Think of Everette Brown and the first-place Dallas Cowboys the next time you get the urge to feel sorry for the Vikings as their injuries mount during this 1-7 funeral procession.
Less than two weeks ago, Brown was living in Charlotte, N.C., having not played an NFL game in two years. He was within days of giving up the dream and opening a yogurt shop with his girlfriend.
But the phone rang, as it always does when leaves fall and NFL bodies break apart. This time, the team with a need and a “ready list” of prospects was the Dallas Cowboys. For the third time in three weeks, the Cowboys were looking to sign a street free agent for a defensive line that some have begun calling the “Band of Backups.”
“We’ve had a little sequence here where we bring ’em in on Wednesday and they play on Sunday,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The ‘next man up’ philosophy is alive and well with our football team.”
Brown flew to Dallas on Oct. 29. Five days later, in front of 85,360 fans at the AT&T Stadium, Brown was strip-sacking Christian Ponder to help spoil any chance of a Vikings comeback in the closing seconds of a 27-23 victory that kept the Cowboys atop their division.
And the kicker is Brown did all this while whipping left tackle Matt Kalil mano a mano. Kalil not only is healthy, but he’s last year’s No. 4 overall draft pick.
Yes, injuries have moved to the forefront as the Vikings open the second half of the season against the Redskins (3-5) on Thursday. A relatively healthy team during last year’s 10-win playoff season, the Vikings went into the Cowboys game without three starting defensive backs and came out of the game with at least two more starters — tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (concussion) — out for Thursday night’s game.
Eight Vikings didn’t practice Tuesday. Five of them are starters, including left guard Charlie Johnson (elbow), nose tackle Letroy Guion (chest/knee) and strong safety Jamarca Sanford (groin). Three more starters were limited Tuesday, including cornerback Chris Cook (hip).
Of course, a look at the Cowboys roster Sunday shows they won a game with no DeMarcus Ware, no Anthony Spencer, no Morris Claiborne, no J.J. Wilcox and no Miles Austin. And the list of missing Packers the Vikings didn’t face in a loss the week before — Clay Matthews, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb — was even more impressive.
No team makes it through a season with its original 53-man roster intact. Even great ones. When the Patriots won the Super Bowl during the 2003 season, coach Bill Belichick used 42 different starters. That was an NFL record for a division winner until Belichick used 45 three years later.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings have a ready list that’s “probably at least six to 10 deep at every position.”
“Some have jobs, some don’t work a job,” Frazier said. “It’s a variety of guys that are out there that scouts pay attention to and give us a chance to eyeball from time to time.”
Cornerback Shaun Prater was one of those guys. Two weeks ago, he was signed to the 53-man roster. He has played in only two NFL games, each on special teams, but might see playing time on defense Thursday night.
“What was I doing when they called?” said Prater, who had been released by the Eagles. “Just back in my apartment watching TV, waiting for that call. If you can play, you’re on somebody’s ready list. When I get the call, I come in, ask them what I need to learn. Then I study until I get a headache.”
At the halfway point of the season, the Vikings have had six starters miss a total of 10 games because of injuries. That’s still relatively healthy when you consider what other teams have endured while managing to win. Before last week’s games, the Saints had eight starters miss 33 games. The Colts had seven starters miss 26 games, and five of the starters are on injured reserve.
In 2010, the Packers made it to the Super Bowl and won with 15 players on injured reserve, including six starters. Of course, the Packers’ next challenge will be even greater. With Aaron Rodgers (left shoulder) expected to miss at least three weeks, Green Bay will have to play consecutive games without a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback for the first time in 21 years.
Now that’s an injury concern that trumps all others.
Mark Craig firstname.lastname@example.org