Injury reports often can't be trusted

Farmer is a Times staff writer.

How much stock do coaches put in injury reports?

Seattle's Mike Holmgren can tell you. Fourteen years ago, when he was coaching in Green Bay, his Packers were preparing to play Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. The Lions' Barry Sanders was listed as "doubtful" on the injury report, leaving the Packers -- and the rest of the football world -- guessing about his availability.

"We got reports: doubtful, doubtful, doubtful, not going to play," Holmgren recalled.

But Sanders did play . . . and rushed for 167 yards.

Will Holmgren ever blindly trust an injury report? Doubtful.

Over the years, the NFL has revised and refined its rules for disclosing injuries, a system that's not only important to individual teams but also to bettors and fantasy league participants. The league can fine teams that it finds have been less than truthful on an injury report.

Still, there's a lot of gamesmanship that goes on.

For example, the Indianapolis Colts kept everyone guessing last season about when Marvin Harrison might return from a knee injury he suffered in Week 4.

Throughout November and December, there were weekly reports that he was on the verge of coming back.

Instead, he didn't return until making a brief appearance in the Colts' only playoff game.

Truth be told, virtually every NFL player could be on the injury list every week.

"The healthiest day of your career is the first day of your career," former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley said. "After that, there's always something."

Not all coaches are understanding of that. When Wiley was playing in Dallas, then-coach Bill Parcells had all the TVs removed from the training room and turned the thermostat down to frigid just to discourage players from spending any more time than necessary in there.

Some reports are just plain laughable. In New England, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a streak of three consecutive years where his name appeared on every injury report, usually because of a "sore shoulder."

That streak ended just before this season's opener, when the Patriots submitted a list that did not include their star quarterback -- even though Brady was truly injured, sitting out the exhibition season recovering from a foot injury.

Then, a cruel, ironic twist: In his first game in three years when he wasn't mentioned in the injury report, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury.


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