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BuffalOkie Mondays: Sorry, Mario
Back in July, I wrote about Mario Williams looking to regain the confidence of Bills fans in 2013. An up-and-down 2012 campaign and a cluttered offseason left many in Buffalo unfairly questioning the $100 million man’s want and desire.
I believe those fans owe Mr. Williams an apology.
Through two games this season, Super Mario has been absolutely dominant, including a 4.5-sack performance (!!!) in Sunday’s thrilling 24-23 win over the Carolina Panthers. And while the story of the game will rightfully be the way rookie quarterback EJ Manuel led an 80-yard scoring drive down by six points in the final two minutes for his first career win, let’s not forget that this game was ultimately about the Bills’ defense and one of the more dominating individual performances we’ve seen in a long time.
After opening the season with a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Patriots, the Bills knew that Sunday’s game against the Panthers was one they needed to put in the win column. Falling to 0-2 and playing eight of the remaining 14 games on the road, and one in Canada, is not a good scenario for a team that is hungry to end a 14-year postseason drought. Once again the Bills found themselves in a fight, and the Super Mario-led defense was the difference maker this time.
Twice in the second half, the rookie side of EJ Manuel showed up and committed back-to-back turnovers deep in his own territory. Each time, the defense held Carolina to field goals when touchdowns would have made a comeback nearly impossible. Each time, it was the pressure up front that led the defensive charge. Each time, Mario was right there in the thick of it, never allowing Carolina QB Cam Newton to feel completely comfortable in the pocket.
Sure, Newton escaped the pocket and made some plays in the face of pressure. He’s Cam Newton. But the Buffalo defense refused to let him take over the game. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams provided excellent push up the middle all game long, allowing Mario to do what he does best – get to the quarterback. Williams absolutely abused Carolina tackles Byron Bell and Jordan Gross on his way to a Bills franchise record 4.5 sacks. The total is also a personal record for Mario, who after the game said he has a “clear mind” for the first time in a long time.
I said it all the time during the dark days of Dave Wannstedt and it is now holding true: the Bills have plenty of pieces to be good, even great, on defense. Sure, the secondary is in flux right now, but the front seven is nothing to balk at, and rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso showed on Sunday that he can be another dynamic weapon in this defense. The Bills just needed a defensive coordinator who knew what to do with the pieces, and they found him in Mike Pettine.
While Mario won’t be racking up 4.5 sacks per game all season, Sunday’s performance wasn’t just catching lightning in a bottle. Expect Mario and company to continue setting up camp in opposing backfields. In fact, things should only get better when CB Stephon Gilmore and FS Jairus Byrd return to the field, allowing the defensive line even more time to get to opposing quarterbacks.
Bills fans have plenty to be excited about this season, and it starts with a defense they can finally get behind, but first, let’s all apologize to Mario Williams.