On just the fourth play of the game, Buffalo Bills DT DaQuan Jones attempted to tackle Jacksonville Jaguars RB Tank Bigsbee. Jones fell off the tackle as Von Miller and Ed Oliver took him down. Jones began to grab at his right chest area before walking off.
Moments after walking off and getting evaluated by training staff, Jones was listed as doubtful to return. Despite all the other injuries Sunday, Jones did not return with head coach Sean McDermott stating that “it’s not looking good.”
On Monday, it was revealed that Jones suffered a right pectoral tear that would require surgery and is out indefinitely.
To understand what happened and what a reasonable timeline would be, continue reading below.
The pectoral muscle connects from the sternum and stretches over the rib cage laterally to attach to the humerus. This is a powerful muscle required for inward rotation, flexion, and adduction—all actions required for pushing. These actions are vital for blocking, tackling, and reaching—all important motions required for football.
Mechanism of Injury
The mechanism of the injury, forceful eccentric contraction, led to the partial tearing of the muscle belly. Muscles normally lengthen under tension, which is an eccentric contraction, but a sudden overload to the area causes injury.
On the play, Jones went to his left and attempted to catch Bigsbee with his right arm. As he wrapped his right arm around the speedy back, Bigsbee shook him off and continued forward.
With Jones attempting to grab Bigsbee contracting his pectoral muscle, Bigsbee running forward and Jones’s body weight pulling him backward, this caused the right pectoral muscle to tear.
Every muscle strain is different but there are some general guidelines. Grade I is when several muscle fibers tear and can take 1-3 weeks to recover. Grade II is where 50% of the muscle fibers tear and loss of function is noticed, these can take 4-6 weeks. Grade III is where there is severe tearing or complete loss of function in the area.
There are a variety of tears that can occur but it’s likely that he suffered a Type 1 or Type 2. Type 1 is when the tendon insertion pulls away from the lateral lip of the bicipital groove of the humerus. There is usually a visible deformity in the chest with significant bruising noted. This is likely what Jones suffered on Sunday.
Unfortunately, this is a common injury to see in football with most players being linebackers and as a whole, defensive players suffering this injury. Below is a list of recent players who have suffered this injury and timelines for return. It’s worth highlighting that these are comprised of both partial and full tears.
- Buffalo Bills LB Matt Milano suffered a left pectoral tear in 2020 in Week 4, initially missing two games before returning to play poorly in the next two contests. He then went to injured reserve for three games but had the benefit of four weeks due to the bye. He did not require surgery. The total time for the injury to heal took eight weeks including a bye.
- Former G Jon Feliciano tore his right pectoral muscle bench pressing shortly after training camp broke in 2020. He underwent surgery and missed all of training camp before returning in Week 8, missing seven games, and taking three months to return.
- Former DE Mike Love suffered a left pectoral tear in the final preseason game in 2019 and underwent surgery, missing the entire season.
- Steelers DE TJ Watt partially tore his left pectoral muscle last year in the season opener trying to tackle Joe Burrow. He did not require surgery and missed seven games
- Former Texans DE JJ Watt tore his left pectoral muscle and returned in 10 weeks during the 2019 season, just in time for the Bills to face them in the playoffs.
- Philadelphia Eagles DT Javon Hargrave suffered a pectoral injury in training camp this year on August 17th. He returned to play in Week 2, missing roughly four weeks.
- Las Vegas Raiders LB Nick Kwiatkoski suffered a pectoral injury in Week 1 and returned to play in Week 4 against the Bills with a shoulder harness on, missing two weeks. He also suffered a pectoral injury in 2017 with the Chicago Bears, missing five games.
- New England Patriots LB Donta Hightower suffered a pectoral tear back in 2017 and missed the remainder of the season, missing nine games.
- Minnesota Vikings DE Danielle Hunter suffered a season-ending pectoral tear in 2021 in Week 8 and missed 10 games total, undergoing surgery.
- Dolphins OT Terron Armstead suffered a pectoral strain in 2022 as he worked through a variety of injuries last year. It appeared to be a rather minor pectoral strain as he only missed one game.
As you see, there is a wide variety of outcomes to return this season for a pectoral tear.
Return to Play & Performance
Looking at the research, nearly 80 percent of players who suffer a pectoral tear are defensive players and 85.7 percent of players return to play. When they do return, there is no drop-off in performance metrics.
Focusing on a return to play, those who underwent surgery missed on average 146.7 +/- 55 days whereas those who took the conservative non-surgical route took 77.2 +/- 72.9 days. So either 5 months for surgery or 2.5 months for non-surgical. Furthermore, just under 50 percent (48.8 percent) required surgery.
There is a chance he could return late in the season as several examples listed a shorter return. If he pushed to return, he could be looking at a return roughly Week 17 which is exactly 12 weeks with that timeline being optimistic. Setbacks could rule him out for the season, but we’re looking at possibilities here.
I’m not implying that he will return then, but that’s the three-month mark. He’s looking at Week 18 or even Wild Card Weekend as well. I know JJ Watt returned in 10 weeks which would put Jones at Week 15, but everything has to go perfectly and there must be a significant need for him sooner.
Even when Jones does return, he will still have to wear a harness and will not fully have the strength necessary to perform at his best initially. The three months to return is very aggressive and surgical repairs take anywhere from 4-6 months but it has been shown it’s been done multiple times.
This is a highly unfortunate injury that happened to one of the best players on the defensive line. It was a routine play that Jones had completed hundreds of times and this time it led to an injury. He did have a distal biceps tear in 2017, but that was nearly six years ago and it’s not clear which side he suffered that injury on nor do I believe it contributed to this injury.
Watching Jones’s rehab off to the side will be key as the Bills advance in the season. If the Bills are in a position to bring him back, I do expect them to make a strong push for this, but he will still need to get back into game shape and will not initially be the same player up front as his body continues to heal. There are no long-term career concerns, but a less than 100 percent DaQuan Jones will still be better than other options the team may have to put out there.
Best of luck to DaQuan Jones in his recovery and a potentially quick return to the field.
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