The Buffalo Bills needed an extra linebacker for the playoffs and it only made sense that they would call A.J. Klein. However, if they had waited much longer they would have got an answering machine instead of the 11-year veteran.
After Monday’s Super Wild Card Weekend victory, Klein said that he had been packing his RV so that his family could head to the sunny beaches and warmer weather in Key West. Instead, on Thursday, the 32-year-old linebacker headed into Buffalo’s winter storm to lace up his cleats and wear the Buffalo Blue — again.
The Bills have been hampered by injuries all season, and after sidelining linebacker Tyrel Dodson to a shoulder injury in Week 18, general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott decided to call in the reinforcements. Klein is no stranger to Buffalo, having played with them from 2020-2021. Klein spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in 2022 before the Bills claimed him off waivers in November and brought him back to Buffalo. After being cut at the end of training camp before the 2023 season, it looked like Klein’s time was up. But then linebacker Christian Kirksey unexpectedly retired in September and Buffalo called Klein back, again, and added him back to their practice squad. After linebacker Matt Milano was lost for the season in early October, Klein was elevated to the 53-man roster, but Buffalo sent him home before Christmas when they had to make room for tight end Dawson Knox to return from the Injured Reserve.
While Klein said that he enjoyed spending Christmas with his family, something he hadn’t done in 14 years, and was planning on escaping the winter weather with a family vacation, he didn’t hesitate when the phone rang. And, for the Bills, it was a good thing they didn’t make that call a day later.
During Monday afternoon’s Wild Card round game in Orchard Park, NY, the Bills — who beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-17 — lost two more linebackers to injury. Baylon Spector left due to a back injury and Terrel Bernard exited via cart with an air splint on his ankle. Bernard is the “quarterback” of the defense and relays the defensive calls to the team. Klein, who is familiar with McDermott’s defense having played for him as a member of the Carolina Panthers from 2013-2016 as well as his on-and-off stays in Buffalo, took over for Bernard and called the remainder of the game.
The Bills’ defense had no problem putting their trust in Klein, with younger players like rookie linebacker Dorian Williams saying they look up to the veteran and even quarterback Josh Allen singing his praises in his post game speech.
#Bills rookie LB Dorian Williams was very excited to play with A.J. Klein: "That's like my uncle...he balled out today...even he just came off the couch playing with the kids it doesn't matter." pic.twitter.com/H1PH35FItC— Heather Prusak (@haprusak) January 16, 2024
Watch: Sean McDermott's Wild Card victory speech https://t.co/2ParawhPQU— Buffalo Rumblings (@BuffRumblings) January 16, 2024
And why shouldn’t the Bills coaches and players be excited to have Klein back in the building? After all, all he did was cancel a vacation and then show up and be the team’s leading tackler for the night.
Wasn't always pretty, but I thought A.J. Klein and Dorian Williams did a solid job filling in at linebacker after some key injuries— Peter DiBiasi (@DibiasiPeter) January 16, 2024
-7 Solo Tackles
-5 Solo Tackles
-1 Tackle For Loss#BillsMafia | #GoBills
With the Bills advancing to next week’s Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, it looks like the Klein Family Vacation will have to be postponed a little longer.