Lions WR Burleson breaks arm in one-car accident
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Blame it on the pizza.
This could only happen to the Detroit Lions -- or so it seems sometimes.
Wide receiver Nate Burleson, who leads the team in receptions this season, is out indefinitely after suffering a broken forearm early Tuesday morning in a single-car accident on westbound I-696 in Farmington Hills, a suburb of Detroit.
Burleson became distracted while reaching for a pizza sliding off the passenger seat. His SUV swerved and crashed into the center-median wall around 2:30 a.m. Police confirmed that no alcohol was involved. There was also no ticket issued.
Coach Jim Schwartz said that Burleson, who has 19 catches for 239 yards in three games, will undergo surgery Wednesday after breaking the forearm in two places.
Schwartz, however, added that there are no plans yet to put Burleson on the season-ending injured list.
“It’s not a career-ender, it’s not a season-ender, at least at this point,” Schwartz said.
The Lions are grateful that this didn’t turn out much more tragic.
“Any time you’re in a highway accident, there’s potential for worse than broken bones,” Schwartz said. “I think he was fortunate, we were fortunate that it wasn’t more than that.”
There’s a message to be learned, the coach said.
“We’ve all dealt with some sort of distraction driving before,” Schwartz said. “I’ve cured myself of texting and driving. I never even touch my cell phone in the car.
“But the one thing I probably need to cure myself of is eating and driving. There’s too many times I leave the office real late at night and you grab something (to eat). I’ve had it happen to me, drop it on your lap. That’s stuff we all need to learn from.
“We were lucky.”
Burleson, 32, who missed the final 10 games last season because of a broken leg, is coming off his most productive day statistically in six years after making six receptions for 116 yards in Sunday’s 27-20 victory at Washington.
The Lions (2-1) play the Chicago Bears (3-0) with first place in the NFC North Division on the line Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit.
Burleson, in his 11th NFL season, reworked his contract during the offseason and vowed that he wanted to help bring a championship to Detroit before ending his career in a Lions' uniform.
After talking with him, Schwartz described Burleson as “understandably low.”
“He was down,” Schwartz said. “He just came off his best performance as a Lion. He was just getting into the swing of things. He was a big part of our offense.”
Nevertheless, Schwartz said he expects Burleson to be back in the locker room around his teammates and traveling with the club sooner rather than later.
“One thing about Nate is, he’s a really tough guy,” Schwartz said. “He’s been through a lot in his career. He’s had season-ending injuries. He’s persevered through all of it. He has a great positive mental attitude.”
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch was one of the last players to see Burleson before the accident. They had watched the Monday Night Football game together.
“I got a phone call about six in the morning,” Tulloch said. “I was just shocked. It’s crazy how life is. Just like that, you see the guy hanging out then he’s in the hospital. I’m glad he’s OK. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve had in my career.”
Quarterback Matthew Stafford will have to adjust, just like he did a year ago without Burleson.
“You feel bad for him,” Stafford said. “He came off a great game. He was building momentum.
“You can’t predict (what happened) and you can’t do anything after the fact. All you can do is move on and understand that Nate’s going to do everything he can to get back as soon as he can. He’s a warrior in the training room.”
Despite not being one of the team's official captains, Burleson is unquestionably among the Lions' biggest vocal leaders because of his outgoing personality and infectious smile.
They will miss all of it, but this team has shown some good resiliency early in the season, particularly with their victory in Washington without injured running back Reggie Bush.
“Next guy has to step up,” Schwartz said. “We’re prepared to do that as a team.”
Burleson's absence will mean an expanded work load for second-year slot receiver Ryan Broyles, who is coming off knee surgery last December and just made his season debut.
Broyles, a second-round draft pick last year, finished with three catches for 34 yards at Washington. His career-best performance came on Thanksgiving last season, when he had six receptions for 126 yards against Houston before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a week later.
A year earlier, as a senior at Oklahoma, Broyles suffered the same type of injury to his left knee.
“Every time he’s gone in the game for us, he’s made plays," Schwartz said of Broyles. "Every day he gets a little bit better, and every day he gets a little more into the groove physically and mentally. It’s a long road back. He’s still working his way back.”
The Lions are also optimistic that receiver Patrick Edwards, who missed last week because of an ankle injury, will return for the Chicago game.
To fill Burleson’s spot, the Lions could promote rookie Corey Fuller, a sixth-round draft pick, from the practice squad or possibly re-sign a veteran such as Matt Willis, who was released before the regular-season opener.
Another option, at least for the short term, might be to fill the void simply by trying to get more production in the passing game from their tight ends -- Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and Joseph Fauria -- along with their running backs, Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick.
There's also speculation that the team will pursue a higher-quality replacement at receiver by going outside of the organization to make a trade.
For now, they say they’re still hoping that Burleson will be back at some point, but it’s too early to know if that’s realistic.