HOUSTON — Linebacker Brian Cushing is out for the season with a torn left knee ligament, leaving the unbeaten Houston Texans without their top tackler and one of their emotional leaders.
Cushing was hurt in the second quarter of the Texans’ 23-17 win over the New York Jets on a low block by guard Matt Slauson. Cushing walked off the field on his own, but didn’t return.
Coach Gary Kubiak said Tuesday that Cushing has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will need surgery in two to three weeks, after the swelling subsides. Cushing was leading Houston in tackles (38) before Monday night’s game.
"A big blow for our team," Kubiak said. "We have to have guys pick it up around him and we’ve got to find a way to move forward. We’re all just disappointed for him. It’s a tough day for him."
Cushing was the team MVP in 2011 and he leads the Texans defense with 29 tackles this season.
"Cushing means so much to this team," defensive end Antonio Smith said after the game. "This team is like a family, and we don’t want to lose nobody. If he is gone, that’s a big blow for us, personally and on the field… Cush is an animal, man. He’s a playmaker, natural-born playmaker. He’s always where the ball’s at. You can depend on him to make big plays in key situations. He’s a big part of our defense."
Kubiak didn’t want to comment on the allegations that Cushing was hurt on an illegal chop block, saying he would leave that up to the league.
"I saw the play. He got cut on the play. Obviously, cutting is part of football but the rule says you can’t come back to your own goal line and cut," Kubiak said. "So the question is, is the guy coming back to his own goal line? That’s in the league’s hands."
Cushing, a New Jersey native who had family and friends in attendance at MetLife Stadium, had five tackles in less than 20 minutes of game action on Monday night before he was injured.
"That’s our leader," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "That’s our middle linebacker. That’s our guy. To see that is tough. We played the second half for Cush. We won this game in Cush’s home state."
"Those guys really look to him," Kubiak said. "He’s an emotional leader, the way he plays, the way he works, the way he practices. Cush loves it all. That’s the thing about him. Guys feed off of that."
Kubiak said Cushing "was in pretty good pain" on the field on Monday night, and seemed to realize the severity of the injury. The team talked about losing Cushing at halftime, then made just enough plays in the second half to survive a gritty effort by the Jets.
"I think there was some added incentive to finish that thing up for Cush," Kubiak said.
Tim Dobbins moved into Cushing’s spot in the lineup against the Jets, and finished with four tackles and a pass deflection. Kubiak says Dobbins is "option No. 1" to replace Cushing in the lineup.
Dobbins played his first four NFL seasons with San Diego, including one season under Wade Phillips, now the Texans’ defensive coordinator. He was traded to Miami during the 2010 draft, released after one season and signed by the Texans in August 2011. He played in 15 games last season and four this year, mostly on special teams.
"He’s a veteran player, he’s played with Wade before," Kubiak said. "It’s a lot to ask, but that’s why he’s here. It’s an opportunity for him as a player and we’ll have to rally around him and like I said, make up for Cush’s loss as a group."
Another eventual option may be Darryl Sharpton, who was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list during training camp with a hip injury. By league rules, he can’t be activated until Week 7. The Texans have a bye week after playing Baltimore on Oct. 21, and Kubiak said he’ll have a chance to closely evaluate Sharpton then.
"If he was available to come off and help us today, he’s still not ready," Kubiak said. "But we do have some more time on our hands. We are pushing him toward that date, here in a few weeks, to where we can get a good look at him and see. There’s still some progress to be made."
No matter who steps in, Cushing will be hard to replace.
A first-round draft pick in 2009, Cushing was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He made 133 tackles that year, the second-most in the AFC behind Baltimore’s Ray Lewis (134).
Cushing again led the Texans in tackles last season (114) and also intercepted two passes and forced two fumbles.
The Texans (5-0) play Green Bay (2-3) in Houston on Sunday night.