Late in Cincinnati's Week 4 loss at Pittsburgh, the sternoclavicular joint in Ross' chest came about an inch away from puncturing an artery, the wide receiver said on Wednesday, one day after being returned to the 53-man roster. After spending the past eight weeks on the team's injured reserve list, Ross said he's thankful to be back on the field.
"I asked him 'could it be life-threatening?' And he said 'definitely,'" Ross said. "He said it was a couple inches off or something like that from hitting the artery. I didn't want to know any more after that. I said 'as long as you fix me, I'm fine.'"
The third-year receiver was cleared to practice on Nov. 13 and took extended reps with the scout team while awaiting his return to the roster. Once a player goes on IR, he has to miss a minimum of eight games before he's eligible to return.
Ross is no stranger to injuries. The Bengals' first-round pick in 2017 missed 13 games as a rookie and three more games in 2018. However, all of his previous ailments have been soft-tissue injuries, which caused Ross to scale back his workload to avoid overuse.
The joint injury he suffered this season was much more serious. He consulted Cincinnati cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who dealt with the same issue last season. Dennard told him the inability to stand upright without feeling pain was normal at first. Ross had to wait for the bone to heal on its own.
However, the situation was frustrating given his injury history and his strong start to the season. Ross tallied 328 receiving yards in four games. He had only 210 receiving yards in his first two years in the NFL.
With the extended absence from working with the first-team offense, Ross said his ability to make immediate contributions has yet to be determined.
"It's hard to put things in perspective, because it's been so much time," Ross said. "I definitely feel I can contribute, and I definitely will put my best foot forward to go out there and do everything I can to help us win."
The wide receiver's speed will give Cincinnati a deep threat in the passing game, an aspect that has been lacking this season. Running back Joe Mixon said Ross' return should also alleviate the amount of defenders near the line of scrimmage.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he's excited to have Ross back for the final four games of the season.
"He's roaring and ready to get back at it," Taylor said.