While the Bills had an impressive win on Thanksgiving, they also faced a tough loss as Bills Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White suffered a season-ending ACL injury during Thursday night's game.
It's not easy to replace what an All-Pro like White gives to the team both on and off the field, and the defense has no choice but to morph into a new version of themselves.
"It is next-man-up, regardless," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. "But I think collectively as a team, we've got to take our game another level."
McDermott added that it will be a challenge for the group because White was playing at a high-level this season.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said it's hard to quantify just how much the LSU product means to the defense because he does so much more than just make it tough on an opposing offense.
"He's a match-up guy. It's hard to find those guys in our league," Frazier shared. "But he's allowed us to do some things on defense because of his ability to eliminate other people's number one receiver. So there's some big shoes to fill."
One player who will have the opportunity to fill those shoes is second-year cornerback Dane Jackson who competed for a starting spot during this year's training camp.
"I think Dane Jackson is one of those guys who will step up," Frazier said. "He's the next man up and he'll do a good job for us. But to say that he will play at the level of Tre'Davious, that would be, misleading for sure."
Jackson won't be able to take the place of White but the coaching staff believes in his talent. He has played in 16 games and recorded 25 tackles, one interception, five passes defensed and has one fumble recovery since coming into the NFL.
"He's always been a guy, coming from Pitt, that has had our DNA in terms of gritty, resilient, player that's tough, and he's up for the challenge, I know that," McDermott added. "We have a lot of confidence in Dane Jackson."
"Even the game on Thursday night, when he stepped in, he has real good poise and a good feel for the game," Frazier said of Jackson. "And I think that helps him not to get overly concerned or to stress himself out to where he's not playing to the level that we expect him to. So just that overall composure and that confidence that he has, and he's a talented guy as well."
It's not just an opportunity for only Jackson because cornerback Levi Wallace will draw tougher receivers with White out for the season. But Wallace knows what it's like to be targeted because when you play opposite of an All-Pro, you're bound to get a lot of attention.
"We just want him to continue to play at a high level like he's been playing," Frazier added. "He's been playing really well for us. He doesn't really have to change and really get out of body, just be himself and continue to approach things the way he has."
Wallace has eight passes defensed this season, which ties for the most on the team. He also has two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one tackle for loss this season.
The team has moved on to preparing for the Patriots and working on what a defense looks without White, but it was certainly a somber couple of days after discovering the severity of his injury.
"It was emotional for our players and coaches because Tre is just a great, great individual, not just a terrifically talent and football player, but he's a tremendous person as well," Frazier shared. "It was definitely emotional, when I saw him, when other guys saw him as well. We wanted to encourage him and just lift him up and let him know that we're going to be there to support him through this process."
Bills fans are also joining in to support White by donating to a good cause. The Bills Mafia family is encouraging everyone who is able to donate to the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana in increments of $27 to honor White and the area he calls home.
If you would like to donate somewhere closer to Buffalo, the Food Bank of Western New York is also accepting donations.
The last number reported was donations had reached up to $35,000 and counting, per Buffalo News.
As White begins the healing process and the Bills find a way to operate without him, there's a heck of a lot of hope for his return.
"I'm confident that Tre will return to form," McDermott shared. "And he's going to get through this time and space in his life and his career, and look back on it one day and say what he learned from it."