Jamal Adams knew the injury was bad almost as soon as it happened, but he refused to accept it.
He and the Seahawks were barely a quarter into the 2022 season when, while blitzing Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, he felt something pop in his knee. Having already dealt with multiple injuries since joining the Seahawks in 2020, Adams couldn't accept that he was about face another long comeback, so he got up and limped his way off the field.
On the sideline, it didn't take long for reality to set in. Adams had torn his quadriceps tendon, an injury that required another surgery and the longest and most grueling rehabilitation process yet.
"I was in denial. It just happened so quick, so soon," Adams said. "I wasn't prepared for it. Going through my other injuries, the fingers and the shoulders and whatnot, when I did tear it, I had to figure out a way to get off the field. I managed to do it just based off adrenaline, but it was more so denial. I didn't want to get on that cart. I didn't want see everybody stopping and clapping for me as I go off. I didn't want that, I just wanted the game to continue."
Now, nearly 13 months after suffering that injury, Adams is ready to make his 2023 debut when the Seahawks play the Giants on Monday Night Football. As if getting back on the field wasn't a big enough deal already for Adams, he also happens to be returning not just for a prime-time game, but for a game played in what for the first three seasons of his career was his home stadium, MetLife Stadium which is home to both the Giants and Jets.
"Obviously it's a special place for me being back in New York, being back home, so I'm looking forward to the challenge," said Adams, who called the past year, "a rollercoaster.
"Real life happened."
Adams has always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his passion for football, so it's not like he was going through the motions in previous seasons. But this latest injury and everything it took to make it back has made him even more appreciative to be playing the game he loves.
"I'm just grateful to be back out there… It's the opportunity of a lifetime. I don't take it for granted, I don't take days for granted. This injury, it didn't just teach me more about the game of football, it taught me a lot about life—what my purpose is and just how I go about my business."
Adams won't just appreciate the moment he runs out of the tunnel with his teammates on Monday night, or the first play he makes in the game—though those will no doubt be special—he's also appreciative of the little things he missed, from the chance to travel with his teammates to a road game, to the ability to sit in team meetings, something he was physically unable to do early in his recovery because he couldn't sit in a chair with his leg in a cast.
"I haven't hit anybody in a long time, so I'm looking forward to it, man," he said. "I can tell you that I won't take a play for granted, I won't take a moment or a second for granted. Just to be able to fly on a plane with my teammates is going to be big for me. Just to be able to come up here and speak is big for me. Just to be able to sit down in the seats when Pete (Carroll) is up here in team meetings is big for me—I wasn't able to sit down in a seat for 20-plus weeks.
"It's a real humbling experience that I went through. My mindset is a lot sharper, the details of what I went through, nobody could honestly understand unless you've been through it. It's definitely something I don't wish on anybody, but I made it out, and I'm just looking forward to the journey and I'm looking forward to the seasons.
"I'm excited to be back."
And as excited as Adams, his teammates and coaches are for Monday night, it wasn't a foregone conclusion in his mind a year ago that he would get back to this point.
"I was in a straight cast for probably 20-plus weeks," he said. "I couldn't s--- by myself, I couldn't do anything by myself, I couldn't be independent—couldn't get out of bed, couldn't shower by myself, being in a wheelchair. It's a different ballgame. So mentally I'm a lot stronger than I was last season before I hurt myself."
The hardest moment, Adams said, was seeing his family in the locker room during the Denver game when it became clear that he was facing a long road back, one at the time he wasn't sure he was going to be able to travel.
"Going back into the locker room and seeing my family, that was a tough time," he said… "When my family came down, and obviously getting the news. Pete came in there, everybody came in at halftime, I'm bawling. It was tough. It was tough.
"I thought about retiring, I thought about a lot of things. 'Is this going to be it for me? I don't know.' But eventually, after I got that MRI, I told myself I'm going to be back. I didn't know when, or how, but I was going to figure it out. I knew that if I kept my faith, and kept the ones around me that really love and support me, I knew I could make it out."
"We got through it together."
