Last Saturday’s preseason affair between the in-state rival Jets and Giants was supposed to be just a run-of-the-mill game. One of those August battles, where Herman Edwards’ famous rallying cry “You play to win the game,” loses its significance. However, for the defending Super Bowl champions, the “Battle of the Meadowlands” turned into something more meaningful, and unfortunately, more painful.
As DE Osi Umenyiora-the Giants’ lone Pro Bowl selection from last season-attempted to rush around Jets LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson early in the second quarter, Umenyiora’s left knee “locked up” and he fell to the turf in pain. The result was a torn lateral meniscus, essentially ending the season for one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
While the Jets looked on as Umenyiora laid on the field clutching his knee in pain, it was not the first instance in the 40 years of Jets vs. Giants preseason football that either team had its hopes shattered by injury. In 2003, Jets QB Chad Pennington fractured his left wrist when he was tackled from behind by Giants LB Brandon Short. Like a punch to the stomach, the Giants Stadium crowd turned silent, as its youthful star grimaced on the turf. Just as the Giants are now facing with their sack leader shelved for the season, Pennington’s injury left the Jets with large shoes to fill. Although Pennington returned for the final ten games, the end result was a 6-10 record and a last place finish in the AFC East.
Thus, with such deflating injuries occuring in meaningless action, it begs the question, why suit up the starters? With a 38-year old quarterback facing the challenge of learning a new offense on the fly, it is a question Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini faces as he prepares his team for Thursday’s preseason finale against Philadelphia.
Although Favre and the first-team offense had some hiccups Saturday during his 24 snaps, weighing the reward of success and the risk of injury will factor into Mangini’s decision on Thursday’s starting quarterback. As of now, Mangini seems inclined to send Favre to the sidelines rather than in the huddle at the start of the game.
“I kind of like practice where you’re going to get a lot of reps, and it’s an ongoing debate, like how do you treat that fourth game. Some of this game, it’s really about individuals, and it’s about the back end of the roster and it’s about those tough decisions that you have to make,” said Mangini.
Favre has also been one to lobby to start that fourth preseason game, but he does not believe Mangini will budge like his former Head Coach Mike McCarthy did in Green Bay. All that matters now is that Favre’s comfort level in his new offense is rising, which it certainly seems to be.
”To me, [Saturday] was a real game, based on the circumstances. At least in this case, I will have some practice and have worked with these guys,” said Favre. “Not that that makes it any better, but I feel more comfortable in the situation now than I did several weeks ago.
Whether Favre’s rise in comfort with his new offense will translate into him spending the entirety of Thursday’s game on the sidelines remains to be seen. What remains certain is Mangini will listen to Favre before making his decision on Thursday’s starter.
“I always listen to the players. Sometimes you just agree to disagree,” said Mangini.
Although Favre has taken his share of hits during his 18-year career, he knows taking reps during games, preseason or not, serve as the best preparation. But after watching Umenyiora fall to the turf Saturday, does the risk of injury in a meaningless game factor into his desire to play? Not a chance.
“[I've] been lucky in a lot of situations. This is 18 years. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I can’t control that,” said Favre. “I love to play, and that’s really all I can think about.”
Favre feels the same way about Umenyiora.
“[Umenyiora's injury] was meant to be. It’s very unfortunate for him and for the Giants, but it wasn’t like guys rolled up on him. That probably would have happened in practice at some point, the way it occurred. He just went down. Injuries are part of it,” said Favre.
While the risk for injury is certainly hightened for those that play the rough sport that is football, most players share a similar outlook: Injuries come with the physical toll players face.
“Anytime you go out there anything can happen,” said LB Calvin Pace. “It’s an unfortunate situation that [Umenyiora] got hurt. Freak injuries, you just never know.”
Jets G Brandon Moore added, “You can’t go out there playing not to get hurt. You may not get hurt and hurt somebody else. But you feel bad for [Umenyiora] and he’s always worked hard, he’s a hell of a player, but you can’t go into it thinking that.”
Bottom line is that injuries are unavoidable in football. Sadly but truly, injuries come down to luck, and the teams that can avoid them are those that prevail. However, don’t expect Mangini to weigh that luck as he decides on his starting quarterback for Thursday.