Chidobe Awuzie didn’t know his knee injury was anything serious until the medical staff evaluating him on the sidelines Monday night indicated he likely tore his ACL.
The Cincinnati Bengals cornerback had suffered a non-contact injury and felt his knee buckle as he turned back to see if Amari Cooper had made a catch late in the second quarter of a 32-13 loss at Cleveland. He quickly hobbled off the field but thought he had gotten through all the tests pretty well in the blue medical tent. Awuzie said he was mentally preparing to go back into the game.
That’s when he was given the bad news, and it was later affirmed by an MRI. Awuzie suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and now expects to undergo season-ending surgery in about two weeks once the swelling subsides. Cincinnati plays host to Carolina on Sunday.
“With the adrenaline going, you can’t really tell what’s what at times,” Awuzie said Thursday in his first interview since the injury. “Your emotions, your energy is so high and then when they told me it’s a torn ACL and whatever else, I got really emotional.”
Awuzie said he started crying as the emotions of facing his first serious injury got to him. He didn’t even remember all the teammates coming over to console him, one by one entering the tent to wish him well as news spread, but was appreciative. Many of them offered prayers and encouraging words.
Quarterback Joe Burrow texted the next day after the injury was confirmed and the two spoke about Burrow’s 2020 surgery and ensuing rehab. Former Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi reached out Thursday, offering some advice after going through foot surgery earlier this year.
Cooper, a good friend of Awuzie’s from their days as locker mates with the Cowboys, came over to him after the game and offered some encouragement from the Bible as a reminder to lean on his faith.
“I’ve never really been injured before,” Awuzie said. “I’ve been hurt before, but I’ve never been injured. So it’s all new to me.”
Awuzie went through a lacerated kidney as a sophomore at the University of Colorado in 2014 but said he recovered with bed rest and was back in a few weeks.
This injury was especially disappointing amid another strong season individually. Awuzie, the team’s No. 1 cornerback, was targeted 43 times this season, his second with the Bengals, and only allowed 18 catches (42 percent) for 219 yards and no touchdowns. He had six pass breakups, and quarterbacks had just a 58 passer rating when targeting Awuzie.
“When I came here as a Bengal, I was able to do some things that I could look back on the season like, ‘OK, that was a decent, pretty good season,’” Awuzie said. “My whole goal was to try to do that again and try to take it to a new level. This year, I just felt like I was really solid. Even before that game, I was talking to myself, saying that was the best I’ve felt before a game. ... Obviously can’t predict these things in football. All I can do is look forward, give it to God and try to come out better. Just like how I’ve responded to most things in my life.”
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said that positivity makes Awuzie, “a true great human being,” unique. Though Awuzie had no need to watch film after his season ended, he was back in the meeting room Tuesday with his teammates and offering input.
Asked why he is able to keep such a positive mindset, Awuzie said he has no choice.
“All I can do is look forward,” Awuzie said. “Even like when it happened, and like I said, I was being emotional and I know I have to get that out regardless, but then after that, it was like, alright, what can I do now? Accept, look forward, get better, try and maximize each day, make sure I’m doing what the doctors are telling me. I have great people in my corner. Football has blessed me in a lot of ways. So all I can do is look forward. It’s out of my control now. So what I can control is my emotions, my attitude and how I respond, so I plan to respond very well.”
Although he likely will be home in California for the surgery and early part of his rehab, Awuzie plans to stay involved from afar with the Bengals, who are still trying to figure out how to replace him. Eli Apple, who missed Monday’s game with a hamstring injury, was limited in practice Wednesday, and Tre Flowers, who suffered a hamstring injury as Awuzie’s replacement, was on the rehab field Thursday.
Rookies Cam Taylor-Britt and Dax Hill are expected to take on bigger roles, and Awuzie praised both as ready.
“It’s beautiful,” Awuzie said. “We all, and they all knew, too, that they’re going to have the opportunity to play and we’re going to need them like we do right now. When I was a rookie, it was injuries that brought me into the game very early. I was supposed to be the dime cornerback and in on some third downs. All of a sudden, I was playing at corner. So, I know exactly where they are. They’re blessed with great veterans on this team. I know they’re going to do their thing.”
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