Football is a team sport, but it sometimes takes that one player to provide that much-needed edge that can win a championship: Kurt Warner’s pinpoint accuracy and rocket arm propelled the St. Louis Rams to the championship in 1999, Tom Brady guided the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl win in 2001 after taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe, and Brett Favre and the Vikings were only a mistake away from a fateful showdown with Peyton Manning’s Colts in 2010.
Unfortunately, with 32 teams vying for a title, the opposite tends to be true more often than not. Here are five crucial injuries that cost their teams a shot at making the postseason:
1999 – Steve Young’s Abrupt Farewell
Bigger and better things were supposedly on the horizon for the San Francisco 49ers a year after they had completed a solid postseason run that culminated with a close win over the heavily-favored Green Bay Packers. With the ageless Jerry Rice and a young Terrell Owens on the verge of greatness, the 49ers looked like a contender until tailback Lawrence Phillips missed a crucial block on a defender who took quarterback Steve Young to the turf.
Young left the game with a concussion and never returned. Because it was the latest in a long line of injuries and the second concussion he suffered that season, Young promptly announced his retirement from professional football. The 49ers won only four games that season, despite starting 3-1.
2003 – A Preseason Injury Costs Michael Vick 11 Games
Rising star Michael Vick, a year removed from leading the upstart Atlanta Falcons to the NFC’s divisional round, was sidelined for the first 11 games of the regular season after fracturing his right fibula in the preseason. The Falcons missed the playoffs, and Vick had to wait another year to improve on his sensational sophomore season numbers.
2008 – Tom Brady Injures His Knee In Week One
It was the break that was heard around the world, and its significance has led to a whole host of hypothetical scenarios that have played out in the minds of Patriot fans everywhere. Bigger and better things were supposedly on the horizon for the New England Patriots, especially after they had come within one game and a handful of Eli Manning passes short of what would have been a perfect season. With Randy Moss and Wes Welker at the pinnacle of their careers, the NFL odds were certainly in favor of a fourth ring for the New England squad.
Those hopes were dashed temporarily when Tom Brady, who had thrown for a shattering 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2007, sustained a devastating knee injury in the first week that forced him to miss the rest of the season. Matt Cassel played well in his relief, but the Patriots missed the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker.
2011 – Iron Man Bleeds: Peyton Manning Misses The Entire Season
Having been known for his longevity and uncanny ability to get the Indianapolis Colts into the playoffs only to make an unceremonious first-round exit, Peyton Manning did not have a chance to improve on either as two neck surgeries kept him from playing in 2011.
After winning only two games that year, the Colts released Manning and selected Andrew Luck with the first pick in the NFL Draft.
2015 – Tony Romo Breaks His Left Collarbone
Things were supposedly on the rise for the Dallas Cowboys after they had come within a referee’s controversial call of making the NFC title game the year before: It had a young but extremely-talented offensive line, several all-star acquisitions during the off-season, and a slew of veterans on both sides of the ball who were at the top of their games.
Any hopes for a repeat performance went up in smoke when Tony Romo suffered a broken left collarbone in the third week of the season. Since then, the Cowboys lost seven games in a row and may have taken themselves out of the playoff hunt. To add insult to injury, Romo had managed to heal quickly enough to play several weeks later only to fracture his left clavicle in his first game back.
Although there are eleven players on each of the side of the ball on every play, these injuries show that sometimes it only takes one to break an entire season.