(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)|
By NICK MENDOLA
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - After a slow start to his career in Buffalo, Super Mario has found the next level.
Too bad for the Bills and their fans, it's a little late for a realistic postseason push.
Either way, the high-priced defensive end is starting to give Buffalo a bit of a return on its offseason investment. The Bills have slipped to 4-7, but Williams has posted four sacks in his last four games and leads the team with 8 1/2.
In doing so, he's lifting the play of the entire defensive unit.
``We're playing together better,'' Williams said. ``Every game it's about being in our gap, doing your responsibility and executing.''
The Bills have held the opposition to a single offensive touchdown in consecutive weeks after allowing 45 or more points three times in the first five games. After going three games without forcing a turnover, the Bills have forced two fumbles and had three interceptions in the past two.
``(We succeed) whenever we execute,'' Williams said. ``Just being in the gaps. Anything that happens to us, we allowed it to. That's on us not being in position.''
There were certainly enough low points early on, as Williams and the defense adapted to new coordinator Dave Wannstedt's system. But hope springs eternal. The defense, after all, has allowed opponents to cross midfield just five times in the last two games. And in that stretch, they've forced 12 punts, allowed 147 yards rushing, 496 yards offense and just two scores.
In yet another season to forget in Buffalo, at least those numbers give a glimmer of hope and promise for the future.
``He's extremely productive at this point in time,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said. ``We had to play a couple weeks ago with a three-man rotation at end and did all right.''
Buffalo's sack totals are improving along the way. After managing just 10 in the first five games, they now have 17 in past six.
``Mentally I'm definitely feeling pretty well,'' Williams said. ``So I've just got to keep it going.''
The line has certainly missed veteran pass rusher Chris Kelsay as well as another free agent addition, Mark Anderson, who have battled injuries. Still, Buffalo's sack total of 27 is well ahead of last year's pace (29).
Much of that is on Williams, who signed a six-year, $100 million deal to leave Houston. Though it took much longer than expected and required a midseason operation to repair a left wrist injury, Williams is getting to the quarterback at a tremendous rate.
Still, Buffalo has lost four of the last five games. And that point in time when the Bills were 3-3 and actually tied for first place in the AFC East - Oct. 14 - is a distant memory.
``At the end of the day, every week is a new week. Whether you're undefeated or haven't won a game, you have to go out there and win a game,'' Williams said. ``It's on to the next, man. We got to get out there and get prepared and try to win this week.''
At the least, there's a good possibility of that on Sunday. The Bills will welcome the scuffling Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) to Buffalo.
NOTES: Wednesday's practice saw the return of CB Aaron Williams for the first time since injuring his right knee against Houston on Nov. 4. DT Kyle Williams was present but did not participate, while Anderson and Kelsay were again absent. ... Buffalo signed defensive end Corbin Bryant to the practice squad after safety Delano Howell was signed to Indianapolis' 53-man roster. Bryant, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound Northwestern product, spent portions of 2011 and 2012 with the Steelers. He will wear No. 97.