The Buffalo Bills, and their fans, are all too familiar with the term “season-ending injury” right now. They are also all too familiar with ACL tears, the long recovery, and all the uncertainty that surrounds the ability of a player to return to elite status.
On Thanksgiving Day 2022, as the Bills beat the Detroit Lions in their second of three road games in a 12-day stretch, Von Miller — the Bills’ newest defensive star — was carted to the locker room with what would (much) later be deemed an ACL tear. The injury occurred on the one-year anniversary of the game in which Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his ACL while the Bills beat the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving Day 2021. It also occurred as White made his return to the field after exactly 52 weeks of not being on an active game-day roster.
After Bills fans had waited anxiously, and not very patiently, for an entire year for “Tre’ Day” to arrive, it’s understandable that there was a collective groan and gnashing of teeth when Bills head coach Sean McDermott broke the news that they would need to enter a new watch, this time for “Miller Time,” at the beginning of the 2023 season.
“Very unfortunate situation for Von, obviously, and our team,” McDermott said as, almost two weeks after the incident, he delivered the news that Miller had torn his ACL and had to have it surgically repaired. “We know how much this means to him in terms of playing.”
The news, however, came as a shock to fans, as Miller had originally predicted he would be back within two games. Here’s a look at what little we know about Miller’s current injury.
November 24, 2022 (Thanksgiving Day)
During the second quarter of a game in which the Bills would beat the Lions, 28-25, Miller had to leave the game and seek medical attention. Initially, it appeared as if the pass rusher got his feet tangled along the line of scrimmage, but additional angles showed that Miller’s knee had collapsed. After several minutes on the field, Miller was able to walk gingerly to the sideline and make his way to the medical tent. Not long after, he was carted to the locker room and quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Initial reports during game time indicated that Miller may have suffered a knee sprain, but that he would undergo an MRI the following day.
November 25, 2022
After an MRI, Miller and the Bills received what appeared to be good news. It was reported then that Miller’s ACL had escaped damage, and that instead of a “worst case scenario,” Miller was diagnosed with damage to the lateral meniscus in his right knee.
McDermott immediately ruled the pass rusher out for Buffalo’s Week 13 divisional matchup with the New England Patriots, saying that Miller would take 7-10 days to rest and let the swelling reside before determining how much rehab he was going to need.
November 30, 2022
Six days into the 7-10 day rest period McDermott had prescribed, Miller took to his Voncast show on Twitch to tell Bills Mafia that he was okay, and hoped to be back “before the Jets game” scheduled for December 11. Miller’s upbeat mood and “I’ll be fine, see you in a few” attitude lifted spirits across western New York, as they anticipated the return of the man who vowed to help them “burn it all.” Miller would be back in 10 more days — that’s when the Bills would play the second of three straight AFC East divisional games.
December 1, 2022
Bills general manager Brandon Beane announced that the team was placing Miller on Injured Reserve, and that he would miss the next four games — including the one scheduled to kick off just a few hours later, kicking off a three-game divisional stretch against the Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
What happened between Miller’s “be back in a jiffy” Wednesday evening and Beane’s “uh, no, rest for a month” on Thursday morning? Apparently, nothing. Miller’s knee wasn’t healing, and while the team’s season sack leader wanted to brace it up and go on, Beane wanted to protect the investment made when he signed the 33-year-old Miller to a six-year, $120 million contract during the offseason.
December 5, 2022
Miller flew to Dallas to have a further review of his injury.
“We decided last week that he did need a scope. He kind of let it all calm down, and multiple opinions. We sent him to Dallas on Monday,” Beane said about the decision to get another opinion on the status of Miller’s injury. “He had some concern about the looseness of his knee.”
It was later revealed that the plan was to have a scope procedure done to clean up Miller’s knee and reposition the lateral meniscus. A simple exploratory surgery, by all accounts. Beane said that had that been all that was needed, Miller should have been able to return to play after his stint on IR, re-joining the active roster just in time for the final couple of regular-season games before the Bills made what they hope will be a deep playoff run.
December 7, 2022
The day that Bills Mafia may have started a petition to have all Thanksgiving Day games banned from the team’s future schedules.
McDermott opened his regular Wednesday afternoon meeting with the media by announcing that Miller had, in fact, torn his ACL, and would miss the remainder of the 2023 season (and playoffs).
