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Seeing Christmas Ghosts

Leading into this Christmas Eve-Eve’s pivotal matchup against a star-depleted Chargers team, I want to talk about seeing ghosts

No.. no… not the old Sam Darnold ghosts of Christmases long, long ago. Instead, I want to look into optics: The optics through which we Bills fans view our own players, and specifically how we view injuries. And with Christmas right around the corner, I thought we could enact a Buffalo Bills rendition of a Christmas play by Charles Dickens. I’m talking about a little Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, seen through the lens of how we Bills fans see our injured players. The 2023 edition’s cast is as follows:

The Ghost of Injurymas Past: Played by Von Miller.

The Ghost of Injurymas Present: Played by Kaiir Elam.

The Ghost of Injurymas Future (Return): Played by DaQuan Jones

Act I: The Ghost of Injurymas Past: 

When he was poised to come back from his torn ACL, all of Western New York was in a state of Fandemonium, at Von Miller’s much-hyped return. Message boards and “X” danced out sugar-plum visions of Miller eviscerating quarterbacks across the league. The talking heads pointed to his past stats, and opined on future sacks. Miller, himself–ever the uber-positive dude that he is–fanned the coals with all his might, in what felt like an attempt to will himself back into H.O.F. mode.

Instead, Miller’s triumphal return to the field–especially during those first few games back–could be summarily captured in this GIF (NOTE: For those who aren’t familiar with what that image means, just watch Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of The Valley of The Wind; you’ll thank me later).

The point? The Ghost of Injurymas Past (i.e. Von Miller’s incomplete recovery, resulting in an ineffectiveness on the field which has left many Bills fans frustrated) should teach us something about the way to see an injury like Von’s. Yeah: He’s a super-human, and he obviously works hard and has all the positive mental attitude in the world; however, throwing him out there like some Ancient Warrior, and expecting him to save the Bills was foolhardy, at best. At the same time, Von is the Ghost of Injurymas PAST: For those who haven’t given up on him–like many message board trolls out there–we are starting to see Von get closer and closer to a return to form. He’s now just a half-step shy on so many big plays, that those who haven’t given up on him are likely to see him flash in the coming weeks and–hopefully–months.

Act II: The Ghost of Injurymas Present 

The present is so fleeting that we often fail to see it clearly; it’s gone before we’ve felt it pass us by. As humans, we have hardly the chance to ponder its meaning. And in the case of Kaiir Elam, few talking heads, internet trolls, or even true Bills fans caught the passing article in The Buffalo News, where Elam admits that he had been playing on a bum ankle. In the article (Yes: It has a paywall… Sorry…), Buffalo Bills cornerback Kaiir Elam told The Buffalo News after Wednesday’s (12/13/23) walk-through that a torn deltoid ligament in his ankle forced him to injured reserve on November 2nd.

The deltoid ligament is the main ligament of the inner ankle. Here’s a picture I’ve marked up, from the Wikipedia article on the Deltoid Ligament:

Imagine that ligament being torn while Calvin Ridley was busy roasting Elam, and the McBeane pitchforks were being sharpened in the basements of message board trolls, the world over. Yeah… Elam was literally gimping along without the stability and elastic rebound provided by an absolutely crucial ligament in his foot. 

But the Ghost of Injurymas Present is as fleeting as Sagan’s “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Blink, and we miss it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I just assumed Elam had regressed, and he really was looking horrible; but when straining to see The Ghost of Injurymas Present, we rarely can capture what’s currently occurring, clearly. In fact, we often breeze by the truth, because it’s so much easier to regurgitate a “truth” accepted by many Bills haters: That Beane “wasted a pick” on Elam, out of desperation when KC leapt us to take McDuffie. How much easier a pill is that to swallow than to actually look the Ghost of Injurymas Present dead in the eyes, and recognize that there’s more going on that teams sometimes want to let out.

What if Elam had been able to play through the injury? Would Buffalo want opposing teams to know what his specific injury was, and which ways to attack him? Of course not! That’s obvious, but only really when we stop to look at the present.

And now for The Final Act: The Ghost of Injurymas Future (Return)

Have we gotten to the point, dear reader, where we’ve learned anything from our previous Ghosts? Well, I for one, “hope we don't hear Marley's chains we forged in life.” When the Bills opened DaQuan Jones’ 21-day practice window, on 12/19/23, fans started blowing up “X” and the message boards, praying that McBean would toss Jones into the mix at Defensive Tackle. 

Among their best logic was the fact that Jordan Phillips was placed on the I.R. with a dislocated wrist, and we “obviously” need more defensive tackles. Even if we hadn’t already gone over Von Miller’s too-early expectations, this logic is straight up flawed. Jones and Phillips fill entirely different roles on the Bills’ D-line. Jones is tasked with taking on double-teams, pushing the pocket so the Defensive Ends can crash down on the QB, and keeping Bernard and Dodson clean, so they can flow to the RB or stage a well-timed delayed blitz. Phillips is basically an agent of chaos, meant to blow up plays, penetrate, and basically wreak havoc on play designs.

They do different things, and trying to put a DaQuan Jones shaped plug in a Jordan Phillips hole is just a terrible idea. Personally, I’d like to see Poona Ford get a little run in the middle. Hopefully, we’ve learned–through this little Christmas-themed thought experiment–that rushing Jones in would be ignoring Von Miller’s Ghost of Injurymas Past. 

If The Buffalo Bills are to learn anything, move forward, and NOT make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past, we have to glean a little wisdom from all The Ghosts of Injurymas. 

Merry Christmas, and Go Bills!

–Tim Avery, 12/22/23

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