Indianapolis Colts All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney is in serious jeopardy of missing Super Bowl XLIV because of a right ankle injury, a source with knowledge of the situation told NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora on Sunday.
Freeney is dealing with considerable ligament damage in the ankle, the source said, and appears doubtful to recover in time for next Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. However, the Colts insist that Freeney has a low ankle sprain, not a torn ligament, and remains questionable to play.
Super Bowl XLIV: Saints vs. Colts
Sunday, 6 p.m. ET (CBS)
Colts spokesman Craig Kelley said Sunday night that Freeney was being treated in Florida for a basketball-type injury, nothing more.
“He is under the care of our athletic training staff,” Kelley said. “Nothing we have seen changes our diagnosis that he is questionable. He has a third-degree, low basketball sprain.”
That would appear to be better news than what Colts president Bill Polian calls the “dreaded” high ankle sprain, which can keep players out for about six weeks.
“Dwight told me he’ll be ready,” Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said Sunday on NFL Network, just before the start of the Pro Bowl.
Wayne also added that Freeney has been working hard to rehabilitate his ankle. Colts tight end Dallas Clark echoed that sentiment but said he didn’t know much about Freeney’s status.
The Colts have been concerned about Freeney since the former NFL sacks champion injured the ankle with about two minutes left in last Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. He pulled up short of New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on a pass rush, hopped for a couple of steps and then limped off the field.
Trainers initially wanted to put Freeney’s foot in a walking boot, but he didn’t wear it after the Colts’ 30-17 victory. Freeney didn’t practice Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and hasn’t been available to reporters since the game.
“Dwight is one of our best players, we know that,” Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said Sunday during the Pro Bowl. “But all season long, coach Caldwell has talked about picking up the bayonet. Someone’s got to step up. If Dwight were not to be able to go, that would be tough, but somebody else will step up, and we’ll feel confident in whoever that is.”
Polian told radio listeners Monday that he expected Freeney to play against the Saints. Caldwell didn’t sound as optimistic early in the week, noting that starting cornerback Jerraud Powers was further along in his recovery from a foot injury than Freeney.
By Friday, Caldwell appeared to be on the same page with Polian.
“He’s coming along well, he’s getting better, and we’re hoping for the best,” Caldwell said before practice.
The bigger issue might be Freeney’s effectiveness. He uses his incredible speed, remarkable spin moves and leverage to attack opponents. If he’s not 100 percent, it could limit what he can do in the biggest game of the season.
But Freeney also has a history of healing fast, including earlier this season, when he returned seven days after hurting his quadriceps — an injury that some reports said would sideline him for up to three weeks. That was in late September.
Freeney didn’t miss a game until Nov. 29 at Houston, when he sat out with an abdominal injury. The only other game he missed this season was the regular-season finale at Buffalo when most Colts starters played sparingly or not at all.
Freeney finished with 13.5 sacks this season, the sixth time in eight NFL campaigns that he posted a double-digit total.
“He has had injuries before where they said (he’s) not going to play and he has come back,” Clark said Sunday during the Pro Bowl. “He is a competitor, he is one of the toughest guys on our team, and I never expect him to miss anything.”
Freeney made the Pro Bowl this season for the fifth time in his career, but he wasn’t eligible to play in the all-star game because the Colts made the Super Bowl.