot fracture, took a long, doleful walk to the locker room late in the second quarter, only to emerge in street clothes, with his left arm in a harness. Leinart said the broken collarbone would probably end his season. He joins a long line of quarterbacks whose late-season injuries have imperiled their teams’ playoff chances.

Peyton Manning’s neck injury before the season began caused the Indianapolis Colts to implode, and Chad Henne’s injury early in the season doomed the Miami Dolphins. But in the last few weeks there have been injuries to Schaub, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford. Tony Romo has recovered after breaking a rib this season, while Carson Palmer is playing for the Oakland Raiders because Jason Campbell is done for the season, too. Sam Bradford and Kevin Kolb were injured, too, but their injuries have been relegated to small print because of their minimal impact on playoff races.

So far this season, 22 of the league’s 32 teams have started the same quarterback for every game or made changes for noninjury reasons, according to the N.F.L. On Sunday there were new starters for Chicago (Caleb Hanie) and Houston (Leinart). Twenty-two is not a particularly startling number. Last year through 11 weeks, 18 of 32 teams had started the same quarterback every game or made changes for noninjury reasons. But the number of significant injuries — those that either end the season or require several weeks for recovery — so late in this season threatens to reshape the playoffs.

“It’s hard, down the stretch, looking at a team like Chicago, they’re playing so well, they were really in a rhythm, which is what the playoffs are all about,” said Kurt Warner, an analyst for the NFL Network who, as a quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, saw up close what could happen when a soaring team lost a player to injury at that position. “Then you get into the ultimate dilemma. Regardless of how Caleb plays, when Jay gets back, when is the right time to put him back in? It’s definitely one of those things that can hurt the momentum of the team, even though the team will tell you it’s no big deal.” 

In the Rams’ case, Warner’s injury in the middle of the 2000 season —  after they had won the in the 1999 season and started the 2000 season 6-0 —  did derail them. In the first six games of that season the Rams never scored fewer than 37 points. Warner was hurt in the seventh game. He missed five games, then returned for the Rams’ 13th game, in which they scored just 3 points. They were 2-2 in the final four games of the regular season, then lost their first playoff game.

“We were almost unstoppable before I got hurt, and we never recaptured that,” Warner said.

Before Leinart’s injury, Warner thought the Texans were better suited to withstand the injury to Schaub than the Bears were to deal with Cutler’s being out. That was based on Warner’s belief that Cutler’s skill allowed the Bears to overcome their greatest weakness: the offensive line. In Houston, so much else is going right — the running game is superb, the defense is among the best in the N.F.L. — that the Texans should be able to prevail in a division that is far weaker than the National Football Conference North of the Bears.

Sunday’s results will not change that perception. The Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, although Leinart’s injury puts the Texans’ next five games in doubt. But in their 25-20 loss to the Raiders, the Bears allowed Hanie to be sacked four times. He also threw three interceptions and could not prevail even though Chicago’s defense held the Raiders to field goals on their first six trips into the Bears’ 30-yard line. The Bears are now 7-4, the same record the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons had after Sunday’s games. It is practically impossible to imagine the Bears beating the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Christmas night without Cutler, but considering their current state, the Bears now have to worry about the Kansas City Chiefs (who, considering how Tyler Palko played Sunday night, could be starting Kyle Orton) and the Denver Broncos first.

Bears’ Defense Overwhelms Ailing Dolphins in Shutout

Miami’s already depleted offense lost the Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to a hamstring injury and center Cory Procter because of a left knee injury. With the third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen struggling in his first start since 2008, the Dolphins (5-5) were no match for a Bears defense that took over the league lead in points allowed per game.

The Bears (7-3) won for the third time in 12 days and moved a half-game ahead of atop the N.F.C. North.

SCHAUB EXPECTS TO PLAY quarterback Matt Schaub is back with the team after he was hospitalized with an injury to the bursa sac in his right knee.

Schaub practiced Thursday, and Coach Gary Kubiak said he expected his No. 1 quarterback to start when the Texans visit the Jets on Sunday.

Kubiak said Schaub took about half the first-team snaps Thursday. The only way Schaub will not start is if he has a setback.

“Everything is pointing in the right direction,” Kubiak said.

Schaub said his knee has been bothering him most of the season. He said the pain increased Tuesday morning, and he checked into a local hospital and stayed overnight. He said the knee did not bother him during Thursday’s workout.

GOING BEYOND THIRD STRING Brian St. Pierre has thrown five passes in eight N.F.L. seasons. He was not in a training camp this summer, and as recently as last week was a stay-at-home dad.

On Sunday, he will start for the .

A season of multiple injuries and one victory took an even stranger twist when Coach John Fox picked St. Pierre, 30, over the rookie Tony Pike to play against Baltimore.

That is good enough to start for Carolina, which has no healthy, experienced quarterback.

The rookie Jimmy Clausen missed practice again Thursday with a concussion sustained Sunday against Tampa Bay. Matt Moore was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury last week.

Enter St. Pierre, who since becoming a fifth-round pick of Pittsburgh in 2003 is 2 of 5 for 12 yards, a touchdown and an interception with three teams.

St. Pierre, who last practiced in January as he finished a stint with Arizona, was spending his days taking care of his 18-month-old son in the Boston area. He was signed to the practice squad Friday and promoted to the active roster Tuesday.

GIANTS THIN AT TACKLE The Giants are uncertain who will play left tackle Sunday with Shawn Andrews sitting out a second consecutive practice with soreness in his back. Andrews had started at left tackle the past two games in place of the injured David Diehl.

“He’s being treated, and hopefully he’ll be a little better today and a little better tomorrow,” Coach said of Andrews, whose status is day-to-day. “He has had a stiff, sore back before, so this is what we’re dealing with right now.”

MARK VIERA ’ SECONDARY HOBBLED The Washington Redskins could be without half of their starting defensive backfield when they face the on Sunday.

Carlos Rogers said his right hamstring was sore after hurting it Monday against Philadelphia, and safety LaRon Landry has a sore Achilles’ tendon that has limited him in practice for weeks. (AP)