RENTON — After the initial celebration of Will Dissly’s 14-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter of Sunday’s win at Pittsburgh came a sigh of relief.
The touchdown, which Dissly matched with another in the third quarter, was his first since suffering a patellar tendon injury last Sept. 30 at Arizona, an injury he says created a few brief moments of doubt whether he’d ever suit up for an NFL game again.
“It was kind of just a deep breath,’’ Dissly said Thursday of his reaction after scoring. “There are a lot questions when you go down, obviously. You don’t really know if you are going to lose a step, if you are even going to play again, kind of those questions. So it was kind of a deep breath. It was a long journey for me.’’
That journey took a little bit of a detour in Week 1 against the Bengals when Dissly banged knees with center Justin Britt and had to come out, playing just 26 snaps.
Dissly admits his previous injury had the team playing it cautious with his knee, even if it turned out to be no big deal.
“Definitely frustrated after that one,’’ Dissly said. “But it’s just like we are in it for the long haul … but that was tough. ‘First game back. Going to do great things,’ and then can’t even finish that one.’’
That was no problem Sunday as Dissly played 42 of 78 snaps.
And as the game wore on and Dissly made catch after catch after catch — finishing with five for 50 yards — he acknowledged he also took a few moments to reflect on the arduous road traveled from the moment he got hurt in Arizona last year (injured while tackled by Antoine Bethea following a 5-yard catch) to finding himself in the end zone twice Sunday.
“Working tirelessly for nine, 10, 11 months and here we are now,’’ he said. “It’s just been a grind. It hasn’t been easy in any way. But kind of having that moment of getting in the end zone, kind of being back, winning games, is the best feeling ever.’’
Dissly recalled Thursday that within 10 minutes of being hurt at Arizona a year ago he came to grips with his situation and began looking forward.
“It was kind of like, ‘OK, when is surgery? When can I start walking? When can I start running?’ ’’ he said. “My mindset was I have to attack this, because once you get injured you can’t go back. You can’t get uninjured.’’
But as he learned more about his injury he also learned that some NFL players never really made it all the way back. Receiver Victor Cruz of the Giants might be the most notable recent example. After tearing his patellar tendon in 2014, Cruz played only 12 more games over the next four years before retiring.
“A lot of people are trying to tell me now that a lot of people don’t come back from it, and football players especially have a really low return rate,’’ he said. “I kind of just ignored that.’’
Still, he said, “I think throughout the rehab process there were definitely doubts.’’
A breakthrough, he said, came in the spring during the team’s offseason program. One day, a trainer asked him to run 10 yards and cut at a 90-degree angle.
“I was like, ‘You sure?’ ’’ he said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, just go and do it.’ I ran and made the cut and I was like, ‘Hey, that doesn’t hurt.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, it’s not supposed to.’ So at that point I had complete confidence in my knee and it was just getting bigger, stronger and faster at that point.’’
In fact, Dissly thinks he might be better now than he was before the injury.
“It’s kind of cool going through the rehab process because you kind of relearn how to run and to cut,’’ he said. “I almost feel like I might be more efficient in my cuts than I was prior to the injury.’’
Before the injury, Dissly had been one of the surprise players of Seattle’s 2018 season. Billed as mostly a blocking tight end after being taken in the fourth round of the draft out of Washington, he instead had eight catches for 156 yards in four games before being hurt, including 105 in the opener at Denver.
Any idea that maybe that was a fluke — or that the injury would change anything — went out the window against the Steelers. Dissly now has four touchdowns in 14 NFL receptions.
Former UW and current Seahawks teammate Ben Burr-Kirven said Dissly’s receiving ability was obvious at Washington, where he had 25 receptions for 336 yards in two seasons as a tight end after switching from defensive line.
Still, Burr-Kirven says, “I don’t think anybody knew that he would be quite this stellar at this level.’’
One who was always hopeful he would be — coach Pete Carroll — has also long since stopped being surprised by Dissly’s receiving ability.
“He picked up right where he left off,’’ Carroll said. “I don’t know if he’s doing better. We’re just using him and he’s worthy of it.’’
Having now shown he’s all the way back, though, Dissly says there’s still work to do.
“Now it’s get past week five (which, as Dissly is well aware, will mean a return to the same Arizona field where he was hurt last year),’’ he said. “Just small goals. Continue to work, continue to rehab and hopefully be around for a long time this year.’’