A.J. Klein was supposed to be in Key West on a family vacation this past weekend. The RV trip was booked, but then he received a text message from Brandon Beane, the Buffalo Bills general manager. He wanted to see if Klein would return to the team that had released him a month earlier. Linebacker Tyrel Dodson suffered a shoulder injury in the Bills’ last regular-season game, so the team was looking to add some linebacker depth.
“At this point, who doesn’t want to be in the playoffs?” Klein said Monday night, after convincing his family to delay the vacation so he could rejoin the Bills. And he was a bigger part of Buffalo’s 31-17 win over Pittsburgh than anyone imagined.
"Everything is canceled now. Plans are canceled."
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Klein returned to Buffalo on Wednesday under the idea of him joining the practice squad. He practiced on Thursday and Friday, but then was signed to the active roster on Sunday so he could suit up for the wild-card playoff matchup Monday. He then entered the game after Terrel Bernard was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
Klein, 32, not only played in a playoff game after being off for nearly a month, he took over the middle linebacker duties, which include calling out defensive alignments for his teammates, and he finished with a team-high 11 tackles.
Those tackles — in less than two full quarters of play — were also a playoff career-high for Klein, and the most he’s recorded in a game since November 2020, when he tallied 14 after playing 100% of that game’s snaps.
“I always say you gotta get your feet wet,” Klein continued in Monday’s press conference. “The first few plays obviously weren’t great. But knocked the rust off and it’s like riding a bike.”
Monday night also marked the most significant action Klein had seen all season, as he had only appeared in two previous games, and only on special teams. The last time he had been on the field for more than 66% of the defensive snaps was Nov. 24, 2022 (his last start in an NFL game), and prior to that was Nov. 21, 2021.
Bills coach Sean McDermott was obviously grateful for Klein’s surprising but much-needed impact.
“You know that retirement thing you were talking about? Let’s put that off a little bit here,” McDermott joked about saying to Klein. “Hey, everything happens for a reason. God works in mysterious ways and we’re very fortunate that he came back.”
Klein was able to step into a defensive leadership role partly because he’s familiar with the Bills, having spent much of the past four seasons in Buffalo (he also had stints with Chicago and Baltimore last season). But he hasn’t been a regular starter since 2020, his first season with the Bills after three years as a starter with the New Orleans Saints. Klein was drafted out of Iowa State in the fifth round of the 2013 draft by the Carolina Panthers, with whom he spent his first four NFL seasons.
Throughout his football journey, Klein has relied on his faith in God. He declares that “Christ is King” in his Instagram bio, where he also lists the Bible verse 1 Peter 1:8, which says, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
Klein was asked about that verse in a 2021 episode of the “Faith on the Field” show.
“We can’t see Jesus Christ. We can’t see our God, but I believe that we can see our God is everywhere around us,” he said. “For instance, in the people that we talk to, in the nature we see outside. It’s relationships, it’s family. It’s all around us.
“So, for me, even though I don’t see Jesus Christ, it’s like doubting Thomas, even though I can’t see the marks in His hands, I believe, and I put my faith in Him regardless. So that for me has always been a true testament of my belief system.”
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Klein was raised in a Christian home and said his dad, who passed away due to cancer in 2016, taught him about faith.
“My dad was always there, he was always supportive. But he also taught me the values of what it means to love and treat people with respect and to obviously be steadfast in my faith,” Klein told The Athletic in 2019. “… Hopefully we all live a long healthy life, but at least now, obviously we all have something to look forward to, as far as Heaven and being with Jesus Christ and a life after … but also I can look forward to knowing that the man that I grew up knowing and loving, and the man that loved me the most other than God is going to be there waiting for me as well.”
With Buffalo’s win, the Bills will host Kansas City on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET) with a trip to the AFC championship game on the line. How much Klein will play is unknown. Whether it’s the last game of his career or another game on the path to a Super Bowl, Klein rests in God’s plan for his life.
“For me it’s about having faith in all circumstances — days that might not be going the best, circumstances that come up in life,” he said on “Faith on the Field.” “You have the old ‘Why me?’ You’ve always got to have faith, knowing that God has a plan.”
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