The Houston Texans entered Sunday night with a heap of momentum after a blowout win the previous week, but faced a tough task in Alex Smith and the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. Their task got more difficult in the first quarter when star defensive end J.J. Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture, a break at the top of the shin bone within the knee joint.
“I can’t sugarcoat it, I am devastated,” Watt wrote in a tweet Monday morning. “All I want to do is be out there on that field for my teammates and this city. I’m sorry.”
Watt’s knee gave way as he rushed the passer and, unable to put weight on his leg, he walked off the field with help, leaving later for a hospital in an ambulance. He is expected to need surgery and, of course, will miss the rest of the season. It was immediately unclear how much ligament damage he may have suffered, but the loss was an emotional one for the Texans and for fans, some of whom cried in the stands. Watt has long been a fan favorite, even before he raised more than $37,000,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts.
“I feel terrible for the guy,” Texans Coach Bill O’Brien said. “Just knowing the type of guy that he is, he’s an amazing human being. He’s an amazing human being and he will work extremely hard to be back, to be back to play for this football team. I know that.”
Watt played in only three games last season after having surgery for a back injury. Although the three-time NFL defensive player of the year played in 85 consecutive games for the Texans in his first five NFL seasons, he will now miss significant time in back-to-back years.
Sunday was a rough afternoon for the New York Giants, too. During the team’s 27-22 loss to the Chargers, which dropped the Giants’ record to 0-5 on the season, they lost four receivers to injury, including star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham appeared to be sobbing as he was carted off the field during the fourth quarter of the loss, after suffering a gruesome injury in which his left foot and ankle were bent awkwardly and pinned under a tackling defender. The team tweeted after the game that Beckham had suffered a fractured ankle.
Brandon Marshall was carted off the field in the first half after suffering an apparent left ankle injury of his own. Fellow wide receiver Sterling Shepard had left the game just a few plays earlier, also with a left ankle injury. Both were ruled out for the rest of the game. Dwayne Harris was the fourth injured wide receiver, with a fractured foot, leaving Roger Lewis Jr. as the only healthy Giants wideout by the end of the game.
The Giants, who made the playoffs last season after an 11-5 campaign, are one of only three winless teams in the NFL. The 49ers fell to 0-5 after losing in overtime to the Colts, 26-23. The Browns fell to 0-5 Sunday after a 17-14 loss to the Jets, with rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer getting benched at halftime for Kevin Hogan. On the plus side, No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett made his pro debut and recorded two sacks. But as The Post’s Mark Maske writes, the success of Carson Wentz with the Eagles — who improved to 4-1 and are the NFC East leaders following a 34-7 win over the Cardinals — provides a frustrating reminder for Cleveland fans of the QB they could have had with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Ben Roethlisberger had a frustrating day of his own, throwing five interceptions — including a pair of pick-sixes — in the Steelers’ 30-9 loss to the Jaguars. After the game, Roethlisberger said: “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.” When asked to clarify, he said “I’m not playing well enough.” The Post’s Des Bieler has more on Roethlisberger here.
Jacksonville was one of the owners of the most impressive wins of the day, improving to 3-2 for the season, along with the Eagles (mentioned above) and Panthers, who are 4-1 following a 27-24 win over the Lions.
But the most impressive individual performance might have come courtesy of Aaron Rodgers, who led the Packers on a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute to defeat the Cowboys, 35-31. Rodgers’ 18-yard scramble on third down help set up a 12-yard touchdown pass two plays later from Rodgers to Davante Adams with 11 seconds left. Rodgers’ heroics came after Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott gave Dallas a 31-28 lead on an 11-yard touchdown run with just over a minute to go in the game. Prescott threw for three touchdowns as well.
The win improves Green Bay’s record to 4-1, as the Packers lead the NFC North and are tied with the Eagles and Panthers for the best record in the conference.
Vice President Pence walked out on the Indianapolis Colts’ game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon after a large number of the 49ers players took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.
Pence announced his departure via his Twitter account, writing: “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS [President Trump] and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”
According to NBC Sports reporter Matt Maiocco, 23 members of the 49ers knelt during the anthem.
The 49ers, the former team of Colin Kaepernick who began the kneeling anthem protests last season, have demonstrated throughout the 2017 season as well. Based upon initial reports via social media, most players appeared to stand for the anthem during the NFL’s 1 p.m. games, with the 49ers the notable exception.
Following the game, 49ers safety Eric Reid called Pence’s visit to the game and early exit a “PR stunt” in comments to reporters, adding “this is what systemic oppression looks like.”
Pence’s decision comes at a time when Kaepernick, a free agent since March, reiterated over the weekend that, should an NFL team sign him, he would stand for the anthem. Kaepernick said in March that he no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.
