The Bills, well, the Bills lost. They lost a very winnable game by a score of 20-16 in Cincinnati. The offense never got going, the run game doesn’t look anything like it has the past 2 seasons, and this Bills team continues to make this fan base crazy. That’s the nice, politically correct way of saying that. Two years from now, this will be a game that won’t be marked as a trap game, the kind of game that is an expected win. However, we all have to “Trust the Process” and trust I will!
Sunday was one of those games that while the depth that has been lacking in past seasons was there, the talent and cohesiveness was not. The team continues to stay relatively healthy, not losing anyone to season ending injuries. Notable injuries to the Bills are CB Leonard Johnson who left with a hamstring injury in the first half and did not return. However, the focus of today’s article is TE Charles Clay’s left knee injury sustained after catching a pass and getting hit in the knee going out of bounds towards the end of the first quarter. This resulted in Clay ending his day early and getting carted off the field.
Anytime someone sees an elite player go down with a knee or leg injury, they automatically think ACL tear. Why do we think that? Because the ACL is the sexy injury that the media loves to talk about. Everyone knows its serious, everyone knows its season ending, and it’s all over the news constantly. As you begin to hyperventilate or start cursing the Bills, R-E-L-A-X. Clay did get injured, it didn’t look pretty, and the results aren’t great. If you care to continue reading, I will help you step back from the edge and explain what really happened.
Based on reports, Charles Clay sprained his MCL, tore his meniscus, and will be out for an extended time with surgery to fix the meniscus. Most people know that if the ACL is bad, then the MCL must be bad as well. It is but it isn’t. The knee is comprised of many different structures including but not limited to: bones of the knee: femur, tibia, patella; ligaments including: medial collateral ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, and lateral collateral ligament; soft tissue includes cartilage and medial/lateral meniscus.
The MCL runs on the inside portion of the knee connecting the femur to the tibia. The MCL allows for stabilization medially and along with the LCL, prevents the knee from going east/west and ensures that knee works as a hinge joint. When the MCL is sprained, the ligament is stretched and partially torn as with any other sprain. However, the MCL is more dynamic in that it connects into several muscles in the knee including the vastus medialis, sartorius, semimembranosus, semitendiosus, and gracillis. The MCL also attacks to the posteromedial portion of the medial meniscus. To simplify it, at various points, the MCL connects to parts of the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor muscles, and part of the meniscus. Without these many connections, the knee would be far less stable and would not be able to change direction suddenly.
Despite a fantastic design by nature, design only allows for so much prevention. The MCL typically gets injured during sudden changes in movement such as cutting and pivoting. The MCL also becomes damaged during direct blows to the outside part of the knee during knee flexion, which is what occurred with Clay when a low tackle hit him out of bounds.
The MCL severity grades are broken down into 3 grades with the increasing grade indicate level of severity. Level 1 consists of some fibers torn with tenderness and no instability. There is some pain during application of force to the outside of the bent knee, but nothing else significant.
Grade 2 consists of increased pain and more noted swelling. There is moderate tenderness and laxity in the joint. Most of the pain is on the inside of the knee and patients typically poorly tolerate laxity testing to the MCL. There are varying degrees of a grade 2 sprain including 2- and 2+ depending on amount of damage.
Grade 3 is a complete rupture of the MCL, leading to instability along with extreme pain and swelling, resulting in difficulty with bending the knee. The knee also gives away during a valgus force which is when pressure is applied to the outside of the knee. Surgery is usually indicated as the ligament has been totally torn from the bone.
Based on video of the play and difficulty with placing weight through the leg afterward, this indicates that he may have suffered a partial tear, possibly a Grade 2+. This is supported by the fact that he did not have surgery to repair the MCL itself.
To add insult to injury, Clay also tore his lateral meniscus. The meniscus acts as the shock absorber in the knee and helps with keeping the knee healthy during movement. Unfortunately, part of the lateral meniscus became torn during the hit. This likely occurred due to the direct blow along with the knee bent and planted on the ground, leading to twisting of the knee, resulting in a partial tear. Presentation of a partial tear involves pain, catching, and clicking during knee movement. While research has been proven that a nonsurgical approach can be just as effective as surgery to trim down the meniscus, this is the NFL and there is no wait and see approach. The procedure that Clay had today is called a meniscectomy which involved cutting out the frayed piece of meniscus and shaving down the area to smooth it over to ensure that more pieces do not fray off.
Reports indicate that Clay will be out at least a month, possibly indefinitely. I believe that he will be out closer to 6-8 weeks. The meniscus is something that could keep him out 2-3 weeks; the problem is the MCL. The body will need to heal and restore proper range of motion to the knee while regaining strength. There are therapeutic interventions that can encourage healing, but the body still has to do its job. Professionally, I would say place him on IR with designation to return. This gives him a guaranteed 8 weeks to heal up and return to full form. This would also allow the team to bring in another TE and not use up a valuable roster spot. This would place him on track for the Colts game in December. Considering the Bills have two games against Miami and one against New England after that, it would be an excellent time to come back healthy.
My final thoughts on Clay is that he has had several years of reported knee issues, of which I wrote about during the preseason. From observation during practice, I believe he had most of the issues on the left knee, of which he injured Sunday. However, this injury is independent from his previous issues. He was not at a higher risk for this injury as the result of the previous problems. If anything, this may help take care of the other issues by giving him time to rest.
The Bills are certainly hurting from this one. Clay has been a consistent producer and a favorite target of Tyrod Taylor. Clay should be back later this season, but whether his return will make a difference remains to be seen. I still believe that this season we have more depth than in previous years, but having depth just is not the same as the starters. That was evident in the secondary and linebackers on Sunday. Thankfully, the bye week could have not come at a better time. I still believe the Bills have a shot to stay competitive this season with how the rest of the AFC is playing this season. The Bills still control their destiny, Charles Clay injury will not define the season.
Continue to check back for further updates regarding new injuries and posts designed to educate my fellow Bills fans and keep you from the edge. Thank you and GO BILLS!!