An NFL week can't seem to go by without a notable starting quarterback suffering a serious injury. The Baltimore Ravens lost former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco for the season because of knee injuries, a left broken collarbone has kept Tony Romo inactive for a large portion of the Dallas Cowboys' season, and the Denver Broncos are adjusting to life without Peyton Manning as the veteran deals with an assortment of ailments.
Yet, when the brightest and most recognized players in any sport succumb to injuries, it’s quite easy to label the "trend" as some sort of never-before-seen epidemic. Instead, most NFL teams have actually been dealt a largely healthy hand under center this season.
Through the first 12 weeks of the 2015 season, 18 quarterbacks who began the year as their respective team’s opening day starter are on pace to play and start the entire 16-game slate. That’s slightly up from 17 quarterbacks last season, and this year’s rash of injuries only seem more severe due to the star power involved.
All told, this season 12 starting quarterbacks either already have or will miss a combined 55 starts due to injury, including Romo (12 games), Manning (2), Flacco (7), Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford (2), Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (4), Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (4), Cleveland’s Josh McCown (7), the New York Jets’ Geno Smith (11), Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor (2), Tennessee rookie Marcus Mariota (2), Chicago’s Jay Cutler (1), and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (1).
Romo, Flacco, and, just Tuesday, McCown, have already been ruled out for the rest of the season so their total number of missed games is inflated compared to the rest of the starters, while Luck could come back earlier than expected and Roethlisberger’s status for Week 13 remains unclear while he goes through the NFL’s concussion protocol.
As for Smith, the broken jaw he suffered after a teammate punched him over a welshed bet resulted in a six-week recovery and the loss of starting duties to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s hot hand has the Jets on pace to make the postseason and keeps Smith on the bench.
And if not for the big names or markets involved, this season would largely mirror the last. In 2014, 17 quarterbacks began the regular season as their team’s opening day starter and didn't miss any games due to injuries. In fact starting quarterbacks thus far actually missed more combined time last season, 67, with an injury either ending their season or resulting in the loss of their starting job.
Romo would’ve started all 16 games but a back injury held him back midway through the season and cost him one start, while Cutler was benched for one game after committing 24 total turnovers in his first 14 games and he still started the regular season finale.
Otherwise more than half of the league didn’t have to fret over their quarterback’s health, and with only a handful of mid to high-level stars from playoff contenders hit with injuries at quarterback fans weren't left wondering where all the star passers had gone.
Kansas City lost Alex Smith for one game, Carolina’s Cam Newton was out for two games, first due to a rib injury and then vertebrae fractures he sustained in a car accident late in the season, while Washington’s Robert Griffin III missed six games with an injured left ankle only to battle and then lose out to Colt McCoy.
Last season, only the Arizona Cardinals and quarterback Carson Palmer endured the same fate as the Ravens, Cowboys and now the Browns this season. The veteran Palmer was playing exceptionally well and went a perfect 6-0 before a torn ACL prematurely ended his 2014.
Former Vikings starter Matt Cassel broke his foot in the third game of last season, and then lost his job to Teddy Bridgewater, technically resulting in 13 missed starts even though the then-rookie Bridgewater was expected to take over at some point in 2014. And even Bridgewater missed one game.
The Jets’ Smith sat out one game with a shoulder injury last season, lost his job to Michael Vick for a time, and wound up missing three total starts because of the injury and eventually poor play.
While with Tampa Bay last season McCown missed five starts with a thumb injury, former Eagles starter Nick Foles went down for the final eight starts of the season after suffering a shoulder injury and losing his job to Mark Sanchez, and St. Louis’ Shaun Hill suffered an injury before last season’s opener and missed eight straight games prior to taking over for Austin Davis.
The list of mediocrity continued with now retired Titan Jake Locker going down with a wrist injury and missing nine games altogether while Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger angled for Tennessee’s starting job.
So while it appears the NFL may soon construct a triage for all these banged up quarterbacks, keep in mind this isn’t a trend but rather the latest chapter in the history of an always dangerous sport.