NEW ORLEANS — When FOX’s Jay Glazer reported last Sunday morning that Saints quarterback Jameis Winston would play that day against Tampa Bay with “four fractures in his back,” the Who Dat Nation promptly got whiplash.
Why is he even out there?
How can he play with a broken back?
Can he be paralyzed?
Winston was limited in practice the week of the game with a back injury suffered in a win at Atlanta in the season opener, but Glazer was the first to report the specifics: fractures in lumbar one (L1) through lumbar four (L4) of his spine. Winston wore protective padding over the fractures and showed no visible signs of being in pain during the Saints’ 20-10 loss.
But his play was painful to watch in the fourth quarter with scored tied 3-3. Winston turned the game over to Tampa by throwing three interceptions in the final period, including twice on deep routes when check-down receivers were wide open.
He showed his back side at crunch time, which was how he often played as Tampa Bay’s quarterback from 2015-19. But he was in no danger of seriously damaging his back, according to Dr. David Chao, a former team doctor for the San Diego Chargers who is a contributor to OutKick.
The fractures were transverse process fractures, which are similar to a pulled muscle and not serious, Chao told WWL Radio in New Orleans this week. But they do hurt.
“They are projections on the side, which can be very painful,” Chao said. “There are muscles and ligaments attached. It is a difficult area to inject (to numb the pain), unlike ribs, and it is painful. Kudos to him for playing through. But we have lots of examples of quarterbacks playing through this.”
Former Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton played through a similar injury, as did Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders, Chao said.
“It has been fairly common to miss one week and return to play,” he said. “So, Jameis beat that. If you would’ve told me last week before the game that Jameis Winston had L1-L4 transverse process fractures, I would put him playing in that game in doubt. And his ankle isn’t 100 percent either, so both could’ve affected him and his play against the Bucs. And kudos to him for playing through.”
Winston was listed as questionable for the Saints (1-1) on Friday for Sunday’s game at Carolina (0-2) on FOX (1 p.m. eastern) after a week of limited practices because of the back and ankle injuries.
“But I also would have been confident that in week three, he would play,” Chao said. “It sounds weird that a fracture would be that short term, but it’s almost treated like a muscle sprain or muscle pull. I’m sure he’ll still feel it this week, but it will feel a lot better than it was. It is painful. That’s why I say kudos to Jameis Winston. The good news is he wasn’t at risk for anything catastrophic. It’s not like you cast it, or you wait for the bone to unite and heal.”
Paralysis was never a possibility, Chao said.
“I respect the medical staff of the Saints,” he said. “They’re not going to commit malpractice.”
On Sunday, Winston never mentioned the injury after the game in interviews. And on Wednesday, he again avoided it.
Asked if he could describe the type of pain he was going through or how much, he said:
“I’m feeling like my main goal is to find a way to get better. Whether it is my body, conceptually, as a leader. That doesn’t stop, no matter the circumstances.”
Winston was asked if he could give a number to describe his level of pain with 10 for worst and one for least. He didn’t bite.
“When I’m out there playing, I’m out there playing,” he said. “My focus is on execution and winning games.”
Asked if he is not even mentioning his back injury so no one can accuse of him of making excuses, Winston did allow, “Yeah. I just feel like a lot of guys are playing with something, right? But my focus is on making great decisions.”
Winston criticized his interceptions.
“Impatience,” he said. “That was the big thing. I had a check down right over the middle on one. And I had another check down on another one. That was impatience. We can’t have them. I will do a better job of staying mellow in the madness.”