As an only child, Tyrod Taylor was fortunate around Christmas time.
“My family wasn't rich or anything, but my mom and my dad tried to make sure I had everything I asked for,” the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback said Thursday.
When Taylor reached the NFL, he was determined to make the holiday special for others the way his parents did for him. He did so by “adopting” families at his hometown church in Hampton, Va.
In Taylor’s first season with the Bills, he brought that tradition to Buffalo by adopting two local families. Last year, that number increased to three. This year, it was four.
“To see the strength and gratefulness of those families, it's powerful,” said Taylor, who handed out gifts and spent time with those families Tuesday night. “It makes you count your blessings. I'm fortunate to be a position where I can bless others. It just means a lot to me to put a smile on their faces. If I can make Christmas for the best day for everyone, I would. I know it's not always about presents and everything like that, there's a bigger meaning to it, but at the same time, as a grown up now, you want to see kids enjoy it.”
Taylor is one of several Bills who have donated their time and money to give back this holiday season.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” he said. “I love doing it. It's not for any fame or anything. I don't want to wear my jersey or anything there, I just want to see smiles on people's faces, because you never know what people are going through.
"When you think that you have it bad – which is tough to think that we have it bad in certain circumstances, because that's not the case – other people are going through far more serious things than we're going through on a daily basis. At the end of the day, we’re able to play a game for a living, and it's not that easy for everyone else. So you've definitely got to be able to count your blessings.”
Here are some other examples of how the Bills have given back this holiday season:
• Through the Eric Wood Fund, the Bills’ center and fellow offensive linemen Richie Incognito, Ryan Groy, Jordan Mills, Dion Dawkins, Conor McDermott and Adam Redmond took 50 kids who have spent significant time in the hospital over the last year to dinner and on a shopping spree, with $300 each to spend at Walmart.
“It's a fun time for us to get around these kids. It's a fun time for them to get out and treat themselves because they deserve it,” Wood said. “It's funny, a lot of these kids end up wanting to spend most of the money on other people, which is just baffling at 10, 11, 12 years, that they would want to do that. I guess when you've been through as much as they have, you probably have a lot more perspective on things than most.”
• Linebacker Preston Brown donated 20 tablets to the inaugural freshman class at the Urban Teachers Academy at McKinley High School.
• Wide receiver Deonte Thompson and fullback Patrick DiMarco took about 20 children from a local community center on a shopping spree at the Target in Orchard Park, given them each a $100 gift card to spend.
“It was a great experience,” Thompson said. “One of the kids said, ‘this is the best day of my life!’ so it was really nice to make their day.”
• Running back LeSean McCoy’s Shades of Greatness Foundation hosted more than 300 children at the William-Emslie YMCA. The even featured food, music, raffles, toy giveaways and a visit from Santa Claus.
• Punter Colton Schmidt and long snapper Reid Ferguson hosted families as part of Brian Moorman’s P.U.N.T. Foundation, providing gifts from local businesses.
• Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, defensive end Jerry Hughes and running back Mike Tolbert all adeopted families. Additionally, offensive lineman John Miller took kids on a shopping trip to the Target in Lancaster.
“Me and my family, we've been extremely blessed,” Wood said. “At this point in my life, I want to give more. Holidays can be really tough when you're in a financial pinch, especially when you have a sick child, so anything we can do to alleviate that stress, I'm all for it.”
Cornerback E.J. Gaines returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. Gaines, who left the Week 15 win over Miami with a knee injury, sat out Wednesday’s practice.
“He did some things,” coach Sean McDermott said, adding that Gaines was able to participate in part of team drills. “You know, we'll see how he comes back tomorrow.”
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who is nursing a right knee injury that will require surgery after the season to repair a torn meniscus, also practiced on a limited basis Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
“We've got a bunch of those guys in that same kind of bucket,” McDermott said.
That list also includes tight end Nick O’Leary, who has been dealing with a back injury. McCoy (knee), tight end Charles Clay (knee), Incognito (veteran rest day) and Miller (ankle) were also limited participants.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams (groin) missed his second straight practice, but is expected to play against New England. Wide receiver Andre Holmes also missed his second straight practice because of a neck injury. Quarterback Nathan Peterman (concussion) and Thompson (back) were full participants.
Defensive lineman Alan Branch (knee) and running back Rex Burkhead (knee) missed their second straight practice Thursday for the Patriots. New England had eight players listed as limited, including receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (calf) and running back James White (ankle).