THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay is set to return after missing two games with a partially torn ligament in his neck. And running back Fred Jackson could soon be ready for action, too.
The Bills’ bulging list of injured players is suddenly growing shorter, and just in time for a team attempting to mount a late-season playoff push.
"We’re pretty healthy I think for the most part, and we’ve got some other guys that are coming off injuries," Kelsay said Monday before he returned to practice for the first time in nearly two weeks. "If we can win these ballgames coming down the stretch, and get healthy to make a push for the playoffs, that’s huge."
Kelsay declared himself ready to play in revealing the nature of the injury that’s sidelined the 10-year veteran since Nov. 8, when he felt something pop in his neck while he was pushing a sled in practice.
With 10 days’ rest, Kelsay feels significantly better, and added he’s been assured by team doctors that he doesn’t risk further damage.
"Structurally, everything’s sound," Kelsay said, describing the injury as a minor tear. "I definitely plan on playing. … I have a lot of confidence that it’s not going to slow me down."
Kelsay was limited to taking part in only individual drills in practice Monday, when the Bills returned from an extended weekend break following their 19-14 win over Miami on Thursday. If all goes well, Kelsay expects to practice Wednesday and be ready for Sunday, when the Bills (4-6) play at Indianapolis (6-4).
The Bills are already depleted at defensive end, with starter Mark Anderson (left knee) expected to miss at least one more game since having surgery.
The news is promising for Jackson, too, after the running back missed last week’s game since sustaining a concussion in the final minutes of a 37-31 loss at New England on Nov. 11.
Coach Chan Gailey said Jackson is expected to complete his NFL-mandated post-concussion tests on Tuesday, which would clear him to return to practice the following day.
"Everything’s on track for him to be ready to go Wednesday," Gailey said. "He says he’s feeling well."
Jackson attended a morning walk-through and then watched the afternoon practice from the sideline. NFL rules exempted him from speaking to reporters — or host his weekly TV show broadcast on Monday night — because of his concussion. Jackson did appear to be in an upbeat mood after he playfully grabbed a teammate in a headlock while heading out the locker room door.
The mood is significantly brighter in Buffalo since the win over Miami. The Bills snapped a three-game skid and won for only the second time in seven games to stay in the fringes of the AFC playoff hunt.
With six games left, Buffalo is in the mix of five teams at 4-6, with only three teams ahead of them competing for the conference’s two wild card playoff spots. Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are both 6-4, while Cincinnati’s 5-5.
That’s enough for the Bills to believe they’ve got a shot, while acknowledging they’ve left themselves very little margin for error.
"Last week, it was keeping the season alive, and it’s the same thing now," receiver Stevie Johnson said. "If we win, we know we still have hope of the playoffs."
Getting healthier is a switch for a team that’s previously unraveled because of injuries. That includes last year, when a mounting number of injuries led to the Bills losing eight of their last nine following a 5-2 start.
Knock on wood, Gailey’s hoping the trend reverses this year.
"When you can start to get healthy toward the end, that’s always big," Gailey said. "And if we can continue to do that, and we don’t lose any more, that bodes well for us."
Gailey confirmed the Bills placed tight end Mike Caussin on season-ending injured reserve because the player’s surgically repaired right knee has not yet fully healed. The Bills had until Monday to determine whether to activate Caussin, who opened the season on the unable-to-perform/reserve list.
The second-year player accepted the team’s decision, saying his knee was not yet strong enough to handle the extra workload of practice over the past three weeks.
"It was a little too much, too quick," Caussin said. "It’s the best thing for me, really. It gives me a chance to get back, get healthy and perform better for this team."
Caussin had surgery in late January after tearing two ligaments in a 40-14 win over Denver on Dec. 24.
"He never got appreciably better," Gailey said. "He told me in his own words he was 75-80 per cent, and that’s not good enough. We weren’t going to release him, so we just put him on IR."