"Thumb?" Whitner said. "I don't really need this thumb for the rest of my life, you know."
Though Whitner (probably) was kidding, it's clear what his intentions are for this coming Sunday, when the stumbling Bills (1-4) travel to face the AFC East-rival New York Jets (3-2). Whitner's already missed two weeks since he tore ligaments in his thumb in a loss to New Orleans, and he's not prepared to miss another.
"My initial thought going into surgery was I wanted to play that week. But they thought that was dangerous," Whitner said, referring to team doctors. "But it's a couple of weeks down the road, and I feel like I'm pretty close."
The Bills could use some good news. They've lost three straight, including consecutive games to winless teams following an ugly 6-3 loss to Cleveland on Sunday. Their offense is anemic and their defense riddled with injuries after starting linebacker Kawika Mitchell and his backup, Marcus Buggs, sustained season-ending knee injuries against the Browns.
Whitner and linebacker Paul Posluszny both practiced Wednesday, and both have a chance of playing this weekend. Posluszny has missed four games with a broken left arm
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell got the news Tuesday after Posluszny and Whitner were medically cleared. "That was the only time I smiled," Fewell said.
The defensive backfield is banged up as well. Aside from Whitner, starting strong safety Bryan Scott (high ankle sprain) has missed two games and is listed as week to week, and starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin was placed on injured reserve, ending his season, after breaking his leg two weeks ago.
Whitner is regarded as the defense's emotional leader. Drafted eighth overall in 2006 out of Ohio State, he is a four-year starter who has proven to be a physical tackler and also is versatile enough to play safety or cornerback. Entering this season, his 256 tackles ranked him fourth among NFL defensive backs the previous three years.
Whitner is concerned about the Bills' slow start, but refuses to use injuries as an excuse.
"We have to understand that this is the National Football League and nobody's going to feel sorry for you," he said. "We understand that there's going to have to be some changes. I don't know where those changes are going to have to be, but there's going to have to be some."
Whitner stressed he wasn't referring to coach Dick Jauron, who's on the hot seat and being criticized for the team's troubles.
"I'm not saying like a coaching change, I'm saying maybe personnel, maybe," he said. "We're going to have to do some things to get going."
As banged-up as it is, the Bills' defense hasn't really been the problem this season.
Except for a 38-10 loss at Miami in Week 4, the defense has kept Buffalo ahead or within a touchdown of the lead entering the fourth quarter in its four other games.
The unit has scored two of Buffalo's eight touchdowns on interception returns by Whitner and defensive end Aaron Schobel. Against Cleveland, the Bills limited the Browns to 193 yards on offense, two completions and nine first downs.
The trouble has been on offense, and a Trent Edwards-led unit that has produced one touchdown in its past three games.
Whitner shrugged off a question about how the Bills are once again proving to be punch lines with the team in danger of missing the playoffs for a 10th straight season.
"I ain't too worried about being a laughingstock," Whitner said. "We'll see what happens."
Defensive end Chris Kelsay isn't allowing frustration to get to him.
"We have a lot of faith in the coaching staff here. We know that it's not for a lack of effort," Kelsay said. "Speaking for the defense, I'm happy with the way we performed on Sunday. I'm not satisfied. None of us are satisfied, but we played well enough to win that game."