Patrick Daugherty

Football Daily Dose

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Mathews Hits the Brakes

Friday, September 30, 2011

Ryan Mathews’ foot must be distressingly unfamiliar with Latin cliches.

Carpe diem, Veni, vidi, vici, whatever — Mathews’ foot is having none of it.

After seemingly seizing control of the Chargers backfield with three straight excellent performances to begin the season as Mike Tolbert faltered, Mathews now finds himself as he was for most of his lost rookie campaign: banged up.

Limited in practice Wednesday, Mathews was downgraded to out Thursday after waking up with more soreness than expected in his ailing foot.

He’s vowed to return “full speed” Friday, but in what is fast becoming the year of the empty injury guarantee, it would no longer be wise to assume Mathews will be unencumbered against the Dolphins.

The ailment hits the brakes on Mathews’ rapid fantasy ascension, and could be a stay of execution for Tolbert’s status as an every week flex in standard leagues.

We won’t know what to expect for sure until the Chargers take the practice field this afternoon, but all indications are, at least for one week, the hostile takeover that was near its culmination in San Diego’s backfield is again trending toward a timeshare.

It’s good news for Tolbert, and bad news for a player who was finally starting to live up to his lofty pedigree one year after the fact.

Mathews isn’t the only ascendant young running back who took a big bucket of cold water to the face Thursday.

Daniel Thomas was pulled from Dolphins practice after the hamstring injury that slowed him to a crawl during the preseason “flared up.”

Aside from the fact that the Dolphins are “concerned” by the development, little is known about Thomas’ status heading into Sunday’s tilt with the Chargers.

We’ll get a much firmer grasp on the situation when Miami’s afternoon practice report comes out, but it’s hard to believe Thomas will be a full go, and that’s troubling for a back who looked like he didn’t belong anywhere near an NFL field as he played hurt in the preseason.

If only momentarily, Reggie Bush’s arrow is pointing back up, while Steve Slaton could rapidly go from “irrelevant” to “intriguing” in his new home. Stay tuned.

The young guns aren’t the only ones who are hurting. Recently paid 49ers workhorse Frank Gore admitted Thursday he has no idea if he’ll be able to play through his ankle injury against the Eagles Sunday.

"I don't know, man," Gore said. "I really don't know. If I can't go, I can't go."

Hardly inspiring words considering Gore plays in a league where the norm is to insist you will play right up until the moment you don’t.

Barring an unexpected return to full practice Friday, Gore’s best-case scenario for Week 4 appears to be a timeshare with rookie Kendall Hunter against Philadelphia’s 30th ranked run defense.

That’s bad news for a player who could use the boost the Eagles would have promised to provide to his ugly 2.5 YPC had he been able to turn in a normal workload.

If you’re an owner who has yet to handcuff Gore with his explosive rookie backup, now would be a good time to do so.

The news was worse in New York, where Hakeem Nicks missed practice with swelling in the same knee he hyper-extended in Week 1.

Nicks was adamant he’ll still take the field against the Cardinals this weekend, but if it’s more of the same for his knee this afternoon, he could find himself majorly limited for the second time in three weeks.

His talent is immense enough that he should remain in your lineup as long as he’s active, but with the Giants not playing until 4:05 ET, you could be forced to make a lineup decision with incomplete data on Sunday morning.

Were Nicks not to go, it would mean more snaps for Victor Cruz, who shined in the absence of Mario Manningham last weekend.

Making his first career start, the former “Hard Knocks” sensation burned elite Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha for a pair of touchdowns — one a 74-yarder — while finally giving the Giants a reason to expand his role.

OC Kevin Gilbride says his future is in the slot — that would be the same slot Steve Smith exploited so beautifully before injuring his knee and leaving town.

Every week production cannot be expected from Cruz when both Nicks and Manningham are healthy, but if you’re searching for answers at receiver on a thin waiver wire, there are more reasons to add Cruz than not to.  

By nearly any measure, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hot start this season has been improbable. The Harvard man has always flashed big-play and big-game potential since coming into the league in 2005, but the key word is “flashed.” Typically, a huge day from the bearded gunslinger has been followed by two pedestrian ones. That’s why it’s still hard to believe he’ll be able to keep up at the rate he’s been going.

At first glance, his Week 4 opponent, the Bengals, would appear to be the team capable of slowing him. Through three weeks, they are sporting the NFL’s fifth-ranked pass defense, allowing just 188.3 yards per game.

But once you realize they’ve only had to deal with Cleveland, Denver and San Francisco, that number is no longer so impressive.

It’s true the Bengals have two solid starting cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Nate Clements, but it’s unlikely that will be enough to slow down a passing attack that has been positively sizzling through three weeks.

For one more game, Fitzpatrick can expected to play like a true QB1. His first big test will come in Week 5, when Buffalo hosts the Eagles. If Fitzpatrick can pass it, it might be time to stop wondering when he’s going to slow down.   

Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for He can be found on Twitter .
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