The preparation for Sunday's AFC Divisional matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals is officially underway.
The Bills conducted a walk-thru practice on Wednesday, where all players participated in some capacity. Per the injury report, all players were full participants except CB Dane Jackson (Knee), CB DaQuan Jones (Calf), DT Jordan Phillips (Shoulder), and S Jordan Poyer (Knee) who were all limited.
Here are two additional takeaways heading into Sunday's showdown with the Bengals.
Hamlin lifts spirits at One Bills Drive
Head coach Sean McDermott told media ahead of Wednesday's walk-thru that safety Damar Hamlin is back at One Bills Drive starting "almost daily" as he begins getting acclimated again and back into a routine. Seeing No. 3 smile and being able to converse with him has helped ease some lingering emotions for his teammates.
"Guys being able to see him, talk with him, I think that kind of alleviates most of that," QB Josh Allen said." Not saying that there's going to be none (emotions). I can't speak for everybody on the team. But again, I think we're pretty focused right now on just having a good week of preparation and trying to go out there on Sunday and execute."
Having Hamlin back in this limited capacity around the building has been an emotional boost for the Bills' locker room as they prepare to face the Bengals for the first time since Hamlin's on-field cardiac arrest.
"Just awesome to see him in and in great spirits back here," Poyer said. "It brings all of our spirits together and brings all of our spirits up. So, no, I don't think it should be any different than any other game that we've been in, been a part of. Obviously, two really good teams that want to win. It's playoffs."
What to do with "Original game plan" vs. Bengals?
Having played just a handful of snaps against the Bengals, the Bills are looking to take as much as they can away from their brief meeting in Week 17 as they start to game plan for their upcoming Divisional round matchup. With that in mind, both teams also still have a game plan filled with unused plays that they can put on display this Sunday.
"I think you look at two games, you take out what you can and I'm sure they're doing the same and you try and shape a good game plan based on the footage you have," McDermott said. "Again, it's so late in the season, you try and stay true to who you are and play to your strengths."
For Allen and the offense, they had just one drive against the Bengals so there's not much film to work with and learn from. And since that one drive, the Bengals have played the same opponent twice in the Baltimore Ravens and the QB said that there's not much carryover in terms of what both offenses do.
"It's kind of original game plan thought and, again, making adjustments on the fly," Allen said. "They've played certain teams certain ways, and they can come out and play us completely different than what the first drive said that they were going to play up."
For center Mitch Morse, he's planning to go back to the drawing board and start from square one.
"I like to start from the very beginning with some familiarity," Morse added. "There are these sparks of you go back to your notes because you keep notebooks, and you revisit those to see what kind of keys. And we'll go through the third downs and all that stuff. So, there will be some familiarity in that part for sure. It'll be a refresher, but I'd just like to start from the very beginning again."
The same goes for the Bills' defense who had just under 10 plays to see what QB Joe Burrow and one of the top receiving corps in the NFL had in store for them.
"We only had eight plays in the game, and so you go back and you look at those eight plays. You can kind of get a sense of — and they're feeling the same way — getting a sense of how they were trying to attack us, and the same vice versa, how we were trying to attack them," Poyer said.
But even with minimal experience covering these explosive receivers, it's the same Burrow they studied in previous film sessions just a few weeks ago. And knowing the types of plays he can make to his receivers on any given snap, the focus is on breaking up those big plays and strong tackling to limit yards after the catch.
"They don't run a complicated offense, but what they do is they do what they do well, and their receivers make plays, run after the catch, the YAC yards. There are a lot of routes that (Ja'Marr) Chase is at the top of his route and Joe is already throwing the ball before he gets out of his break. So yeah, it does make it challenging but at the same time, they're going to make some plays," Poyer said.
Allen further praised the Bengals, knowing to off the AFC's premier teams are poised for a 60-minute battle on Sunday.
"They're high motor. They got their other d-end back and they're making a lot of plays right now," Allen said. "Logan Wilson had an unbelievable play on the goal line, and he's a heck of a player. They're playing really inspired football right now. They've won eight or nine straight and it's a team that's going to be tough to beat. They're coming into our house and they're playing with a lot of confidence, and we got to be ready for whatever they can throw up."
And as a reminder of what's at stake and what the team needs to do to reach that final step, LB Von Miller put a replica of the Lombardi Trophy in the Bills' locker room. WR Gabe Davis said that along with the trophy came the words: "You said you'd do anything for it."
"There's a lot at risk here," Davis said. "We're trying to win the whole thing."