A major storyline to monitor in the lead-up to the Kansas City Chiefs’ AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens is the status of All-Pro left guard Joe Thuney, who injured a pectoral muscle during Sunday’s 27-24 Divisional Round victory over the Buffalo Bills.
As reliable as any player on the Chiefs’ roster — Thuney led the team with 97% of the team’s offensive snaps this season — he was forced from the game after 37 of Sunday’s snaps.
On Monday, Thuney and the team received encouraging news about his injury, when an MRI revealed it was a strain of the muscle, rather than a tear — which would have ended his season. While this makes it possible for Thuney to be available for Sunday’s game, it is not a guarantee.
What is a pectoral strain?
The pectoral muscle group is composed of two muscles, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. Both muscles act as strong stabilizers for the shoulder joint and scapula. This group also acts as an adductor (for bringing the arm across the body) and aiding with shoulder internal rotation (turning an arm inward or reaching behind) and flexion (raising an arm above the head).
It is more likely that the pectoralis major is strained, as it is the larger muscle that is more active in shoulder movement; the pectoralis minor is more of a stabilizer for the scapula. The pectoralis major is a large fan-shaped muscle on the anterior chest wall. The muscle is typically strained when it is put under a quick and forceful contraction — more than it can sustain — while it is in a stretched position.
As I’ve written in the past, a muscle strain does involve tearing of muscle fibers to some degree. Grading the injury as a strain, partial tear or full tear comes down to the severity of the soft tissue damage observed in and MRI scan.
With a pectoral muscle strain, Thuney is dealing with pain at the anterior chest wall and shoulder, localized swelling and bruising and decreased strength — specifically with creating force by pushing with his arm.
Immediate treatment regimens will seek to control swelling and provide active movement and stretching of the shoulder and chest to reduce spasticity and tension of the affected arm.
We should expect the Chiefs to take a very conservative approach in managing Thuney’s injury. Given that it was painful enough for this to leave last Sunday’s game, it would be surprising to see him practice much — if at all — this week. Even with the injury being classified as a strain, such injuries for large muscles (such as the pectoral group) do take longer to heal. The physical demands of his position in the trenches also mean Thuney faces an uphill challenge.
Impact on the AFC Championship
Thuney is a versatile player who knows every position along the offensive line — and a veteran who provides valuable leadership and experience in the postseason. He also played for the New England Patriots from 2016-2020, so he has started in a total of 18 postseason games and holds three Super Bowl rings.
There’s no doubt that losing Thuney for this week’s game will be a significant blow to the offense. In Buffalo, he was a major factor in slowing down the Bills’ pass rush, allowing quarterback Patrick Mahomes to enjoy one of his most efficient days as a passer.
Ed Oliver & DaQuan Jones were held to 0 pressures on 38 combined pass rushes, Oliver's first game without a pressure since Week 13, 2021.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 22, 2024
Jones was double teamed on 12 of 17 pass rushes (70.6%), while Oliver had 10 one-on-one matchups vs Joe Thuney.#KCvsBUF | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/ZECLd8KyHf
So the Chiefs’ medical staff will be working diligently, hoping they can get Thuney into a position where he can suit up on Sunday. While that will be a challenge, Thuney has missed only two starts in his eight-year career; there’s no doubt about his toughness or commitment.
If he is not healthy enough to play, backup guard Nick Allegretti will be a strong veteran replacement — and if the Chiefs advance to Super Bowl LVIII, Thuney would have two additional weeks to recover.