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A catastrophic spinal-cord injury to tight end Kevin Everett - and the incredibly positive news that followed it - has the Buffalo Bills riding a roller coaster of emotions this week. With their fallen teammate on their minds, the Bills will try to focus on the task at hand when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
The Bills were left stunned when Everett sustained a life-threatening injury to his spine last week while making a tackle during the second-half kickoff of a 15-14 season-opening loss to Denver. On Monday, Bills orthopedic surgeon Dr. Andrew Cappuccino said Everett likely wouldn’t walk again.
The bleak prognosis, though, took a complete turn Tuesday, when Everett voluntarily moved his arms and legs when partially awakened, prompting a neurosurgeon to say he would be able to walk.
“It’s totally spectacular, totally unexpected,” Dr. Barth Green, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Miami school of medicine, told The Associated Press by telephone from Miami.
The emotion of the incident has made it difficult for Everett’s teammates to even think about playing football.
“I think it’s probably the hardest thing I’ll ever have to go through as an individual just watching him go through something like that,” Buffalo punter Brian Moorman said. “It’s a close team, probably the closest team I’ve been on since I’ve been in Buffalo, and when you see that happen it’s really tough. I hope it’s the last time I ever have to choke back tears on the middle of the playing field.”
With their teammate in the hospital, though, the Bills are doing their best to get ready for Sunday as they look to end a three-game losing streak.
We’re trying not to talk about it too much because you don’t want guys to get down,” tight end Robert Royal said. “You definitely want guys to continue to stick together because we have some things that we need to fix football-wise to try to go out and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. But we’re never forgetting about Kevin.”
After receiving the surprising good news, which Cappuccino said could be “a minor miracle,” the Bills will try and put what would have otherwise been a depressing defeat behind them. Buffalo lost when Jason Elam made a 42-yard field goal as time expired.
The Bills lost three other defensive starters to serious injuries: free safety Ko Simpson, who’s out for the season with a broken left ankle, cornerback Jason Webster (broken forearm) and linebacker Coy Wire (sprained knee).
The banged-up defense, though, managed to keep the game close even though the Broncos outgained the Bills in total yards (470-184), first downs (23-13), and had a six-minute edge in time of possession.
The Broncos managed just three field goals and a touchdown despite having eight of 10 drives into Bills territory, and quarterback J.P. Losman had just 97 yards passing - his lowest total since throwing for 83 in a loss at Indianapolis on Nov. 12.
Buffalo will have to do better against a Steelers defense that dominated Cleveland in a 34-7 victory last week. Pittsburgh limited the Browns to 221 total yards - 46 rushing - in winning its fifth straight opener and first under coach Mike Tomlin.
“Up front, we played great,” said safety Ryan Clark, who had three tackles. “We made them one-dimensional and made them throw the ball. We got them out of their comfort zone.”
The Steelers, who surrendered 300.3 yards and 19.9 points a game last year, forced five turnovers and recorded six sacks. They’ll face a Buffalo offense that totaled 184 yards last week.
“It’s what I’ve been saying, the 2007 season starts with us,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “It was a good start.”
Like the defense, the Steelers’ offense behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked renewed. Roethlisberger completed 12 of 23 passes for 161 yards and a career-high four touchdowns - each to a different receiver.
“The big thing we did is we made plays together in all three phases,” Tomlin told the Steelers’ official Web site. “The phases of our team played off one another. It was a good day from that standpoint.”
Willie Parker had 27 rushes for 109 yards as the Steelers picked up 206 yards on the ground - their best such effort since gaining 207 in a win over Cincinnati on Dec. 31.
Pittsburgh struggled to a 2-6 record in the first half and finished 8-8 last year, a season after winning the Super Bowl. The Steelers, though, have won four straight home openers and seven of their last 10 games at Heinz Field as they look to improve to 2-0 this week.
The Steelers also have a favorable record against the Bills, winning six of seven home meetings and leading the series 10-8 overall. Pittsburgh has won two straight and six of the last seven meetings, taking the most recent matchup 29-24 at Buffalo on Jan. 2, 2005.
The Bills have lost five straight in Pittsburgh, although they haven’t played there since Sept. 19, 1996.