Jordan Poyer, flying across the field for the Cleveland Browns to tackle a punt returner, didn't see it coming.
A greasy, blindside wallop from a Tennessee Titans blocker buried Poyer in the grass. Sharp pain made Poyer think just the wind had been knocked out of him. He made it to the sideline and threw up blood.
An ambulance rushed Poyer to the hospital, where Poyer remained two nights with a lacerated kidney. His season was over after six games. He wouldn't be allowed to run at all for three months. He dwindled to 180 out-of-shape pounds.
"During the moment, my wife was pregnant with my daughter. So, silver linings, I was able to be there for her," Poyer said of being idled. "It was a blessing in disguise.
"But it was pretty dark, especially in my contract year, not knowing what was going to be next."
Over the coming season, Poyer's status evolved from iffy to ensconced, from an unknown to a revelation as the Buffalo Bills' free safety.
Poyer signed with the Bills one year ago Friday, and both sides have been thrilled. He recorded 95 tackles, four tackles for losses, two sacks, five interceptions (one for a touchdown) and one fumble recovery.
His valiant performance earned his teammates' votes for the Ed Block Courage Award, given to a player who exemplifies "commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage" and "symbolizes professionalism, great strength and dedication" on each of the NFL's 32 clubs.
The award and its foundation, named for the late Baltimore Colts' former trainer, is "dedicated to supporting the well-being of abused, neglected and at-risk children."
The honorees gathered Saturday for community events and a gala in Baltimore. Poyer, who turns 27 next month, took a few minutes to speak with The Buffalo News about his rebound campaign and other recent updates concerning the Bills.
You signed with the Bills one year ago Friday. With some time to reflect, how do you describe your season?
Shoot, I worked really hard in the offseason. I have high expectations of myself. To me, it wasn't a surprise. I always knew I could play the game. I've been playing since I was 5 years old, and it's still just a game to me. But with some people not knowing who I was when I got to Buffalo, I'm sure it's a shock to them. But my senior year in college in the Pac 12, a respectable conference around the world, I had seven picks my senior year. I always find myself around the ball. Plus, I learned a lot of ball from my guy, Micah Hyde. So you got two guys back there on the same page. That makes it a lot easier.
What was your reaction to Tyrod Taylor being traded to Cleveland on Friday?
I'm not really amazed about what happens in the league anymore. It's a business each and every day. I love Tyrod. He was two lockers away from me the whole year. I had a lot of really good conversations with him. He's a great player, a great person, a great leader. But this is the NFL, man. I'm going to miss him.
How does it feel, in a sport where the position is so crucial to a team's identity, to not know who your quarterback is right now?
I'm real interested to see what we do, whether it's today, tomorrow, in the draft, whatever. I want to see how we handle that position. I'm excited about it, and I know our management will find the right guy to come help us win some football games.
You spent four seasons with the Browns. What's Tyrod getting into?
I hope he's the right fit over there. Cleveland made a lot of good moves [Friday, including a trade for Miami receiver Jarvis Landry]. It's hard to say. I haven't been over there in a year. They're changing every day. I have a lot of really good friends on that team still. So I hope they're headed in the right direction. It's going to be a whole different team from when I was there.
How does the Vontae Davis signing impact the Bills' secondary?
Oh, man, that's a great signing. He's a veteran. He'll be the oldest guy in the room. He's been to the Pro Bowl before. I'm really excited to meet him and to play alongside him. I think he's going to be a big help in our secondary.
From what you know of Davis' skill set, how much will it change the secondary in 2018?
For our secondary, I think the brotherhood is just as important as the skill set. When everybody's hanging out off the field, cracking jokes, jelling, that's just as important on the field because you've got to be able to communicate on Sundays, when it's loud, when you're in the middle of the fire. I'm really excited about building a relationship with Vontae. We've been texting, and we're planning on meeting up sometime and talking some X's and O's.
What did you think about defensive backs coach Gill Byrd getting fired?
It was tough. Again, it's a business, but Coach Byrd taught me a lot of football. He's a great coach, and I'm sure he'll land back on his feet somewhere. Management made the decision, and you've just got to move forward.
As defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier interviewed with Colts, what went through your mind?
I'd definitely be nervous about losing someone like Coach Frazier. He is a great defensive coordinator and can be a head coach almost anywhere in the league. I'm hoping we can keep him. He understands the defense that we play like the back of his hand. But we're all humans with families and people we got to feed. If he ever decides to go, it would be tough.
You recently married your fiancee, Rachel Bush. How many more milestones do you plan on stacking up before training camp?
[Laughs] I think that's it, man! I don't think there are any more milestones. I hope we don't have any more kids on the way! But this last year has been such a blessing. It's training season right now. I'm getting back to the grind. I've been training since early February, and I can't wait to see what the future holds.
What has your experience been like at the Ed Block Courage Awards?
It's been awesome, me and a bunch of great players from all over the league and being able to interact with them and hang out with the kids and impact their lives. It's been fun.
There has to be some free agents among the 32 honorees. Which ones have you recruited to Buffalo?
[Laughs] Jaron Brown is out here from the Cardinals. I've pulled him aside and talked to him about Buffalo, but aside from that I'm not really sure.