It’s beginning to feel a lot like last season for the Arizona Cardinals, who are all too familiar with how a major injury can impact a team’s postseason aspirations.
Starting running Chris Johnson suffered a fractured tibia in Arizona’s 19-13 win at San Francisco on Sunday and is expected to be sidelined for an extended period of time. Complicating matters for the Cardinals was an injury to backup Andre Ellington in the same game, leaving what was a position of strength suddenly riddled with question marks.
Ellington is dealing with turf toe so his availability could be determined more on a game-by-game basis. Still, his injury history was among the reasons Arizona pursued Johnson, who has been one of the league’s feel-good stories, ranking fourth in rushing after signing a one-year contract in mid-August.
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Rookie David Johnson, a third-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa, is expected to get the start Sunday at St. Louis, but his eight carries last weekend represented a season high. David Johnson has scored eight touchdowns and possesses good speed for a 6-foot-1, 224-pounder – evidenced by the fact that he serves as the team’s kick returner – but he has struggled with both ball and pass protection.
"David is working on his ball security," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said at his Monday media briefing before learning of the severity of Chris Johnson’s injury. "He’s much better. He still struggles sometimes out in space, reading hots and blitzes, like most rookies do, but … I have all the confidence in the world in him and him starting."
Arizona owns the luxury of holding a three-game lead atop the NFC West with five games to play. However, there’s the unsettling memory of last season’s collapse, when the Cardinals blew a three-game lead and the division title with six to play following injuries to starting quarterback Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton.
Seahawks absorb 1-2 punch
Seattle has major injury concerns of its own, losing tight end Jimmy Graham for the season four days after starting running back Marshawn Lynch underwent abdominal surgery that is expected to sideline him for three to four weeks.
"You don’t replace a Jimmy Graham," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters after Sunday’s 39-30 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. "We just go do what we do with the guys that we have."
Graham had a roller-coaster first season with Seattle as the team struggled to incorporate him into the offense. While he finished with 48 receptions, he was held to three catches or fewer in five games and has not scored since Week 3.
Forcing the Seahawks to go back to a familiar formula that led to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances may not be the worst thing. Seattle holds the tiebreaker for the final playoff slot in the NFC and its wide receiver tandem of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined to haul in all of Russell Wilson’s five touchdown passes Sunday – two after Graham was injured.
"I think the thing about Doug and Jermaine is that they’re so consistent," Wilson said after Sunday’s win. "And they’re clutch, and they’re clutch in the big moments, and they rise to the occasion, and that’s what you love about them."
Turbulent week in St. Louis
Rams coach Jeff Fisher popped off at the media following Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati, telling reporters they could kiss his backside if they questioned the team’s effort level.
St. Louis’ fourth consecutive defeat capped a trying week for Fisher and the organization. Quarterback Case Keenum suffered a concussion late in a Week 11 loss to Baltimore, resulting in an NFL review of the league’s concussion protocol.
Three days later, Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey was shot twice in the head in Miami and underwent extensive surgery Wednesday. Fisher told the Rams Radio Network on Sunday that Bailey was "centimeters away from dying" and shared additional information Monday at his media briefing on how perilous the situation was for Bailey.
"There were two wounds to the head, two shots," Fisher said of the surgical procedure that lasted more than six hours. "He was in a medically induced coma for obvious reason to keep the swelling down in the brain."
QUICK HITS: Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald needs eight catches to reach 1,000 for his career. … Rams rookie Todd Gurley does not have a run over nine yards in three games.