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Milloy, Fletcher play hurt but hope for improvement

Imagine playing football with one hand tied behind your back or with one good leg. If you can do that, then you would have an idea of what strong safety Lawyer Milloy and middle linebacker London Fletcher are going through right now.

Milloy broke his right thumb during the Buffalo Bills' loss at Tampa Bay two weeks ago. In that same game, Fletcher went out with a pulled hamstring. With linebacker Takeo Spikes already out for the season, Milloy and Fletcher know they must play on. But it hasn't been easy.

"I definitely wasn't 100 percent," said Milloy, who was in on six tackles last Sunday against Atlanta. "It was probably one of the hardest games I've had to play individually, trying to know how to get through it without jeopardizing too much of where I play. Obviously it was my first contact experience after having surgery. I dealt with it."

Speed is a big part of Fletcher's game, so chasing after Falcons quarterback Michael Vick last Sunday at less than 100 percent could not have been much fun.

Fletcher finished with 11 tackles, but he wonders what he could have done if he were at full strength.

"It's frustrating because there are plays you can make and you're not making them because of the injury," he said. "It was a situation going into the game where Don (Blackmon, the Bills' linebackers coach) and myself talked about playing first and second down. But when Takeo got hurt that changed that plan. I had to play more than I wanted to."

Both players said they were feeling better this week and hope to be closer to top form on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

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Offensive tackle Mike Williams (ankle) and safety Coy Wire (thigh) were held out of practice again Thursday, raising doubt that either will play Sunday. Greg Jerman will get the start again at right tackle if Williams can't go.

Meanwhile, right defensive end Charles Grant (toe) was added to the Saints' injury list after not practicing Thursday. Grant is one of the Saints' best pass rushers, recording 10 or more sacks in each of the last two seasons. Fortunately for the Saints, Grant is backed up by former first-round pick Will Smith, who tallied 7.5 sacks as a rookie last year.

Of greater concern for the Saints is Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn (hamstring), who didn't practice for a second straight day, and starting cornerback Fakhir Brown (knee), who looks like he'll miss his third straight game.

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Last Sunday, Bills coach Mike Mularkey inadvertently cast a negative light on Chris Villarrial.

The veteran right guard left the game just before a critical fourth down play and didn't return.

Mularkey said at the time that Villarrial left because he was winded when in fact it was severe cramps that kept Villarrial off the field.

"I started cramping up during that last series," Villarrial said. "I just kept going until it got to the point where I had to come out to see if I could get rid of it. It started in the calf and spread to the total body. I couldn't move. I was cramped up on the sideline and I was still cramping up in the locker room.

"I've been a little banged up since the first game and then I cramped up in the last game, so I've been a little frustrated this year. I just have to keep chipping away at it, hydrate myself and keep going."

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When Liam Ezekiel signed with the Bills as an undrafted rookie last spring, he knew making the roster at linebacker would be tough considering they were two-deep at the position. But Spikes' injury opened the door for the former Division I-AA All-American from Northeastern to join the 53-man roster this week.

"Obviously I'm very excited about it," said Ezekiel, who was promoted from the practice squad. "It's something that I've been working hard for for a long time. Unfortunately, it had to occur because of an injury. It's not something I would ever want for anybody. But I'm going to try to make the most of the opportunity I have, continue to work hard and show what I can do."

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In one of their worst draft-day gaffes, the Bills passed on Saints defensive end Darren Howard and took Erik Flowers in the first round in the 2000 draft. Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's best at his position. He has 41 career sacks (11 as a rookie), 21 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles and five recoveries.

Flowers was a major bust for the Bills, who released him after only two seasons.

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The NFL lifted Sunday's blackout, allowing the San Antonio CBS affiliate to carry the game.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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