In the controlled jubilation of the Bills locker room at Nissan Stadium following their 14-7 victory over the Titans in Nashville, Lorenzo Alexander offered an assessment only experience can articulate.
The 36-year-old linebacker could well be in his final NFL season and in his 13 campaigns with the Redskins, Cardinals, Raiders and Bills, he’s been in exactly four playoff games. There was 2007 and ‘12 with Washington, ‘14 with Arizona and two years ago with Buffalo.
But after Sunday’s win at Tennessee improved the Bills to 4-1, the second-best record in the AFC, it occurred to the veteran that a fifth opportunity might be in the offing.
“We’re in a great spot,” Alexander assessed to the assembled media. “There’s not too many times you’re 4-1 going into the bye and then coming back for three home games.”
Next up for Buffalo after the upcoming bye week are consecutive games against Miami (0-4), Philadelphia (3-2) and Washington (0-5) at New Era Field.
“You have an opportunity to really start separating yourself,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to take them as they come, but this was a great win for our confidence.”
TO BE SURE, the Bills haven’t been dominant.
Their wins over the Jets (0-4), Giants (2-3), Bengals (0-5) and Titans (2-3) have been by an average of under seven points and, offensively, their 18 points per game, are tied for sixth-worst in the league.
However, that unit has compiled one impressive statistic: of its 11 offensive touchdowns, 10 have been on drives of 70 yards or more.
Meanwhile, Buffalo’s defense continues to perform at an elite level, its 70 points surrendered in five games (14 per) trail only New England (34) and Chicago (69).
And though the Bills haven’t fared particularly well in the takeaway/giveaway statistics — minus three this season — their lagging sack total got a boost from dumping Titans quarterback Marcus Mariotta five times, lifting them from 24th last week to a tie for 15th in the league.
But, most impressively, Buffalo is second only to New England in both fewest yards surrendered (275 per game) and opponents passing yards (187).
The Bills have given up 17 points or fewer dating to last season, the best such streak for the franchise since 2002-03. They have also held opponents to fewer than 250 passing yards in 13 straight games, the longest live streak in the NFL and the team’s best since ‘02-’03 which did it 14 in a row.
ONE OF the overlooked aspects of the victory at Tennessee is that there was a point where Buffalo was down five starters, though defensive tackle Jordan Phillips eventually returned. However center Mitch Morse (ankle), guard/tackle Cody Ford and defensive end Trent Murphy (possible concussions) and linebacker Matt Milano (hamstring) didn’t come back into the game.
“I think you give Brandon (Beane, general manager) and his staff credit for the depth and the contributions that they made. Then the mental toughness of our football team and the preparation ... not just the starters but the other guys that came in and stepped up. Without those guys, we may not win that football game.”
Is there an issue to an early bye week while the Bills are on a roll?
“We take the bye whenever it comes and it’s at a good time,” McDermott said. “We’ve got some injuries right now. We’ve been able to sustain success early on and withstand some of the injuries we incurred early in the year and some of the latter part of training camp and early part of the season.
“We came out of this game even more banged up, so we’ve got to get healthy and it’s a good time for us to get some rest and also offers a chance for us to evaluate where we are and where we’re trying to go and some of the challenges we’ve had and how we plan on solving (them).”
He added, “I know this about our team ... they’re mentally tough. They’re a physically-tough group and to win games the way we’ve won them … that’s kind of the nature of the NFL, too, very few blowouts. You’ve got to be able to play well down the stretch in the fourth quarter and I think we’ve shown that we can do that.”
What’s the message to the players heading into the bye week?
“Trust is highly important in building a team,” McDermott maintained. “I’m giving them the majority of the week to reset a little bit and get some rest. But also, the trust speaks of the things that they do ... the habits, their behaviors during this time. They have to make sure they understand that they have to continue to put the team first, even though they may not be in our building. That’s important, because we need all of them back here safely come the end of the weekend.”
And 11 games remain.
“That’s a continual process for us ... the mindset,” he admitted. “They’re all big, and they’re all important. Last week, coming off the week we had (losing to New England), sandwiched in between that and the bye, the discipline, and the energy, and the focus it took to be spot-on (Sunday) with all of that, in particular an away game, and a good football team.
“That said a lot about our team. Are we done yet? No. So, I’m counting on the veteran players, the player-driven leadership. I was extremely impressed by that, including our players’ focus and discipline (against Tennessee).”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)