The Vikings entered Sunday night's game against the Cowboys tied for the league lead in sacks. They have lost the pass rusher who leads their team in that category.
Danielle Hunter, who left the game with an announced shoulder injury in the second quarter, suffered a torn pectoral muscle, according to coach Mike Zimmer. An MRI on Monday morning confirmed the initial diagnosis, which was first reported by the Star Tribune.
Hunter, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, was injured late in the second quarter, after Tyler Biadasz landed on Hunter on a run play. Hunter stayed in the game for several more plays, and left after Terence Steele's pass set struck him in the right pectoral area.
"I don't think you replace him," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's one of a kind. It's unfortunate that we're going to miss the next half of the season with him, and all of last year. So, he's a great kid and he'll do a good job in his rehab and he'll be ready to go."
Hunter, who returned to the Vikings after suffering a herniated disc in his neck last season, had six sacks in the team's first seven games. He seemed to be on the way to a new contract this spring after the Vikings added an $18 million roster bonus for 2022 to his deal, as a way of resolving a contract dispute that had kept him out of organized team activities last spring.
Now, Hunter is on his way to his second season-ending surgery in as many years.
Griffen said Monday he's ready to give however much the Vikings defense needs with Hunter out. While coaches initially hoped to temper Griffen's workload in his 12th season, he'll likely continue to play 80-90% of the games moving forward.
"Honestly, I really feel good," Griffen said 18 hours after playing 60 snaps against Dallas. "I woke up this morning and I felt good. I had acupuncture, and I have a massage at 1:30. [My] everyday recovery, recovery grind. It doesn't matter about your age. I take care of my body very well. Whatever they want me to do, have me to do, I'll go out there and do it for my team."
Griffen has played well, especially considering the veteran didn't participate in a football practice this season until late August. He has five sacks, including one on Sunday. He was signed to play a part-time role as a pass rusher, and now he's locked into a starting spot he'll keep as long as he's healthy.
But the Vikings' defensive end depth behind Griffen is a concern, with third-round pick Patrick Jones (who hasn't played even when healthy this season) dealing with a knee injury.
Second-year man Kenny Willekes stepped in for Hunter on Sunday night, playing 16 snaps, while D.J. Wonnum played 53.
"Willekes played a little bit last night. He's been coming on," Zimmer said. "Pat's got some ability and he's been working real hard. So they'll get some opportunities now."
The defensive line has also been without starting nose tackle Michael Pierce for the past three games because of an elbow injury and top cornerback Patrick Peterson will miss at least two more games with a hamstring injury.
Staff writer Andrew Krammer contributed reporting.