Despite the demonstration by the Niners and Pence’s early departure from the Colts game, protests were not nearly as prevalent during Week 5’s 1 p.m. games. That continued a trend that began in Week 4 when more teams instead stood, linking arms for the song and there was an acknowledgment that perhaps the message was being lost, co-opted by some groups who were claiming it was aimed at military members rather than police brutality. In Miami, three members of the Dolphins continued a protest they began last season, with Julius Thomas, Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas choosing not to take the field for the anthem. That came after owner Stephen Ross said before the game: “I think it’s incumbent upon the players today, because of how the public is looking at it, is to stand and salute the flag.”
After the Cowboys lost to the Packers, Jerry Jones told reporters, “If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period.” Two of Jones’s players, Damontre Moore and David Irving, raised their fists while the national anthem played. In Week 3, Jones joined his players on the field and knelt with them before the anthem, then linked arms and stood for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We’re going to respect the flag, and I’m going to create the perception of it,” Jones said Sunday. “And we have. … We as a team are very much on the page together. We have made our expression that we’re together.”
A number of players who previously knelt or sat during the anthem earlier this season took a new approach, in part because they were hearing boos from fans during the anthem. In Green Bay, players heard it loud and clear after asking fans to join them in linking arms.
“Beauty is, it’s a free country so they can choose to do it or not. The messaging toward this unfortunately needs to continue to be redirected, I think. It’s never been about the national anthem. It’s never been about the military.” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’re all patriotic in the locker room. We love our troops. This is about something bigger than that — an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country and I’m proud of our guys.”
The message was muddled over the first month of the season, with President Trump calling for NFL owners to suspend or fire players who took a knee for the anthem, calling any who do a “son of a bitch.” A false, Photoshopped image of the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett burning a flag in the locker room became a widely shared meme designed to stir up passions. The Seahawks took the next step in their activism, announcing the creation of an educational fund.
“In an effort to create lasting change and build a more compassionate and inclusive society, we are launching the Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund to support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice,” the team tweeted Sept. 29. “We invite you to join us in donating and taking action.”
The efforts may not have led to results that are more conversational than nationally tangible, but the players pledge that their activism will not end and it’s likely to become an issue again if it shows up in the president’s Twitter feed. In a memo to Goodell, Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles Torrey Smith and Malcolm Jenkins and retired player Anquan Boldin requested that the NFL designate a month, as it does for Breast Cancer awareness in October, to highlight player activism and community engagement.
“To counter the vast amount of press attention being referred to as the ‘national anthem protests’ versus the large amount of grass roots work that many players around the league have invested their time and resources, we would like to request a league wide initiative that would include a month dedicated to a campaign initiative and related events,” the memo stated. “Similarly to what the league already implements for breast cancer awareness, honoring military, etc., we would like November to serve as a month of Unity for individual teams to engage and impact the community in their market.”
Their activism has taken root, down to the high school level and over to the NBA. Although Trump cited declining TV ratings for the NFL, those have improved as the games have and as areas in Texas and Florida have begun to recover from hurricane damage. Players are not backing down, even though the question has always been how to use their platform.
“I’ve heard people say that my colleagues and I are un-American and unpatriotic,” Jenkins wrote in a Washington Post essay. “Well, we want to make America great. We want to help make our country safe and prosperous. We want a land of justice and equality. True patriotism is loving your country and countrymen enough to want to make it better.”
The can’t miss game: It has to be Packers-Cowboys, at 4:25 p.m. EDT. Remember what happened when the teams met in a divisional playoff game in January? Rodgers hit Jared Cook with an impossibly angled pass that Cook hauled in as he tiptoed along the sideline. That led to Mason Crosby’s game-winner field goal, but the backstory on the pass play is fascinating. Although everyone assumed that Rodgers essentially drew it up in the dirt because of the way cameras caught him directing players in the huddle, he burst that illusion.
“The things that I do on the field, most of the time come with deep thought and contemplation — weeks, months before they actually happen,” Rodgers told the State Journal’s Jason Wilde last week. “Sometimes days, sometimes even hours. Sometimes I think of something before a game, and say, ‘Hey, we get this situation, I might check to this’ or ‘I’m thinking maybe this.’ But plays like that one last year, that is something I thought about for a few months.”
The hard part is getting it from his brain into his teammates’.
“I thought about it for a few months and how to call it and how to kind of put it in so guys would know what to do. And that’s how kind of my brain works at times. Things hit me in the moment and you learn to just … trust it.”
A Vegas presence: The Raiders’ helmet decal pays tribute to the victims of last week’s shooting in the city that will one day be their home.
Pity Nick Folk: The Bucs’ kicking situation is not improving. (Read more.)
The biggest surprises so far: Let’s separate illusion from reality. (Read more.)
Terrelle Pryor Sr. says he was called the n-word: The NFL is investigating the allegation by the Washington Redskins’ receiver. (Read more.)
What ails Christian McCaffrey? Really, not that much. (Read more.)
The Redskins like where they are: At 2-2 and with a Week 5 bye, the team believes it can do something special. (Read more.)
