Ryan Mathews is a running back, and a very good one when he isn’t doing his best impersonation of a feather. He is not, however, a doctor. Neither am I, and neither are you (or maybe you are, and if so can you please give a full diagnosis of Mathews in the comments section? Thanks).
But the doctors on his team have put his projected timetable for a return at four-to-six weeks, which means the best case scenario is that he’ll miss one game, and the worst case is he’ll be out three games. Dr. Mathews disagrees. Strongly.
During a radio appearance yesterday the brittle running back who’s missed six games over just his two NFL seasons said there’s “no doubt” he’ll be in the Chargers’ backfield for his team’s Week 1 Monday night opener against the Raiders, making a speedy return from his broken clavicle. His optimism is rooted in his quick progress already, as he’s been freed from his sling only a week after the injury, and he’s doing light workouts.
Mathews’ high hopes are expected, and are natural for any injured athlete who’s participating in any sport. The will to grind is essential during a rehabilitation period, and if you can’t convince yourself that the light at the end of the tunnel is bright, then the pain of rehab becomes far more difficult. However, reality is optimism’s worst enemy.
Neil Ghodadra is a doctor in Chicago, and a former team doctor for the White Sox and Bulls. When asked for his opinion, he said that expecting Mathews back on the field prior to October is unwise.
“It takes six weeks for the bone to heal. Even after you fix it with the clavicle plate and screws, the bone still has to heal, so you are looking at six weeks for that at minimum. Studies have shown 8.8 weeks is how long it takes for NFL players to get back from clavicle fractures.”
That’s longer than four weeks, and longer than six weeks. A return in early October would indeed be eight weeks since Mathews’ injury, and would mean he’d miss four games. Put another way which is far more depressing for both Chargers fans and fantasy owners, he’d miss a quarter of the season.
I have no medical experience whatsoever to support this, but it feels like Ghodadra is being just a touch too conservative. Sure, there’s a possibility Mathews could miss four games, but if he’s already doing light activity, the possibility that his absence could be brief seems to be equally strong.
But here’s the real question. Let’s assume Mathews is healed in time for Week 1, and he’s fine and ready to go. If you’re the Chargers, why the hell would you push him back ahead of the original projected timetable and risk a further aggravation that could put your cowbell RB out for the season? Two years ago Tony Romo suffered a collarbone injury early in the year and didn’t return. Ditto for Jason Campbell last year.
It’s a classic risk/reward scenario. The reward would be possibly winning a game that could be won without Mathews anyway by putting a heavier workload on Philip Rivers for one week while your running back who was injured on his FIRST CARRY of the preseason gets a bit more time to heal. The risk? Losing Mathews for the year.
Easiest. Decision. Ever.
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