TAMPA, Fla. -- First there was a collision and then a shrill, almost primal wail as Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, one year ago today in training camp, fell to the ground, clutching his knee and writhing in pain. "F---!" he screamed, as trainers rushed over to attend to him before loading him onto a cart.
Jensen tore his ACL, MCL, PCL, meniscus, and fractured his tibial head and cartilage, and miraculously, he not only avoided surgery but made it back six months later for the Bucs' wild-card game against the Dallas Cowboys -- eight months ahead of schedule. It's a game he now believes he "probably shouldn't have played in" but said it "meant the world to him" to be in.
"It was a crazy road," Jensen said Friday. "Looking back, probably shouldn't have played, but at the same time it was one of the ones I wanted to go out there and help the team and be out there with my guys. And it was an honor to be able to be back out on the field, and obviously with Tom [Brady's] last game, it was an honor to play with him and suit up one more time."
The Bucs lost that game 31-14 and Brady would announce his retirement just days later, but Jensen, who did not disclose the extent of his injury until he got to the locker room afterward, was praised for his heroics, helping lead an offensive line that had struggled throughout the season.
"It was a mental battle. There were days where I just broke down and frankly just sobbed," said Jensen, 32. "It was tough. It was a tough year. But now, I think it's grown me as a person, as a man, to be a better dad, a better husband."
Jensen sought opinions from five different doctors and upon the guidance of Dr. Donald Shelbourne, an orthopedic surgeon in Indianapolis, opted not to undergo surgery as there was concern for scarring and loss of range of motion. So instead the focus was on healing, regaining range of motion and then physical therapy. He missed the entire regular season.
Jensen said he didn't suffer any additional damage to the knee by playing in that game -- it just wasn't 100%, as the original projected return for him was September 2023 and not January 2023. He is still recovering, beginning camp as an active participant, but he does not participate in all practice periods, as well as having days off.
"I'm feeling good. Ligaments are healthy and healed and I'm just ready to keep rolling," said Jensen, who has no regrets about not undergoing surgery. "It's somewhat no different than when you get a surgery done on it. All those ligaments scar in and thicken up and get strength again. Obviously there's a lot of strength aspect within the quad and calf, stuff like that, to help with the stability in the knee. That's been a huge focus this offseason, coming into the season, finding the right plan to maintain that strength and stability in the knee."
Jensen said it's given him a greater appreciation for his health and being able to play the game he loves. He said running out of the tunnel in January gave him a renewed sense of passion for the sport.
"The biggest thing for me is just going to work -- going to work every day and attacking something that you're passionate about," Jensen said.