Gridiron Heroes: The All-Time Gutsiest Performances By Injured Players

Darren - February 1, 2023

Gridiron Heroes: The All-Time Gutsiest Performances By Injured Players

Darren - February 1, 2023

Arizona Cardinals

Larry Wilson

Wilson also demonstrated psychotic toughness in 1965. The safety starred for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Giants on Halloween. He endured the horror of breaking both of his wrists but it didn’t force him off the field. Instead, he had the gutsiest performance of his career with an iconic moment.

New York Times

The doctors wrapped up his hands with bandages but he insisted on continuing. Then he famously intercepted a pass with his two broken hands in an almost impossible play. This was beyond the imagination of most fans and made him an instant legend. If he retired immediately, we’d still be talking about it (via

AP News

Philip Rivers

Rivers was one of the longest-tenured quarterbacks of his generation. Most analysts agree that he was a tier below the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees. But he was a loyal servant to the Chargers and a tough individual. His gutsiest performance came against the Patriots in the 2007 AFC Championship Game.

Sports Illustrated

The quarterback had a torn ACL and nobody expected him to play. But he didn’t care and showed unbelievable toughness on the day. In the end, New England won the game but Rivers didn’t let anybody down. He also set a new standard because he showed what people are capable of if they put their minds something (via

SF Gate

Brock Purdy

Purdy had a remarkable season after the Niners selected him with the final pick of the 2022 Draft. The so-called “Mr. Irrelevant” became one of the most important players in the league against the odds. Injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo gave Purdy an unexpected opportunity. He helped San Francisco make it to the NFC Championship Game.


The Niners fell short against the Eagles after Purdy became their third injured starting QB of the season. But he came back into the game after journeyman Josh Johnson suffered a concussion. Purdy’s torn UCL meant that he could barely throw the ball. But it was arguably the young man’s gutsiest performance (via Forbes).


Ronnie Lott

It’s amazing the lengths that elite athletes go to when they want to win. Tennis star Simona Halep famously underwent a breast reduction because she didn’t want her physique to restrict her. But one former Niners star took this to the next level after he broke his finger against the Cowboys.

New York Post

The bone breached his skin so Lott made an impulsive decision. He demanded that the medics cut off the tip of his finger before he returned to the field. This was in 1985 so it wasn’t even that long ago. They taped his hand and he set off after the gutsiest moment of his sporting career (via

Lehigh Valley Live

Donovan McNabb

Anybody who broke their ankle will know that it’s agonizing to put their weight on it. Now imagine playing an NFL game against some of the biggest athletes on the planet. That’s exactly what McNabb did in the gutsiest performance of his career in 2002. He rejected medical concerns over his foot after an injury during a game against Arizona.

L.A. Times

McNabb refused to undergo an X-ray and went back into the fray. Amazingly, the QB had one of his greatest games with a broken ankle. He completed 20 of 25 pass attempts for four touchdowns. Perhaps the acute pain sharpened his mind and forced him to make everything count. Whatever happened, it was an outstanding day for the Eagles star (via Bleacher Report).


Kellen Winslow

Now, first a disclaimer as we all know Winslow is a sick and horrible person, but this was a great on-field display. He battled against extreme dehydration and injuries in the 1981 AFC divisional game. San Diego played the Dolphins on an iconic day that we remember as ‘The Epic in Miami.’ There were a bunch of great displays in this game but Winslow stole the show. That’s because he flung the pain barrier out of the window.


He endured an agonizing pinched nerve and received multiple stitches but kept going. Winslow famously blocked a field goal and had an amazing 13 receptions with one touchdown. In the end, his teammates carried him off the field because he couldn’t walk. Winslow put in the gutsiest performance of his life. (via

NBC Sports

Ben Roethlisberger

‘Big Ben’ is in a similar position to Deshaun Watson because of his serious personal flaws. However, he also demonstrated a lot of mental strength and physical toughness in Super Bowl XL. This doesn’t make up for his off-field behavior but it shows that he was an excellent football player and an inspirational leader.

CBS Sports

Roethlisberger took some hard hits but he didn’t slow down. He refused to check his injuries during the game but it emerged that he had two broken ribs. This made it difficult for him to breathe and it slowed him down on the field. Nonetheless, he delivered the gutsiest performance of his life and led his team to victory (via CBC).

Pro Football Network

Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes had a legendary AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2023. The quarterback sprained his ankle badly against the Jags in the divisional round. This instantly made it unlikely that he would be fit to face the Bengals but Mahomes wouldn’t sit out. He had the gutsiest performance of his career and guided his team to a third Super Bowl appearance.

Sky Sports

The Kansas City superstar played on one leg but still delivered for his team. He completed 29 of 43 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns in a heroic display. It was also extraordinary that he achieved this as his wide receivers fell to injury around him. This will go down as one of the greatest individual games ever (via ABC 7).