DETROIT – Now, the Buffalo Bills wait.
A 28-25 victory Thursday over the Detroit Lions undoubtedly made the Thanksgiving turkey taste much better in Western New York, but it potentially comes with some indigestion.
Star pass rusher Von Miller was lost for the game late in the second quarter after suffering a right knee injury. Miller was stepped on by Lions center Frank Ragnow as he pursued Lions quarterback Jared Goff on a play that ended with a 7-yard completion to Kalif Raymond.
Head coach Sean McDermott came out to check on Miller, who remained on one knee for several minutes as athletic trainers spoke to him. After walking off the field without much assistance, Miller went into the medical tent on the Bills’ sideline. After emerging, he briefly took a seat on the Bills’ bench before being carted back to the locker room. The Bills announced a short time later that Miller would not return to the game.
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McDermott did not have any update on Miller after the game, but a league source told The Buffalo News that Miller had suffered a sprained knee and the source was “cautiously optimistic” about Miller’s prognosis. An MRI exam is scheduled for Friday, the source said. NFL Network was the first to report on Miller’s injury.
“I really don’t know the status of what Von is going through,” defensive tackle Ed Oliver said. “If he misses a couple of games or whatever, or if he plays next week, I just hope he’s still around. I hope his presence – I hope he’s still leading us from the sidelines. When you’ve got a guy like that, it doesn’t matter whether he’s playing, watching, or coaching – it doesn’t matter, just having his presence, having his positive energy, the way he carries (himself), like the messages that he portrayed to us, and you know, just having a guy like that around is infectious.
“I don’t know what all’s going on, but I hope he’s all right, and if he’s not, I mean, I just hope that he’s around, at least. I just want – like, that’s my dog. I want to see my dog every day.”
The Bills will cross their fingers that Miller isn’t lost for the season, because that would be a devastating blow. Signed to a monster contract in the offseason, Miller was brought in to be the final piece to what the Bills hope is a championship puzzle. He came into the game with eight sacks. His big-game experience and proven production are impossible to replace.
“We’re keeping Von in our prayers. I don’t know what’s going on with him,” Bills linebacker Matt Milano said. “As you know, it’s a somebody-has-got-to-step-up-and-make-a-play league. Somebody goes down, it’s next guy up. … I’m praying for Von and hopefully he can come back.”
Last Thanksgiving, the Bills lost cornerback Tre’Davious White for the remainder of the 2021 season when he tore his ACL against the Saints. White returned to the Bills’ lineup for the first time since that injury Thursday against Detroit.
After Miller was hurt, the Bills were left with Boogie Basham, Shaq Lawson and Mike Love, who was called up from the practice squad Wednesday, at defensive end. Both AJ Epenesa (ankle) and Greg Rousseau (ankle) were out of the lineup for the Bills, which led to Love’s call-up. He made his first appearance for the Bills since the 2020 regular-season finale. Prior to that, Love played the last four games of the 2018 season, so it’s been a while since he’s been in the lineup.
“Shoot, I said it 10 times, ‘Next man up!’ I mean, it’s a contact sport. People get hurt,” Lawson said. “We didn’t have our head down and be like, ‘Aw, man.’ It’s just next man up. We all play football. … Between me and Boogie, we’ve played a lot of games, so we were just saying, ‘Hey, bro, this is our opportunity.’ “
The Bills have a “normal” week coming up with a game Thursday at New England, which kicks off a run of three consecutive divisional contests. It remains to be seen how much time, if any, Miller will miss.
“I was proud of the way the guys fought,” McDermott said. “Guys were prepared and stepped in and did a good job for us right there. So, we can learn a lot from this game in a lot of ways. Still have a lot of work.”
At the moment, the Bills lead the AFC East, a half-game ahead of Miami 7-3, and are in second place in the conference. A loss by the Chiefs (8-2) on Sunday would move the Bills to the top spot in the AFC.
2. Ryan Bates stepped in at center. Mitch Morse was unable to play because of an ankle injury suffered Sunday against Cleveland. Morse was questionable on the final injury report, but was unable to practice all week. In response, the Bills shifted Bates, their usual starting right guard, over to center, and brought Greg Van Roten off the bench to play right guard. Bates has experience as a reserve center in the Bills’ offense.
The rest of the Bills’ starting offensive line was unchanged, with Dion Dawkins at left tackle, Rodger Saffold at left guard and Spencer Brown at right tackle. That was, until Dawkins got hurt on the final play from scrimmage at the end of the first half. He got rolled up by Lions linebacker James Houston, who sacked Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the play.
Dawkins was announced as questionable to return, but never made it back onto the field. He was replaced by David Quessenberry at left tackle.
