As the Minnesota Vikings look to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers for not only a playoff spot, but perhaps the NFC North title, they got some interesting news within the last 48 hours that could have a huge impact on their playoff hopes.
As things stand right now, they may be facing neither of them.
We already know when the Seahawks come to TCF Bank Stadium Dec. 6 they will be without Lynch. Bothered by injuries much of the season, Lynch had sports hernia surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss a minimum of three weeks, which has already ruled him out against the Vikings.
As for Freeman on Sunday, he wasn’t on the Falcons’ practice field Wednesday because he still hasn’t passed the first step of the concussion protocol, according to Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.
Last Sunday against Indianapolis, Freeman was off to a hot start, gaining 43 yards on four carries in the first quarter before sustaining the concussion. What makes his concussion one that will be closely monitored was the reaction on the sidelines when the injury happened.
Freeman was taken to the sidelines clearly groggy from the big hit he took and, within five minutes, it was announced he was officially out for the remainder of the game. While most players who sustain concussions or display concussion-like symptoms don’t return to action, they typically aren’t ruled out as quickly as Freeman was.
It was clear to the medical personnel on the Falcons’ sideline that Freeman was injured seriously enough to be quickly prohibited from returning to the game. The symptoms he was displaying were telltale signs of a significant concussion.
Unlike Teddy Bridgewater, who sustained a concussion against St. Louis, by mid-week, there was little doubt he would be playing the following Sunday. Freeman isn’t receiving the same level of confidence.
The significance of his absence from the Falcons lineup can’t be understated. The plan at the beginning of the season was that rookie Tevin Coleman was going to be the starter. In fact, in the regular season opener, Coleman rushed 20 times for 80 yards, while Freeman had just 10 carries for 18 yards. When Coleman got injured in Week 2, it opened the door for Freeman and he never looked back.
“He’s extremely talented, plays really, really hard, and just has a real knack for the game,” Atlanta QB Matt Ryan said. “Whether it’s catching the ball out of the backfield, or his vision in the run game, or his ability to make cuts, it’s really fun to be a part of that, and to watch him, to be able to hand it off and watch him make some plays is awesome.”
In the seven-plus games since he became the starter, Freeman has rushed 143 times for 721 yards (a 5.0-yard average) and eight touchdowns and caught 41 passes for 357 yards and two more TDs. He had four 100-yard rushing games in the span and was second on the team in both receiving targets (50) and receptions (41) in that span – second only to all-world wide receiver Julio Jones.
While Freeman was thriving, Coleman became the forgotten man. From the time he got injured in Week 2, which caused him to miss two games, Coleman never came close to the numbers he produced in Week 1. In the five games he played prior to Freeman’s concussion last week, Coleman had rushed just 13 times. When he was asked to take over lead-back duties against a suspect Colts defense, he rushed 17 times for just 48 yards.
Freeman isn’t likely to be cleared for practice until at least Friday since there are multiple stages to returning to practice after a concussion, but if he isn’t cleared by then the likelihood that he can be counted on to play Sunday will decrease sharply.
As things currently stand, Freeman remains in limbo. As much as he, head coach Dan Quinn and his teammates want him on the field Sunday, it’s not in any of their hands. That decision will be made for all of them by medical personnel and training staff.
After getting gashed by Eddie Lacy on the ground Sunday, the prospect of the Vikings going up against the dual-purpose Freeman and a guy called Beast Mode was a daunting prospect.
Just a few days later, we already know that Lynch won’t be on the field when the Vikings play Seattle and the longer he fails to be cleared to return to even the practice field, it’s looking less likely that Freeman will play.
The NFL is a “next man up” business. If your next man up can come in without a drop-off in production, the show goes on. When they have huge shoes to fill – like Coleman and Seattle’s Thomas Rawls do – the potential for a game-changing situation exists.
Their losses could potentially be the Vikings’ gain as they look to increase their positioning for the playoffs.