In the words of Bills offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, "Christmas came in January" with all of the positive news the Bills and the Buffalo community received on Wednesday.
Before the team's first practice ahead of Sunday's AFC Wild Card Matchup between the Bills and Miami Dolphins, head coach Sean McDermott announced that S Micah Hyde and WR Jamison Crowder will return to practice. Their 21-day practice window is now open, but McDermott said neither of them will play on Sunday.
And moments before McDermott spoke to the media, the team released a statement that S Damar Hamlin has been discharged from Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute this morning and is at home resting.
Here are two takeaways from Wednesday's practice:
Time to go 1-0
The one-week season begins this week when the Miami Dolphins come to town. Even though the two teams went 1-1 in the regular season, it's a clean slate starting at 1:00 on Sunday in a win or go home situation.
"We know it's going to be a dog fight," QB Josh Allen said. "It's going to be 60 minutes. We've got to do our job. We've got to execute. We've got to trust each other, take care of the football and just try to score points."
Even though the Bills are rather familiar with the Dolphins after facing them twice already, they are tasked with facing a new quarterback. Head coach Mike McDaniel ruled Tua Tagovailoa out for Sunday's game due to a concussion, and with Teddy Bridgewater still battling a finger injury, rookie QB Skylar Thompson is set to start against the Bills.
"(Skylar) puts his socks and shoes on just like us, man," DE Shaq Lawson said. "He went from third-string to starting, just gotta respect him, man."
"It starts up front, win the line of scrimmage, and put pressure on the quarterback. Stop the run, everything you'd do if Tua was playing, and affect the quarterback the same way."
Regardless of who's at QB, the Bills' defense is preparing the same way no matter what. And the same goes for the offense which saw in the first meeting how good Miami's defense can be when it playing at its best.
"You do have familiarity. They have familiarity with you not only schematically, but personnel wise," C Mitch Morse added. "You've put a lot of time on task. You've had reps against these players, understand what's worked for you, what hasn't worked for you … I think it has its pros and cons for sure."
The Bills are approaching the playoffs as a start of a new season and plan to focus on sticking to their fundamentals in order to advance.
"We just know that it's win or go home," Allen said. "It might be a little bit more attention to detail, but again, this is the standard that we set for ourselves and coach McDermott sets for ourselves with 'playoff caliber' and now that we're here it's 'championship caliber.' There is always going to be that little 'up' in effort or attention to detail."
23 is back in '23
Out of pure excitement, Micah Hyde did not sleep last night knowing his time to return to practice with his teammates has finally come.
"I'm very, very grateful to be in the position I am now and to see my teammates throughout this whole season, all the things that we have been through, you name it — the weather, the injuries, D-Ham's situation, just seeing my boys, my teammates go out there and continue to fight, it wouldn't be — I have to make it, I have to give it a go," Hyde said. "This is a special group, I've been saying it all along and I'm just glad I can be a part of it today."
Hyde knew that he would be back sometime in 2023, but he was thinking his return would be closer to next season. But after neck surgery, the safety was hitting milestones ahead of schedule so he was determined to do everything he could to put himself in a position to be back in January. And on Wednesday, Hyde confirmed that his neck is healed.
"When I got back to moving around a little bit, the doctor said I'd start feeling really good after a couple of weeks and feeling a lot better after a couple months. And by 3-4 months out, I'm gonna feel amazing," Hyde said. "Ever since he said that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I figured give it a shot. I'm gonna work every day to try to get back because I want to be a part of what this team has and what we're about to do."
With the hopes of hearing good news, Hyde went and saw his doctor last week. The two shared a laugh as it was immediately noticeable that Hyde had hit the milestones and came hoping he'd get the go-ahead to start practicing.
"I trust him, he trusts me and so with the communication with everybody here, like I said, we've had good milestones, good goals in place and I'm just trying to do anything I can to help this football team," Hyde said. "Whether it's coach this whole time or if I'm back on the field helping guys that way, I'm willing to do it."
Even though Hyde couldn't be out on the field with his teammates until Wednesday, he was still taking part in team meetings as well as giving teammates some tidbits from the sidelines during practices and games. And those teammates were certainly excited to have the safety back on the field with them.
"He's one of our captains for a reason," Allen said. "We love the guy … And just to know the emotions that he went through early in the season and to get back out here and start practicing. Now we got to do our job and do everything we can to allow him to come back."
Hyde, who has been on IR since September 24, last saw the field in the Bills' home opener against the Tennessee Titans. But since then, he's been rehabbing every day and spending countless hours in the weight room so a day like Wednesday could come. Hyde shared that he felt good after today's practice but going forward, it's up to his doctors to determine when he'll be ready for game action.
"I'm gonna continue to do what I can do each and every day to put myself in a position to help this team and when the day comes that I get the OK, I'm gonna give it a go," Hyde said.
Check out the best photos from Buffalo's first practice of the week as they prepare to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. This gallery is sponsored by Northtown Automotive.