The Associated Press

The San Diego Chargers had so many players hurt Sunday night that at one point Marty Schottenheimer wasn't sure he could find 11 men to field a defense.

Atlanta, with three-fourths of its defensive line out, was worn down by Jamal Lewis and the Ravens in the second half because there was no way any of the healthy players could rest.

Nothing is more damaging to NFL teams than injuries.

The league doesn't keep official statistics on them. But this season seems to be one of the worst in recent memory.

And while many teams are crumbling with multiple starters going down, you'd hardly know it. Nothing stirs up the football world more than wounded quarterbacks non-skill position players who get hurt don't receive much attention.

So long-standing injuries that have riddled a lot of teams this season were overshadowed Sunday when Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre went down.

Especially McNabb, who once again is out for the season, and may miss part of next year. McNabb tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Philadelphia's loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

That left Philadelphia to ponder a playoff run that was dubious anyway and now must be made with either Jeff Garcia or A.J. Feely at quarterback. And it left McNabb to contemplate what has become a star-crossed career last year was cut short after nine games when he underwent surgery on a sports hernia.

The 37-year-old Favre, who took a shot in the elbow, will probably be back next week. He has overcome numerous hits to start 251 straight games, a record for a quarterback. His backup and possible heir apparent, Aaron Rodgers, wasn't as lucky. He broke his left foot and will miss the rest of the season.

Playoff contenders like the Chargers, Falcons, Giants, Panthers and Jaguars all have been hard hit New York has lost three defensive ends, including Pro Bowlers Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora and two key offensive players: left tackle Luke Petitgout and wide receiver Amani Toomer.

New Orleans got relatively good news on Monday when rookie wide receiver Marques Colston, who led the NFL in yards receiving entering the weekend, was listed as "day-to-day" with a sprained ankle sustained Sunday.

Grain of salt: in a league where coaches are hardly forthcoming about injuries, "day-to-day" can turn into "week-to-week."

But until Sunday, the normal run of injured quarterbacks was relatively small: Kansas City's Trent Green (concussion in opening week) returned on Sunday against Oakland's Aaron Brooks, also coming back from injury. Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck has missed four games with a torn knee ligament; Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich is out with a foot injury; and Tampa Bay's Chris Simms was lost in Week 3 when his spleen had to be removed.

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, coming off a Super Bowl season, has been subpar all year even though he's missed just one game. He was lucky to escape with his life in a motorcycle accident in June; underwent an appendectomy just before the season; and got his second concussion (his first was in the accident) against Atlanta on Oct. 22.

But the parallel to McNabb is Miami's Daunte Culpepper, who tore up his knee last season with Minnesota, and went back to the bench after starting the first four games.

Both were among the five quarterbacks taken in the top 12 picks in the 1999 draft, McNabb No. 2 and Culpepper No. 11. Until last season, they certainly were among the NFL's top quarterbacks. None of the other three (Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown) remains in the league.

Culpepper has struggled this season his first after being traded to Miami and was benched for Joey Harrington after four games, presumably because the injury robbed him of his mobility. He has been inactive since as he continues to rehabilitate the injury.

"Unfortunately my knee isn't as good as my spirit and my soul want to be," he said before the Dolphins played his old team this week.

That's also the problem faced by McNabb, who will turn 30 on Saturday. "That's normally an eight-month-to-a-year injury," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.

Given his work ethic, it's possible McNabb will be back by the start of next season. Cincinnati's Carson Palmer suffered a serious knee injury last January and was back by September. But then Palmer a pocket passer has been tentative, favoring his knee.

In other words, a year from now McNabb could be in the same place Culpepper is right now on the bench, in pain.

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