The Bills endured a handful of impactful injuries on both sides of the ball in Sunday's 25-20 loss to the Jaguars in London. A few of them appear to be less serious, though two in particular will have long-term ramifications for Buffalo's defense.
During his Monday press conference, Sean McDermott announced that LB Matt Milano (lower leg/knee) and DT DaQuan Jones (pec) will be out indefinitely and both will undergo surgery.
McDermott also shared that TE Dawson Knox has a wrist injury and TE Dalton Kincaid is in the NFL's concussion protocol after Sunday's game. Both players are day-to-day.
Meanwhile DE Greg Rousseau (foot), DE Shaq Lawson (toe), and CB Christian Benford (shoulder) are "all improving" after being inactive and are day-to-day entering Week 6.
As for Matt Milano and DaQuan Jones, both had been playing at an extremely high level through the first four weeks of the season, and the Bills will miss their presence on the field as they move forward the rest of the season.
"It's the 'next man up' approach," McDermott said Monday. "And you do what you're called to do, and that's to step up and step in when somebody goes down like this."
Even before Sunday's game, the Bills defensive unit was short-handed. After watching back the tape, McDermott came away impressed both by the effort shown by players thrust into extended roles unexpectedly and how the defense as a whole stuck together in the face of adversity.
"I applaud the guys — being down probably five starters during the game," McDermott said. "They played hard and they gave it everything they had."
Buffalo allowed points on the second and third possession of the game to fall behind 11-0 but responded with a stretch of three punts forced and two strip sack recoveries in the second and third quarters.
The depleted resources were particularly noticeable on the defensive line as rotational players saw higher usage than usual. DE A.J. Epenesa saw a career-high 59 snaps, DT Ed Oliver played in 81% of the snaps, DT Jordan Phillips (39 snaps) and DT Tim Settle (41 snaps) also had increased roles.
Practice squad call up DT Kendall Vickers played over 50% of the snaps as well.
"We were down some numbers there, Von was on the pitch count, so those guys really, their rep count was extremely high for defensive lineman, a few of them in particular. A.J. being one of them gave it all he had and made some huge plays," McDermott said.
Epenesa will remain an integral piece of the defense even when Rousseau returns and Miller's snap share increases. The fourth-year player has been one of the most consistent performers on the defensive line this season: he's nearly halfway to his sack total from all of last season (6.5) with two against the Jags and one against Washington.
"A.J. 's confidence is at an all-time high," said Bills assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington. "I think his preparation has been outstanding. That's revealed in watching him throughout the week, in the meetings, on the practice field, especially with all the situations that we try to isolate and present to him."
The Bills did welcome back LB Von Miller for the first time in 2023 and the former Pro Bowler played exactly 20 snaps in his season debut, mostly rotating in during passing situations. Miller's 20 snaps came mainly in the first half.
"We wanted to make sure we didn't have a setback in Von's situation," McDermott explained. "We didn't want He was right at that 20 number, give or take, and Coach Eric Washington shut him down and he had a chance to watch and help coach on the sideline, lead from the sideline in that point of the game.
In the limited action Miller had, the coaching staff liked what they saw from his first game but added there is still an acclimation process for their star edge rusher.
"I saw some of his sharp, tight angles," Washington said. "I saw those things continue to improve from one snap to the next and I saw a guy that was obviously finding his footing."
He added, "I saw glimpses of the old Von, and I expect that to continue."
With Milano's indefinite absence, the Bills will look to fourth-year LB Tyrel Dodson and rookie Dorian Williams to fill the gap the best they can. Buffalo will internally evaluate both players and then potentially explore outside options if needed.
"We'll start inside first and if need be we will go outside. But we will start inside first. That's what we always do," McDermott said.
As Buffalo regroups for their first primetime home game of the season (Sunday Night Football vs. the Giants), McDermott and the rest of the defensive staff will monitor the existing injuries and prepare their game plan with that in mind. The goal will be to incorporate the strengths of each player.
"I think you always have to be sensitive to the players that you have out there and what they do best and equip them to play at their best, right?," McDermott said. "So you need to be aware of it. I'm very confident in all those players and we'll see how the week unfolds."
Check out the best game photos from the Bills game in London against Jacksonville. This gallery is presented by Gabe's Collision.