While the score of Buffalo’s opening day loss to the New York Jets was a resounding 48-28 against, at least the Bills can be content in knowing it was only one game.
As for the loss of not one, but two offensive stars, well that could have a more lasting effect, one that will spill out of just this one game to become something more worrisome than the loss itself.
As of Monday morning, the NFL injury report lists the names of both running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver David Nelson, both of them down with knee injuries that forced them to make an early exit from Sunday’s game.
While Jackson’s injury may have looked worse on the field, it is Nelson who may miss the most time, perhaps even the whole season, as it was revealed through numerous sources that the receiver likely has a torn ACL (the anterior cruciate ligament and one of four ligaments kind of needed for the knee to work properly).
For those watching the game, you may have missed the injury entirely.
Nelson wasn’t even involved with the play when he went down, as it was a pass play to Steve Johnson, but as David was making his cut, something just popped.
That pop could be devastating to Buffalo’s pass game, as Nelson was not only a dependable slot receiver, but was second on the team with 658 receiving yards last season, a career best in his second year with the Bills.
The five touchdowns in 2011 were also high marks for the Florida alum (hey, Tebow went there, too) and ranked him third on the team in receiving scores behind Johnson and Scott Chandler.
Considering how few options Buffalo retained out of their plethora of receiver candidates, having to face the possibility of losing a weapon like Nelson for the year means the Queen City might soon see names like Marcus Easley or maybe even local boy and St Joe’s grad Naaman Roosevelt back playing in a Bills uniform.
There’s been no confirming MRI yet, but it looks likely that it’ll just tell the Bills what they already know — that it looks pretty bad.
Meanwhile, despite C.J. Spiller having a career best, 169-yard day, Buffalo has to be breathing a slight sigh of relief hearing that the news about Fred Jackson isn’t quite so… severe.
Granted, a sprained LCL (lateral collateral ligament) is nothing to be relieved over (especially if you’re the sprainee), but if you saw LaRon Landry viciously test the flexibility of Fred’s knee on a hit just four minutes into the second quarter, you had to think the news would be a lot worse.
Though the MRI hasn’t been performed as of the writing of this, the early news seemed cautiously optimistic, especially after seeing footage of Jackson walking off of his own accord (Nelson’s exit featured a much more emphasized limp).
Jackson won’t be playing the home opener next week, but Bills fans should be seeing their 31-year-old running star again soon, which has to feel like good news to anyone who saw Jackson shedding tears on the sideline when testing his knee to see if he could get back in the game Sunday.
In truth, Fred’s return is likely more essential to the Bills’ success in 2012 than is Nelson’s, for though David put up some great numbers over the course of the entire last season, Jackson, in just ten games, had 934 rushing, 442 receiving, and scored six touchdowns.
Yes, Nelson is a great weapon on a team with too few experienced receiving options, but the Bills spent most of training camp running their young receiver crop at every position on the field– numerous times, so any one of the practice squad receivers, or even one initially cut and maybe expecting a call (Buffalo loves a homer, Mr. Roosevelt), are going to be able to comfortably step in and at least be competent at the spot.
On the other side, though, the Bills drew up a lot of two back plays that were designed specifically around the fact that Spiller and Jackson are very different, but equally talented types of runners.
The veteran Jackson is the more powerful and calculated back, while Spiller is like greased lightning on the field, zipping through tackles and leaving defenders holding the wind.
To be fair, third-string runner Tashard Choice did look good late in some of Buffalo’s preseason contests, but to think he can be the same weapon in those two back sets that Jackson was is ridiculous, so the Bills would love to hear that Fred’s injury will only keep him out a few weeks.
The best news would be to hear he’ll be healthy enough for Buffalo to have him when they face the Patriots week four, especially considering he had a scorching 74 yards rushing with a touchdown and added another 87 yards receiving last year when the Bills ended their 15-game losing streak to the Boston Bradys.
So, with MRIs still pending on both players, the fans have to holding their breath after being so recently knocked breathless following their opening day slaughter.
For a team that was supposed to look shiny and new and ready to compete in 2012, both the final score and the injuries should start to feel awfully familiar about now.
Joshua Bauer is a writer with Football Nation