Where’s Tony?: Sadly, the Packers-Cowboys game is on Fox, which means no Tony Romo. In addition to learning again last week that he’s good at this TV thing, we discovered (courtesy of his wife, Candice) that he warms up by singing Cold Play.
Bye, bye: The first bye week of the season has arrived with the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Redskins all off. That’s fortuitous timing for the Saints, with Hurricane Nate expected in the region.
The most intriguing injury update concerns Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who suffered a fracture of his transverse process (the bony protuberances on vertebrae). Although the injury can take two-to-six weeks’ recovery time, he was listed Friday as “questionable” after being a limited participant in practice Thursday and Friday. (Tony Romo, for reference, missed only one game after suffering a similar injury a few years ago.) However, by Sunday morning, reports were counting him out. EJ Manuel started in his place.
Davante Adams, the Packers’ wide receiver, played Sunday and caught the game-winning touchdown. Adams was hospitalized overnight after being knocked out in the team’s victory Sept. 28. He has cleared concussion protocol and ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reports that he has cleared the concussion protocol and traveled with the team to Dallas.
Although the Tennessee Titans have listed Marcus Mariota as questionable, he is out Sunday after being limited all week with a hamstring injury. Matt Cassel is expected to start, with Brandon Weeden as his backup.
Myles Garrett, the defensive end who was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, made his debut for the Cleveland Browns after nursing an ankle injury since training camp and quickly got his wish for a “fat guy’s touchdown,” a sack, on his first play.
Here are the notable actives and inactives for 1 p.m., via ESPN’s Field Yates:
And the more comprehensive 1 p.m. list:
WR Chester Rogers (questionable, hamstring)
WR Kenny Britt (doubtful, knee)
QB Marcus Mariota (questionable, hamstring)
RB Wendell Smallwood (questionable, knee)
CB Juston Burris (questionable, foot)
LB Jamie Collins Sr. (doubtful, concussion)
S Jarrod Wilson (questionable, shoulder)
DE Olivier Vernon (questionable, ankle)
CB E.J. Gaines (questionable, groin)
DT Jordan Phillips (questionable, ankle)
CB Byron Maxwell (questionable, hamstring)
DT Destiny Vaeao (questionable, wrist)
S Jaylen Watkins (questionable, hamstring)
WR Marquise Goodwin (questionable, concussion)
WR Marqise Lee (questionable, ribs)
WR Tyrell Williams (questionable, neck)
WR John Brown (questionable, quadriceps)
WR J.J. Nelson (questionable, hamstring)
CB Rashaan Melvin (questionable, hamstring)
DE Muhammad Wilkerson (questionable, shoulder)
LB Jatavis Brown (questionable, ankle)
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (questionable, shoulder)
DE Avery Moss (questionable, shoulder)
CB Shareece Wright (questionable, back)
S Micah Hyde (questionable, knee)
LB Jordan Evans (questionable, hamstring)
DE Julius Peppers (questionable, shoulder)
DE Mario Addison (questionable, knee)
DT Haloti Ngata (questionable, shoulder)
DE Ezekiel Ansah (questionable, knee)
LB Tahir Whitehead (questionable, pectoral)
LB Jarrad Davis (questionable, neck)
LB Mike Hull (questionable, shoulder)
CB Xavien Howard (questionable, shoulder)
S Corey Graham (questionable, hamstring)
Questionable, 4 p.m. and Sunday Night games
WR Jeremy Maclin (questionable, hand)
TE Benjamin Watson (questionable, calf)
QB Derek Carr (questionable, back)
RB DeAndre Washington (questionable, hamstring)
WR Davante Adams (questionable, concussion)
S Lardarius Webb (questionable, thigh)
CB Jimmy Smith (questionable, Achilles)
S Anthony Levine Sr. (questionable, thigh)
CB David Amerson (questionable, concussion)
CB Gareon Conley (questionable, shin)
LB Michael Wilhoite (questionable, hamstring)
DE Mike Daniels (questionable, hip)
LB Ahmad Brooks (questionable, back)
CB Davon House (questionable, quadriceps)
CB Quinten Rollins (questionable, ankle)
DT Stephen Paea (questionable, knee)
LB Sean Lee (questionable, hamstring)
CB Nolan Carroll II (questionable, concussion)
CB Anthony Brown (questionable, ankle)
Doubtful, 4 p.m. and Sunday Night games
RB C.J. Prosise (doubtful, ankle)
RB Ty Montgomery (doubtful, ribs)
CB Jeremy Lane (doubtful, groin)
S Lamarcus Joyner (doubtful, hamstring)
Notable players ruled out Sunday
Trade advice: There are five moves you absolutely must make right now. (Read more.)
Fantasy scout: Here’s what you need to be watching this week. (Read more.)
Week 5 cheat sheet: Everything you need to know before you set your lineup. (Read more.)
Takeaways and tips: What we learned from Week 4. (Read more.)
The Fantasy Football Beat
The Post’s fantasy football experts tell you how to beat the waiver rush. (Listen.)
The top trends and insights from Las Vegas. (Read more.)