As if a deflating season-opening loss wasn’t bad enough in putting a dent in the Buffalo Bills’ high expectations. Now they have injuries to two key offensive players to contend with.
Receiver David Nelson will miss the rest of the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee. The news is at least a little more encouraging for running back Fred Jackson, who will miss at least four weeks after he also hurt his right knee.
Coach Chan Gailey provided the update Monday afternoon, a day after both players were hurt in a dreadful 48-28 loss at the New York Jets.
”It’s a setback,” Gailey said. ”You lose experience and you lose versatility. But I think our guys can adjust.”
The injuries hit two key players on an offense that’s already off to an inconsistent start after producing four turnovers against the Jets, including three interceptions by starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Buffalo attempts to regroup in preparing to face the Kansas City Chiefs (0-1) in its home opener Sunday.
Nelson has been a reliable target in the slot, and finished second on the team with 61 catches for 658 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Jackson is a respected team leader who’s been a dual-threat workhorse in rushing and receiving. Despite missing the final six games with a broken bone in his right leg last year, Jackson still finished with 1,376 combined yards to account for nearly a quarter of the Bills’ total offense.
”I hate it. It’s dumb to feel like I do right now just because it could’ve been a lot worse,” Jackson said after taping an episode of his local television show at a suburban mall. ”I’m not happy about it at all, but I’ll deal with it.”
Wearing a brace underneath his jeans, Jackson said he was diagnosed with a sprained knee ligament. He’s aiming to be back within four weeks, meaning Jackson could return in time for Buffalo’s game at San Francisco Oct. 7.
Though calling it unlikely, Jackson would prefer to be back a week earlier, when Buffalo hosts AFC East rival New England.
Jackson was hurt early in the second quarter when he was cutting across to his right and Jets safety LaRon Landry hit Jackson just above the left knee. Having already planted his right foot, Jackson felt his knee pop as he went to the ground.
Jackson was able to walk off on his own and test his leg on the sideline before heading off to the locker room with a towel draped over his head.
”After I looked at it on film, I’m extremely happy with what it is instead of what it could’ve been,” he said. ”I’m blessed.”
The injury capped a string of what-else-can-go-wrong events that hit Buffalo. The Jets had already built a 21-0 lead by producing two scoring drives off of two Fitzpatrick interceptions, followed by Jeremy Kerley scoring on a 68-yard punt return.
C.J. Spiller will take over for Jackson, much like he did last year after Jackson was hurt. Spiller did a solid job of filling in against the Jets in a game he finished with a career-best 169 yards rushing, including a 56-yard touchdown.
”It’s a huge blow,” Spiller said. ”But we can’t sit around and mope and not regain focus. This just means somebody on offense has got to step up.”
Nelson was hurt early into the fourth quarter when he went down away from the play. After being helped off the field, he was spotted walking on the injured leg along the sideline.
Nelson’s injury further thins the depth and experience of an already young and limping group of receivers. Buffalo opened the season with six receivers, including Brad Smith, who doubles as the team’s wildcat quarterback.
And starter Stevie Johnson, who had four catches for 55 yards and a score against the Jets, is hampered by a groin injury that’s nagged him for much of the offseason. There are concerns that Johnson will have to continue playing through the pain for the rest of this year.
Rookie third-round draft pick T.J. Graham will get a chance to play after he was left inactive on Sunday. Graham is a raw, but speedy player, whom the Bills hoped they could ease into their offense.
Overall, it was certainly not the way the Bills were anticipating to start their season in a bid to show they were ready to be contenders. Their defense was supposed to be improved following an offseason in which Buffalo signed defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year $100 million contract.
And there were high hopes on offense, because the unit returned mostly intact after showing glimpses of prominence last season. Rather than looking like the team that got off to a 5-2 start last season, the Bills instead resembled the sloppy, patchwork unit that unraveled in finishing the season 1-8.
”There’s a lot of disappointment in this locker room as well. And the only thing you can do is correct your mistakes and get better,” Fitzpatrick said. ”We still have a ton of confidence, but we’ve just got to go out there and win and play well.