A few hours later, Beane tried to clarify how they had gone from “see you in a week” to “see you in a month” to “see you next year” in just seven days.
“I knew Monday night that this was a real potential, crossing our fingers,” Beane said. “(Doctors) decided that (the knee) would not be stable enough, it would not hold up, and that a full repair was needed.”
So, they repaired Miller’s ACL, with Beane stating that the team is hopeful for a quick recovery.
“If everything goes well during the rehab process, we think we’ll have Von Miller back for most of 2023,” the general manager said, adding that Miller had already set his focus on his rehab. “He’s going to come back, this guy’s not hanging it up.”
Miller himself took to social to tell Bills Mafia that he didn’t want their condolences, stating that he was fine — mentally and physically — and reminding them, as he has all season, not to blink.
But Bills fans have been here before. In fact, they got off this ride just hours before Miller’s injury dragged them kicking and screaming back on for a second round. Not blinking isn’t easy for a fan base that can’t decide whether to cry, scream, hold their breath, or just turn off their Twitter alerts at this point.
But Miller isn’t White, and every injury is different — even if it has the same name. And, while Miller is significantly older, in football terms, than the 27-year-old cornerback, that age might be an asset rather than a hinderance. Doesn’t make sense? I know… he’s older, slower, nearing the end of his career and all that, but hear me out.
This isn’t Miller’s first ACL injury. It was White’s. Miller has had two serious injuries causing him to miss significant time over his career. White had no experience — none, zero, zip — dealing with a major setback.
December 22, 2013
Miller tore his ACL in his right knee (yes, the same one that he just had a repair done on) while playing for the Denver Broncos. The injury caused him to miss a Super Bowl, and while the Broncos ultimately lost in embarrassing style, 43-8, to the Seattle Seahawks, Miller would have undoubtedly liked the chance to suit up.
January 9, 2014
Miller had his ACL surgically repaired, and it was predicted that he would miss 6-9 months as he recovered. While the average time to return from an ACL repair is 10 months, the fact that Miller’s ACL tear was considered isolated with no other damage, made for a predictably better recovery time.
Miller was participating in drills with the Broncos as the team met for OTAs. He reported to training camp in the summer, where he played sparingly.
Miller started the season on the field with his teammates. In fact, Miller would go on to win the Defensive Player of the Month in October, and put up 59 tackles, 14 sacks, and one forced fumble over the course of the season, starting every game.
Can he do it again? Can Miller return to play in nine months?
It took White a full year. But Miller knows what it takes to get himself back from this exact injury. Miller, like White, had meniscus damage this time, but unlike White, he won’t be trying to make the same cuts while pedaling backwards at breakneck speeds. Miller is a pass rusher, running forward and bulldozing people.
White admitted to having some emotional setbacks in the early days of his recovery, as he had never had to deal with the thought of not being able to play his sport. Miller has already been there, done that, and knows that life — and the sport — carries on. Experience might help out here.
September 8, 2020
Miller injured a tendon in his ankle during a Broncos practice. The injury was severe enough that he had to have it surgically repaired, and was forced to miss the entire 2020 season. He never played a single snap. If something was going to challenge the mental state of a professional athlete, cause them to question themselves, to struggle with the emotional side of things, surely it would be getting hurt in practice.
But Miller didn’t blink.
He returned to play in 2021, suiting up for the Broncos in seven games before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams midway through the season. He wasn’t lacking in production before or after the trade. Miller recorded 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks before being traded. After donning the Rams’ blue and yellow, Miller recorded another 31 tackles, five sacks, and a forced fumble. And he won his second Super Bowl ring.
After missing a full year as he recovered from an injury suffered in practice, Miller was a Super Bowl champion. I would think it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about what it takes to stay focused, ride the rehab emotional roller coaster, and get back in the game. Again, experience might put Miller ahead here, too.
Will “Miller Time” come in September? October? Will we be waiting a full year, like we did for “Tre’ Day,” to get back off the rollercoaster? While those questions will have to wait a while longer, given his experience, understanding of the injury and its recovery, plus knowing what it will feel like when it’s healed, knowing how it feels to come back and win, I would bet on sooner.
Miller’s advice for not backing down to a challenge, for not worrying when things aren’t going as expected, for staying focused, may have a two-fold meaning. Time passes quickly, and if you blink you might miss something. Like the rehab, recovery, and return of Von Miller. So don’t blink.