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Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse with the health of the Buffalo Bills' linebackers . . .

The Bills announced today that Damien Covington would miss most, if not all, of the balance of the season with a sprained left knee he suffered in practice Thursday.

The news comes three days after the club revealed that their other inside starter, Chris Spielman, would be out for the rest of the year because of a herniated disk in his neck that will require surgery.

All of a sudden, the Bills enter Sunday's AFC East showdown against Miami with John Holecek making his first career start in Spielman's place, and recently re-signed Mark Maddox -- inactive since being released by the team in the summer -- taking over for Covington.

Covington, who set a Bills record with 24 tackles in last Sunday's loss to Denver, will be sidelined for at least six of the eight remaining games on the schedule because of ligament damage in his knee.

It is possible Covington will require surgery. However, team physician Dr. John Marzo told coach Marv Levy that further examination of the knee was needed.

With Marlo Perry listed as doubtful with an injured hamstring, Holecek and Maddox are the only two available inside linebackers the Bills have. And Holecek is battling an ankle injury.
Spielman says he has every intention of playing for the Bills next season.

"By no means is this a retirement thing," the veteran linebacker said Thursday. "With successful surgery and if things work out the way we anticipate, I'll be fine and ready to go next year."

Spielman said there is a disk pushing on his spinal cord between the sixth and seventh vertebrae. He said the surgery to fuse the vertebrae will be done soon.

"It's the same thing that 'Moose' Johnston has," Spielman said, referring to Dallas' fullback recently declared out for the season.

Spielman said there is a chance, if surgery is not successful, that he would be forced to retire.

"I refuse to come back and play with fear. I will not become the player I despise," he said. "But I know it can be fixed. With successful surgery, players have come back from this injury in three to four months."

Spielman said his first sign of a problem came in the fourth quarter of the game at Indianapolis Oct. 20.

"I made a tackle and felt total numbness in my body for about five seconds," he said. "I got up and played and didn't make a big deal of it. Then it happened four more times during the Denver game. . . . I think God told me to go get some X-rays, to be honest."

Spielman said he will be in a brace for six weeks after surgery.

"I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me," he said. "The only thing I feel sorry about is my teammates. I feel like I'm letting them down for getting hurt."
Defensive end Phil Hansen practiced Thursday but remains questionable. Bruce Smith was held out of practice, as is customary on Thursdays. Safety Kurt Schulz fell on his hip in practice and is probable. . . . Sunday's game is sold out. Dan Hicks, Jim Kelly and Paul Maguire will work the game for NBC.

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