The Los Angeles Chargers potentially avoided a major injury in their meaningless Sunday game against the Denver Broncos after head coach Brandon Staley told reporters Monday that receiver Mike Williams did not suffer a fracture or muscle injury in his back.
An MRI on Williams revealed a contusion and Staley added that he expects Williams to return to practice this week ahead of the Chargers' wild-card match with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday night.
This is huge considering the Chargers' torrid injury history this season. Williams missed four games this season with an ankle injury, and the team has also been without — for varying periods of time — receiver Keenan Allen, safety Derwin James and edge rusher Joey Bosa. Los Angeles lost starting cornerback J.C. Jackson and offensive tackle Rashawn Slater to season-ending injuries earlier this season, too.
Williams' injury initially looked bad when he had to be carted off the field in the second quarter and then reportedly had to be helped out of the locker room and onto the team bus. This all came before Staley said Williams could have returned to the game if needed.
ESPN's Lindsey Thiry later reported Williams suffered back spasms and his initial MRI came back negative. And again: This was a meaningless game with the Chargers' No. 5 seed locked in earlier Sunday.
This isn't Williams' first back injury. He missed almost all of his rookie offseason as well as the first six games of the 2017 season after he suffered a mild herniated disc in his lower back during minicamp. Williams also missed a Week 4 game in 2019 with a back injury. He suffered another back injury in Week 14 of the 2020 season but didn't miss any games.
This entire situation could have been avoided if Staley hadn't inexplicably kept most of his starting lineup in for a majority of the game. Quarterback Justin Herbert, who suffered a rib injury earlier this season, played three full quarters before he was pulled. The same went for running back Austin Ekeler. Allen, who missed seven games with a hamstring injury, played well into the fourth quarter and even scored a touchdown. Bosa limped off the field after missing all but five games this season.
The outcome of the Week 18 game would not have affected who the Chargers played in the first round of the playoffs. There was almost no reason for the most important players on Staley's team to see significant time in a game that the Chargers would also end up losing anyway.
And now, instead of walking confidently into the postseason, some players will have to hope their bumps and bruises heal up in time to make a Super Bowl run.