The Minnesota Vikings have lost receiver Jake Reed for at least a month and possibly the season after back surgery Tuesday to repair a herniated disk.
Dr. Gaylan Rockswold removed several disk fragments that collectively measured about the size of a pinky and had been putting pressure on a disk in Reed's lower back.
The condition caused sudden and significant weakness in Reed's left calf during Sunday's victory over Green Bay. It was evident in the slip that led to a third-quarter Packers interception, and Reed sat out the entire fourth quarter.
The soonest Reed is likely to return is the first playoff game, which probably will be the second weekend in January for the Vikings (10-1), who have the NFC's best record.
Rockswold and team physician David Fischer said they were "cautiously optimistic" Reed might return at some point, but they also cautioned he might not play again until next season.
"The (calf) weakness has to come back," Fischer said. "If it comes back quickly, he'll be ready. If it doesn't, he won't be."
The injury breaks up one of the NFL's most feared receiving units. Reed and Cris Carter entered this season as the only tandem in league history to go over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, and the addition of dynamic rookie Randy Moss gave Minnesota a passing game that has been virtually unstoppable.
| The Vikings will have to get by without Jake Reed for a while. (AP) |
"That's one weapon that we won't be able to use," said running back Leroy Hoard. "They talk about Randy and Cris, but Jake makes as many big catches."
Moss will move from his role as the third receiver into a starting spot with Carter in Minnesota's base offense. Special teams star Chris Walsh and promising second-year receiver Matthew Hatchette, who has been inactive all season because of the Vikings' depth at the position, will share most of the work in three-receiver sets.
Coach Dennis Green sounded optimistic Reed would be back this season. Reed originally wanted to avoid surgery, but Rockswold said that could have led to further deterioration and possibly permanent damage.
"I think that's one of the reasons why they feel they had to do it now," Green said. "He was continuing to lose strength in it, so it was something that had to take place."
The injury is eerily familiar for the Vikings, both in its timing and its nature.
Quarterback Brad Johnson was lost for the season in early December last year when a herniated disk in his neck surfaced during the home game against Green Bay. Rockswold, who also did Johnson's surgery, said the injuries were similar.
Johnson's injury caused a major loss of strength in his throwing hand. He didn't recover enough to adequately direct Minnesota's offense until the middle of the preseason, a rehabilitation period of about eight months.
Reed's recovery should be much quicker because the effected muscles are larger and should heal more easily, the doctors said. Reed should be ready to began rehab next week.
"The nerve root should recover and we'd be very hopeful that the strength in his foot should come back," Rockswold said. "It's difficult to put a timetable (on Reed's recovery). We'll know better in a couple weeks, seeing how he responds to the surgery and how his strength comes along."
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