The Buffalo Bills rank third in the league in games lost to injury by starters.
The Bills have lost 71 games to injury by players who opened the season in the starting lineup or were scheduled to open the season in the starting lineup but were lost during preseason. Carolina is first on the list, with 86 starts lost to injury through 14 games of the NFL season, according to a review of rosters by The News. St. Louis is second at 85 games lost to injury.
The Bills placed their 16th player on the injured reserve list Tuesday as they prepared for their home finale against the Denver Broncos on Saturday. No. 2 tight end Lee Smith was put on the list due to an ankle injury. That total is the second most in the league. Jacksonville leads with 22 players on injured reserve.
Injuries can't be blamed for all the Bills' problems during their current seven-game losing streak. But they have been a big issue. Starters who have been lost for the year since the Bills opened 5-2 include running back Fred Jackson, center Eric Wood, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, cornerback Terrence McGee and receiver Donald Jones. Players who started the opener who were lost before the current skid were linebacker Shawne Merriman and receiver Roscoe Parrish.
Asked if he had any explanation for the rash of injuries, Bills coach Chan Gailey replied: "No."
"Every team suffers through injuries to some degree, and we've been hit pretty good with it this year," linebacker Chris Kelsay said. "We lost several key factors on our team both offensively and defensively, and sometimes that's tough to overcome. I think the coaches will be the first ones to tell you it's an opportunity for them to prepare other guys and give other guys a chance to show what they can do. And you either do it or don't as a player."
Obviously, sometimes there's a drop-off when a starter gets hurt.
"There's a reason why guys start, and there's a reason why guys back up," Kelsay said.
Asked if any connection could be made between the injuries and the team's conditioning approach or the fact there were no team-organized offseason workouts this year, Gailey said: "You could, but it's a guess. Nobody knows."
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick acknowledged the obvious regarding the injuries.
The Bills last week were rated the No. 1 team in the league affected by injury in a subjective evaluation of the value of the players lost this year by Pro Football Weekly magazine. Jacksonville was No. 2, followed by Carolina, San Diego and Indianapolis.
The last time the Bills were this hindered by injuries was in 2009, Dick Jauron's last season as head coach.
The Bills finished with a team-record 20 players on injured reserve that year. Buffalo lost 105 games by starters to injury, based on their opening-day lineup. That was more than any NFL team in the previous five years.
This is the third time in five years the Bills have been hit hard by injury. Buffalo led the NFL in 2007, with 89 games lost by starters to injury. Nine players finished on injured reserve that year.
"It hurts," Fitzpatrick said. "The big thing, we kind of started a rough patch even when Fred was playing, but to lose somebody like Fred -- everybody knows what he means to our offense and to our team, but he's a very dynamic player. He did a lot of things for us, made a lot of big plays for us. So that was obviously something that hurt us a lot and kind of changed some of the stuff we were doing, changed some of the stuff we tried to develop throughout the year.
"That being said, I think C.J. [Spiller] has done a good job, not only running the ball with his touches, but getting some catches in the pass game and doing something with it."
Carolina has lost six starters for most or all of the season, including both starting offensive tackles and two starting linebackers. St. Louis has lost both starting offensive tackles, both starting cornerbacks and a starting receiver for all or a big chunk of the season.
Just behind Buffalo on the injury list is the New York Giants, who have lost 70 games to injury by starters.