“We have a lot of veterans in our room who have played a lot of football,” Bates said. “I have the utmost confidence in everyone in our room, no matter who it is, to go there. … I thought ‘DQ’ did a hell of a job stepping in for Dion, I thought I did well stepping in for Mitch, Greg did a hell of a job stepping in for me, so it’s next-man-up mentality. It doesn’t matter who’s out there, we all have to be on the same page.”
3. Isaiah McKenzie had a season-high 96 receiving yards. The Bills’ No. 3 receiver finished with six catches on 10 targets and scored his first receiving touchdown since Week 4. That capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his 19-yard touchdown catch on the Bills’ second possession. On the play, McKenzie reached 19.3 mph, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.
“I felt good. I felt like I was in a rhythm catching the football, getting open,” he said. “You know, just doing what I know how to do, and that’s playing football. Josh was throwing me the ball, I was catching them and I was having a good game, he was having a good game and things were going well.”
McKenzie’s touchdown came after the Bills had gone three-and-out on their first offensive drive and after the Lions had taken a 7-0 lead. Slow starts have become a problem for the offense, with six straight games now with no points on their first drive. In four of those games, the offense started three-and-out.
McKenzie, who was benched a year ago for the Bills’ Thanksgiving win over New Orleans, helped get things going early. His 10 goals came after he had just nine over the previous four games.
“That’s the thing. We get everybody rolling, everybody can contribute, everybody can help out,” he said. “Everybody can catch the ball, put points on the board. I feel like Josh completely understands that and he’s going to throw it right to his guys. … I’m feeling pretty good. I know there is more out there. I know there is more to come. We’ve got a big game against the Patriots. It’s going to be a critical game, but for the most part I’m going to enjoy these next few days and soak it all in.”
4. AJ Klein stepped in for Tremaine Edmunds. With the Bills’ usual starting middle linebacker still out because of a groin injury, Klein was in the starting lineup less than a week after being claimed off waivers from the Bears. He responded with nine tackles, the biggest of which came right after the 2-minute warning when he stopped D’Andre Swift for a loss of 1 yard on a completion to the flat.
“Came in, did a good job, held down the defense, made all the communication calls, made sure everyone was aligned,” Milano said. “He’s a savvy vet. He’s been around ball a long time, knows what he’s doing, so grateful to see him come in here and help us win.”
Klein was claimed by the Bills last Thursday, meaning he had one full practice with the team.
“To come back was huge. I’m so grateful that they decided to claim me, because I know I can come in and help this team win,” he said. “This is a winning culture. For me to be able to come in and go out there and play, my coach told me, ‘Just do your job, do it to the best of your ability and things will come.’ Believe me, I left a lot of meat on the bone. I missed a few plays – (Jamaal) Williams shook me out of my boots on one play that’s going to look bad on tape, but overall for the short preparation, I think I played a decent game. But at the end of the day, my standard is way higher than that.”
Klein spent the past two seasons with the Bills and has previous experience in McDermott’s defense dating back to their time together with the Carolina Panthers.
“So I feel comfortable with the defense, but for me, obviously getting those live game reps are huge,” he said. “I missed some plays. I need to be more physical. I’ve got to fit some better runs, but that’s going to come. Whenever my number is called upon, I just love being able to play with this team. I’m here to try and win a Super Bowl and do everything I can to help this team and push us in the right direction.”
5. Devin Singletary had another solid outing. “Motor” evidently likes playing in Motown. Just four days after having a season-best 86 rushing yards against the Browns, Singletary finished with 14 carries for 72 yards against the Lions.
“I feel like we’re finding the balance, the real balance,” Bills receiver Stefon Diggs said. “In the past years, you know, we’ve been pretty pass heavy, but ‘Motor’ and all the running backs do such a great job. I feel like we’re finding other ways to win and it’s actually helping us. We might not be as sharp in other areas, but we’re working on it. Every year is a new year, and I feel like we’re growing as we’re going.”
When the Bills’ offense was at its best at the end of the 2021 season, Singletary was a huge part of the success. That’s been the case the past couple of weeks.
“You’ve just got to stay locked in. It’s tough at times, but you’ve just got to stay locked in,” he said. “We knew they were going to come back to us, and we just had to make it happen when they did.”
Asked what it meant for the offense to drive to a touchdown and field goal on its final two possessions to pull out the win, Singletary said “that just means we’ve got the will to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, our will to win is going to be greater than theirs. That’s really what it comes down to.”
6. The Bills made NFL history. Buffalo became the first team to win two games in five days on a field that is not their home venue. The Bills have now won four straight games against the Lions, which is their longest streak against a single opponent, and are 8-3 for the third time in the past four seasons.
7. The Bills’ other inactives were healthy. They included linebacker Baylon Spector, tight end Tommy Sweeney and safety Cam Lewis. Spector was inactive for the sixth time this season, Sweeney for the eighth time and Lewis for the third time.