A few nights, Chris Hogan had trouble sleeping. He tossed. He turned. He was sick, so he rationalized a swig of Nyquil to grab some Z’s.
But for 3 or 4 weeks, the Buffalo Bills wide receiver played with a torn wrist – several ligaments in his right wrist were “all torn up,” he said. This team was banged up even more than most realized down the stretch, Hogan included. He’s not sure exactly when he injured the wrist, but the pain truly worsened through a 35-25 loss at Washington.
And all of last week, Hogan said, he could “barely catch a football.”
On Monday, he sported a black brace over the wrist and said he was planning on having surgery this week.
Hogan finished the 2015 season with 36 receptions for 450 yards with two touchdowns and will now be a restricted free agent. There were highs (like his game-winning catches at Tennessee), lows (like two deep drops in Week 15 and 16) and much adjusting to this run-first play calling, Sammy Watkins-centric passing attack. The toughness Hogan showed down the stretch could go a long way.
The team was aware of the injury, but outsiders had no clue. Publicly, all coach Rex Ryan said was that Hogan “had a wrist (injury) but we expect him to be fine.”
Hogan can’t pinpoint the play, saying he likely tore the ligaments while engaging defenders in the run game. From there, it got worse.
“This is for a lot of guys,” Hogan said, “but people don’t know how much pain people are in when they’re out there. But I’ll still go out there every single week, the best we can. It got to a point yesterday … they did do a good job with it during the week, so that I could at least lift my arms up and try to catch it.”
How bad was the pain? “It was pretty bad this week.”
Like 10 out of 10 bad? “It was pretty solid – to the point where I was struggling sleeping. When I got to the game, I could actually move it around but when the ball was hitting, that’s when it was shocking pain.”
The pain would shoot down his arm. And, yes, sleeping was a battle.
Joked Hogan, “A couple swigs of Nyquil. Try to knock me out.”
Of course, the lasting image of Hogan for most fans on the field was not pretty.
At Washington, he got separation deep, was forced to slow down on the throw but then dropped a potential 55-yarder. The next week, on fourth-and-3, a potential 35-yard touchdown went through his arms up the left sideline. Bad timing for someone in a contract year. He called these two plays that he makes “regularly.”
“Those are passes that I’ll catch 10 out of 10 if you throw to me again,” Hogan said. “It happens. Those are a couple plays I want back. Do I think that defined my season? No, I don’t think so. I think that I did pretty well with the opportunities I was given. I think I put a lot of good stuff on film this year. So we’ll see what happens. Whatever happens, it’s out of my control now. I’d love to be back here. I think this team is pretty special and there’s a lot of good guys in this locker room.”
Hogan did say the Bills have indicated to him that they want him back, though admitted they might not be able to financially. Restricted free agent tenders can be offered in March.
If the Bills do offer Hogan a tender – whatever the level – he then will have a decision to make himself. As Robert Woods said, receivers (not named Watkins) were often used as blockers in this offense.
As Watkins emerged, Hogan’s targets naturally dipped. He had five or less targets in his final six games.
“It’s different,” Hogan said. “There’s stuff you have to adjust to. But I like our room a lot. Our receiver coach is really good and he’s definitely a reason I want to come back because he helps me. I’ve learned a lot from him. If what we have to do is do a lot of run blocking and make the plays when they come to us, if that’s what is going to get us to the playoffs, then I’m all for it.”
Embrace blocking? Even if he busts up his wrist?
Last year, Hogan also had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left wrist.
“Yeah, I guess I’ll have to start taping my wrists differently for run blocking,” Hogan said with a laugh. “But it was a learning curve this year. I wasn’t used to it. We have a good guy on the outside who obviously showed that the last couple of games. We’re going to try to get him the rock and if he keeps doing what he did the last couple games for his career, it’s only going to open up things for other people.”
To him, that’s the next step for the Bills passing game: Taylor reading the entire field and spreading the ball around.
“I think that’s what we’ll build to,” Hogan said. “I don’t think the ball’s going to go to Sammy every single time. But I think we’ll get to that point where we’re able to spread the ball around. Then, I think once we’re able to do that, teams will really struggle to defend and prepare for us.”
Hogan’s father-in-law is an orthopedist who works with a hand surgeon. So the receiver planned on seeing him for surgery again.
And the guy known as “7-11” expects to be back catching the ball without pain, be it in Buffalo or somewhere else.
“It seems like every single year,” Hogan said, “it’s been a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, whatever it is. New offense. I’m used to it. I know how to approach all those situations. Nothing new to me.”