EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Antoine Winfield struggled to come up with the words to describe what it's been like in the nine days since his younger brother was murdered.
The Minnesota Vikings cornerback and former Ohio State star played in the season opener last weekend four days after learning of the death of 30-year-old Anthony Travis. And when the Vikings take the field against the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday, he will be playing just three days after attending his brother's funeral.
Winfield returned to practice on Friday, one day after flying to his hometown of Akron for the services of Travis, who had two daughters.
"That was tough, probably one of the toughest days of my life," Winfield said. "Going to bury my younger brother was a very difficult situation."
Winfield has been leaning on his teammates and the organization for support through these trying times and said he has been using football as his escape. Vikings GM Rick Spielman attended the funeral, and players and coaches have showered Winfield with support.
"I don't want to say it was easy because it wasn't at all," Winfield said. "But it helped just being around the guys. Trying to keep a smile on my face and try to take my mind off of it. But during the game Sunday, I thought about it a little bit at the beginning. But once [I was] on the field, I totally concentrated on football."
The incident left Winfield lamenting the difficult environment in Akron, one he said doesn't offer the young people many opportunities to avoid a life of crime and poverty.
"I'm dealing with it. But it's Akron, Ohio," he said. "It's rough there. It's rough. A lot of guys aren't going to school, [they're] doing the wrong things. You get caught up in bad situations, and those things happen."
The Vikings have long considered Winfield one of the toughest and most reliable players they have, a small guy playing a big man's game, and winning. But seeing their teammate and friend go through such a heart-breaking week and still not miss a game has only further cemented Winfield's place in the team hierarchy.
"To experience the loss that he experienced this week and to come to work, to work as hard as he did and then to play in the ballgame and play as well as he did, I don't know that I could have done that," coach Leslie Frazier said. "I don't know many people that could have done that. It's just a very courageous young man, very strong young man, and his teammates, they were very supportive."
He played the opener against Jacksonville numb, trying to take out all his frustration and grief on the Jaguars.
"Last week I played a lot harder, running around and just trying to hit everything, feeling no pain," Winfield said.
Winfield's sister handled most of the funeral arrangements back home, allowing him to remain in Minnesota and prepare for the Colts.
"We are a family, and we support each and supported him 100 percent through this whole week," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "A lot of guys probably would have taken the week off, but he didn't, and he came out and played well and had a big role in winning this game."
But while Winfield left Akron after the funeral to get on with his football life, he worries about those who can't do the same. And he wonders if locals seeing one of their own make it big even makes much of a difference.
"You can only do so much," Winfield said. "I can go back and talk to them, but when I leave, then what? They're back to doing the same stuff."
Bengals' top tackler Howard tears ACL
CINCINNATI -- The Bengals suffered a major blow to their defense on Friday when Thomas Howard was placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL during practice on Thursday.
"It was an unfortunate thing, anytime a player like Thomas, a young talent, gets hurt," coach Marvin Lewis said. "You have to move on. It's a freak thing that happens."
Howard, a seven-year veteran from UTEP, was Cincinnati's tackling leader last season with 120 stops, and he started in the Bengals' week 1 loss to the Ravens on Monday night. He had four tackles, including a sack, and a pass defensed in the 44-13 defeat.
To take his place on the roster, Cincinnati signed linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. A third-year player from Texas, Muckelroy started three preseason games for the Bengals this summer, posting 17 tackles, including a sack. He was a fourth-round draft choice in 2010 by Cincinnati.
The Bengals (0-1) take on the Browns (0-1) on Sunday.
"We were lucky to get Muckelroy back here this morning," Lewis said, "and get going from there."
Muckelroy, who was one of the final cuts by the Bengals two weeks ago, was still in the area. He was scheduled to move back to Houston today before he received a call from the team last night.
Howard was signed by the Bengals last year following the lockout and took over at weakside linebacker when Keith Rivers had an offseason injury. Howard started 15 games and had four passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He led the team in tackles in four of the final six games last season, as well as the playoff loss to Houston.
With Howard out, Vincent Rey and Dan Skuta will see action against Cleveland.