NEW YORK -- Fewer players went on injured reserve this season than in the last two, with the Buffalo Bills leading the NFL with 20 players lost.
Heading into the playoffs, 297 players went on the list, including such notables as Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington. That was down from 305 in 2008 and 313 in 2007, which was the most since the league went to 32 teams in 2002. The 297 matched the 2006 season.
Players who go on IR are ineligible for the rest of the season. Urlacher was sidelined after the season opener with a broken right wrist, and Pennington went out in the third game with a dislocated right shoulder.
There has been no real trend in the number of IR players since the Houston Texans joined the league in '02. It went up in 2003 and '04, then declined from 296 to 276 in 2005, only to shoot back up by 21 the next season.
Buffalo by far used the list most, placing such starters as linebacker Kawika Mitchell, tackle Brad Butler, safety Jairus Byrd and guard Eric Wood on IR. The latter two were key rookies for the Bills, who finished 6-10 and released their coaching staff earlier this week.
"A lot of the things that happened to this team this year injury-wise is unbelievable," new general manager Buddy Nix said. "And that's a major concern. And I think it's something you've got to address and see if it's something that we're doing or not doing, or whether it's just bad luck. I think we've had it two to three years in a row. But anyway, that keeps you from getting better."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the second-highest number of players on IR with 15, followed by the New Orleans Saints with 14, and five teams with 13: the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Texans and St. Louis Rams. Obviously, the Saints and Ravens managed to succeed despite the health issues, with New Orleans the top-seeded team in the NFC and Baltimore an AFC wild-card team.
The Vikings lost linebacker E.J. Henderson to a broken leg, but he went on IR in December, long after the team took control of the NFC North.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press