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Bills' Tyler Kroft comes up big after daughter's birth spared him from Covid-19 list

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Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft makes a catch along the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Oct. 25, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J.

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Tyler Kroft’s newborn daughter became the Buffalo Bills’ saving grace.

Kroft’s wife, Lexi, had been in labor for nearly 24 hours when their daughter, Grace, was born a little after 5 a.m. Friday. As it turns out, Kroft’s absence from the team’s training facility that morning was the only reason the veteran tight end was able to play in the Bills’ 18-10 victory against the New York Jets on Sunday, after nearly the entire tight end position group was sidelined because of the ramifications of Covid-19.

“I got about 40 minutes of sleep, went in for practice, so I missed all the morning meetings, and I guess that’s kind of when they were able to trace it and figure out what happened,” Kroft said. “Made it for the walkthrough and the practice outside, and you guys know how the rest shook out. But I was happy that I was able to be active and be good for today.”

Kroft caught every pass thrown his way, finishing with four receptions for 64 yards, including a 38-yard catch and run, the longest of the game for either team, early in the fourth quarter.

Kroft was wide open down the left sideline and might have been able to score a touchdown, but couldn’t stay on his feet and fell out of bounds at the Jets 20-yard line. The play helped set up Tyler Bass' second missed field goal of the day, this one from 37 yards. The rookie kicker finished 6 of 8, tying a single-game franchise record for made field goals and setting the mark for attempts.

“Obviously, there’s a lot going on, but I pride myself on being able to focus and attacking what’s in front of me and taking one day at a time,” Kroft said. “Obviously, there’s a lot on my plate, but sometimes you’ve got to be able to just flush it and lock in on what you have going.

“I was just proud I was able to go out there and make an impact today.”

Second-year tight end Dawson Knox became the first Bills player to test positive for Covid-19 this season, the team announced Saturday, but he had already been ruled out for the game because of a calf injury. Fellow tight ends Lee Smith, Nate Becker (practice squad) and Tommy Sweeney (physically unable to perform list) had close contact with Knox and were placed on the Covid-19 list. They must quarantine for five days.

The moves left the Bills with only two tight ends – Kroft and undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam – on the active roster against the Jets. Gilliam had one catch for 15 yards.

Bills coach Sean McDermott called it an “unfortunate” situation.

“It’s the reality of our world, right?” McDermott said. “We’re trying to manage it like everyone else is out there, trying to make smart decisions and through the course of the season, we expected this may come up and it did come up. The unfortunate part is when you lose players to it, No. 1 you always want to make sure they’re medically OK and hanging in there and then the guys that we lost, because of the contact tracing is unfortunate. But we just have to continue to learn through this. It’s new for all of us, in terms of what we can and can’t do, and try to play a football season at the same time.”

McDermott explained that the team was able to use electronic tracers to determine that Gilliam hadn’t been in close contact with Knox, unlike the rest of the tight ends in the practice facility that morning.

“Reggie bounces in and out of that meeting and into some other meetings as well from time to time,” McDermott said. “We really go by the letter of the law. We’re trying to be as diligent as we can be, and that’s what we have to do, err on the side of caution.

“Thankfully, Tyler’s wife was giving birth. What an awesome moment, right? And then to come in here and get a big catch like he had at a key moment for us in the game. Just awesome to see, the mental toughness more than anything that he showed, to be there for his wife on Thursday and then to be able to come in and play at a high level like he did today.”

Kroft said he didn’t find out about Knox’s positive Covid-19 test and the position group’s exposure until Saturday.

“I was first worried about, obviously the guys,” Kroft said, “but worried about myself and my daughter and my wife, making that sure I was good, too. But when they were able to contract trace when it happened, I knew we were all good.”

Kroft credited his wife: “She’s an absolute stud for going through what she went through. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of her,” he said.

And he credited his daughter for coming up big.

“She was born with the clutch gene,” Kroft said. “That’s for sure.”

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