After a great first NFL season start against the (now-debunked) Cardinals team, Jimmy Garoppolo went down early in week 2’s action against the Dolphins with what was reported to be a grade 2 AC joint separation of his throwing shoulder. Jimmy was unable to play in a short week 3 but many (including me) thought that he would be ready to go this week — 14 days after his injury. Things were looking good. The quarterback was made available to the press in the locker room on Wednesday. During the portion of practice open to the media on Wednesday, Garoppolo was seen throwing short to mid-range passes with seemingly normal range of motion, albeit less power. Everything looked good for a start on Sunday against Buffalo, until gameday. On Sunday sources reported that Garoppolo still did not have enough power in his arm and would not be available to play, making Jacoby Brissett the only dressed quarterback for a second week.
Media and fans went nuts. They could just barely understand that Garoppolo was not ready to compete 4 days after an AC injury, but surely 14 days was enough. Certainly a quarterback who was throwing 30 yards in pads on a Wednesday, could at the very least dress for a game on Sunday…right? These are all fair questions. The average range of return to sports for a patient with an AC joint injury is 0-12 weeks – a pretty large variation. In New England, we’re accustomed to our quarterback returning from similar injuries at closer to the zero week mark. So, how do we decide if we’re being reasonable or ridiculous in our expectations?
Luckily, we have some data on AC joint injuries in actual NFL players and, specifically, in NFL quarterbacks. In 2013 Dr. T. Sean Lynch, an orthopedic surgeon who now practices at Columbia, looked at all AC joint injuries reported in the NFL Injury Surveillance System (NFLISS) over a 12-season period from 2000 until 2011. They found that AC injuries were relatively common in NFL quarterbacks and that most were grade 1-2 injuries. While return to play in all NFL players with AC joint injuries was 9.8 days/injury (players were generally out for an average of 10 days), the return to play was much longer in quarterbacks. For NFL quarterbacks with grade 1-2 AC injuries the return to play, on average, was 17.3 days. Just to repeat that, NFL quarterbacks with AC joint injuries return to play, on average, at 17 days. That number includes quarterbacks with injuries in non-throwing arms and quarterbacks with very mild injury. Jimmy’s injury was thought to be a moderate injury from the start and it occurred 14 days before we expected him to start against the Bills.
According to reports from Patriots staff as well as sources close to Jimmy, he did everything he could to be well enough to play on Sunday. He threw a ball pretty well on Wednesday, but what we don’t know is how much pain he was in on Thursday. It is possible that he went from cleared by the medical staff on Wednesday to “un”cleared by the medical staff on Thursday. Setbacks happen. Jimmy was deemed not ready to play against Buffalo at 14 days – still 3 days before the average return to play for all NFL quarterbacks with similar injuries.
We will likely never know who made the decision not to play Jimmy Garropolo in week 4. To be fair, they can’t give an injury report every 5 minutes. Was he refusing to get a numbing injection? (a corticosteriod injection has no role here) Was he less than enthusiastic to push through the pain? Does Bill think Jimmy is soft? OR Did the Patriots not like what they saw when he threw? Were they more concerned about having a healthy, strong back-up quarterback for the remainder of the season and therefore less excited to play him at less than 100%?
Only time will tell us how Jimmy’s street value will be affected by missing a second NFL start. Certainly grit and durability are sought-after attributes in a starting quarterback. This is Jimmy’s first major injury. I looked briefly at his college stats and he didn’t miss many games once he garnered the starting role. Lack of physical grit is not something that you’ll read about Jimmy in his NFL draft scouting reports. Maybe, just maybe, this young quarterback has a significant injury and is recovering in the (gasp) expected amount of time.
(All of that being said, I really wish he had played. That game was pure awful.)