Once again Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood finds himself out, an injury stealing another part of his season.
The Bills leader up front has sustained his third major leg/knee injury in just four seasons in the NFL, this after never missing a game in four years of college ball at Louisville. Wood tore his MCL in his left knee in last Sunday's win over Jacksonville and will miss some extended time, perhaps all four remaining games.
The Bills (5-7) host the St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium and Wood's injury, coupled with a foot injury sustained by right tackle Chris Hairston that will keep him sidelined, will make facing a very tough Rams defense even more challenging.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't sugar coating things.
"Losing anybody is tough, but losing Eric, who is a big part of what we do," Fitzpatrick said. "He is a guy that communicates a lot of the stuff. He is a leader up there. I do not know how long we will lose him for but it does not look good at the moment for this week. That is what we have to focus on. We have to kind of plug in some holes. We came out a little wounded that last game with just more than him. We will figure out who we have for this week and get going."
The Bills began their preparations Wednesday beset by injuries. Of course, the team is used to such things. Missing players and thin depth is a big reason the club is staring at missing the playoffs for a 13th consecutive year.
It's likely that right guard Kraig Urbik will play center against the Rams with rookie free agent David Snow taking over Urbik's spot at guard. Snow could also play center. If Snow starts at right tackle, he'll be the third player to man that spot since Hairston was already starting in place of Erik Pears, who is out for the season.
"It is unbelievable," said Wood of his string of injuries. "You do all you can to prepare. You keep your feet moving on every play. You think of all the things that could have gotten you in the past and you try and improve it for this year. You have a guy blocked with my legs moving and a guy comes flying down the line of scrimmage trying to make a play on the back. Not a dirty play. He dives right through the side of my knee when I have knee braces on, so fortunately, (because of the braces), it could have been worse."
On a day when the Bills would rush 46 times for 232 yards, both season highs, Wood was hurt in the second quarter on a second-down play. He knew he was hurt but he played one more play out of "denial" he said.
"I said, 'No way is this happening again,' " Wood said.
But it was.
During his rookie year of 2009, Wood broke his leg in a grotesque manner, a multiple-fracture that had people thinking of former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann's famous break. Wood battled back from that and didn't miss a start the next year. But just when it seemed his bad luck was behind him, he tore his ACL midway through last season at Dallas, and required surgery. Again, Wood worked his way back and hadn't missed a start this year until now.
"I hate to see something like that happen to him," said left guard Andy Levitre, Wood's fellow 2009 draft class teammate. "It has happened a couple of times already throughout his career, but it sucks especially for a guy that puts the amount of time and effort that he does into each week. It is just something you never want to see happen."
Snow, who played at Texas, signed with the Bills last April. He graded out well on his run blocking against the Jaguars but the Rams present a stiffer test. St. Louis ranks 12th overall defensively and 13th against the run. Defensive ends Robert Quinn and William Hayes have 12.5 sacks combined.
"Looked like he did OK," Fitzpatrick said of Snow. "We just had some run plays called, but he was pretty excited to be out there. He had that young energy jumping around. Luckily he has been here pretty much throughout the year so that will be OK in terms of knowing the system."
Buffalo's roster was getting healthier for a spell but lately has taken hits to the offensive line, receiver and secondary.
"The injuries are always tough, but this time of year you are going to have other guys that are going to have to come, step up and play," coach Chan Gailey said.