The closer the Buffalo Bills get to Monday night's showdown with the New England Patriots, the closer three key starting linemen get to returning to normal duty.
Offensive tackle Spencer Brown and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei have been off the Reserve/COVID-19 list and making progress in practice, though it was too early to tell as of Saturday morning whether they will be able to play against the Patriots.
Same goes for guard Jon Feliciano and the calf injury that landed him on the injured reserve list. His practice window has opened this week, but no decision has been made on whether to activate him for Monday's game.
On Lotulei and Brown's recovery, coach Sean McDermott said before Saturday's practice that "we'll know a little bit more ... after today's practice. It's just because this COVID thing has been inconsistent or unpredictable within each person, right? So I liked how they got through yesterday. I thought yesterday was better than the day before, honestly. So I'm anxious to see how it looks today."
McDermott was similarly vague about Feliciano, who hasn't played since the Bills beat the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 31.
"I think he's working himself back," he said. "You know, for being out three or four weeks there, he's worked himself back, knocking some rust off, getting his conditioning back, his endurance back and being able to go one play after another. I was encouraged by what I saw yesterday."
Because McDermott won't speak again until after Monday night's game, there may be no way of telling whether these players will be ready until just before kickoff. But a reasonable expectation is that they will get contributions from all three in what will be their most important game of the season.
The Patriots (8-4) lead the Bills (7-4) by a half game in the AFC East standings.
To that end, the coach is enouraged by what he's seen generally leading up to this game, which will come with the benefit of added preparation time. because they last played on Thanksgiving night.
"I like the fact that they control the controllables," McDermott said. "The energy's been where it needs to be. I think a little bit of rest helps with that. But I think also the guys understand, you know, what's in front of us. We've got six games to go — that's all were guaranteed at this point — and we've got to take them one at a time."