As challenging as Adams' journey was, one saving grace was that he wasn't alone for much of the rehabilitation process. Jordyn Brooks, who like Adams has Dallas roots, tore his ACL late last season, and they spent the offseason in Dallas rehabbing together. Then when both reported to training camp, they would do rehab sessions with the team's athletic trainers together, making the sessions competitive to help alleviate the monotony that can accompany a long injury comeback.
"I've been with him the entire offseason rehabbing, so I've seen his progress," said Brooks. "I kind of feel like I'm a part of it. I'm just as happy as he is to be back, it's everything."
"It's not easy going through that type of thing. Being there for one another, being the same situation made it easier for both of us. I think it really propelled our rehab situations and helped us get through the tough days."
As serious as Brooks' injury was, multiple players come back from ACL injuries every season, and even as he went through his own challenging situation, he marveled at the work Adams put in to work his way back from a less common and even more severe injury.
"It just shows you the grit and the toughness and the perseverance it takes to get through something like that," Brooks said. "To come back from that and stay positive through it all, it says a lot about him."
Adams watched with pride when Brooks was able to return from his injury in time for the season opener, and now he's looking forward to playing on the field with his rehab partner.
"We were just feeding off each other energy-wise," Adams said. "When he was down, I was picking him up, when I was down, he was picking me up. We got through it together. Just to see him back out there, it's a phenomenal thing."
"The sky's the limit."
Adams' return is, of course, a great story on a personal level given all he has been through to make it back. But there is also the football side of his comeback to consider, and for the Seahawks defense, it is a very big deal to be adding back into the mix a player who is a rare talent, a three-time Pro-Bowler and three-time All-Pro who in 2020 set an NFL record for sacks by a defensive back.
"He's a unique player and he's got a unique way about him," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "His aggressiveness and attacks and style. He generates action. Really good in running and hitting, the kinds of basic fundamentals of the game, but he also brings a lot of energy and juice about him too, and confidence. He's just got a lot of energy for it. I'm really excited for him. I'm going to try to keep him as even-keeled so that he can just play like he's capable. I know that he's really fired up about finally getting back to it."
How Adams is used remains to be seen. Carroll made it clear back in March when the Seahawks signed safety Julian Love in free agency that the plan was to use those two, along with Quandre Diggs, together quite a bit. And both Adams and Love have a lot of versatility to play in the box or as deep safeties, giving the Seahawks a lot of different options for how to use all of their safeties. But while we don't yet know what it will look like when Adams is on the field in various personnel groupings, he and everyone else involved have high expectations for what Seattle's defense can be when at full strength.
"I think the sky's the limit," Adams said. "We just continue to get better, continue to switch up looks, feed off one another, the energy is contagious, and just go out there and have fun."
Love, who has been an every-down player through the first three games, is looking forward to Adams' return even if it affects his playing time to some degree.
"It's Jamal Adams, that's the guy," Love said. "My snaps might look a little different, but our defense will look a little more complex. He brings a lot to the table. He's been practicing hard, has been meeting hard. It's going to look a little different going forward and we're trying to take that step. I think we still have areas that we need to climb on defense and him coming back will allow us to do that.
"I'm excited, it's been feeling good in practice so far. That's two leaders I'm next to. Two guys (that) have been doing it at a high level for a long time. I'm just trying to raise my play and do what I have to do to represent them well. It's special. Since the beginning, I've said that this DB room is special and now I'm just trying to play my part in that."
And now, almost 13 months after he left Lumen Field uncertain about his future, Adams will be back on the field with his teammates to complete his comeback in the stadium he called home to start his NFL career.
"It's been hard, man," Adams said. "I love the game like no other. When you lose something that you really, really love, it takes a toll on you. So obviously mentally I had to get over that, I had to adjust. That was just life.
"I've been preparing for so long, these whole 13 months, I've been preparing for this moment, and here we are."
Photos of Jamal Adams during this time with the New York Jets. Adams, an All-Pro and Pro-Bowl safety, was acquired by the Seahawks in a trade on July 25, 2020.