ORCHARD PARK — The honeymoon was all too brief.
Last March, when Buffalo signed defensive end Mario Williams, the premier free agent on that side of the ball, Bills’ fans saw it as a definitive management commitment to addressing the team’s most pressing need ... generating a pass rush.
Less than a week later they were totally convinced with the signing of end Mark Anderson, a specialist in that art.
Buffalo put up $100 million for six years for Williams, $50 million guaranteed, and another $19.5 million over four years for Anderson.
How could the Bills’ pass rush not be improved with two players who averaged 10 sacks apiece when they played 16-game seasons?
Well, it hasn’t been.
In the 48-28 season-opening loss to the Jets, Mario had one (1) tackle ... Anderson didn’t even make the stat sheet.
Since then, that tandem has improved but through four games, Williams has 11 tackles including two for a loss, 1 1/2 sacks and one (1) “quarterback hit.” Anderson, over that span, has nine tackles, two for a loss, a sack and three QB hits.
That’s eight games between them and extrapolated over a season that’s 40 tackles, five sacks, eight quarterback hits and the same number of tackles for loss.
You know what their combined numbers are?
Chris Kelsay in 2011.
In that campaign, the defensive end they were supposed to replace with a dramatic upgrade, had 41 tackles and five sacks.
And as the Bills have struggled to a 2-2 start, Buffalo’s fan focus has been on the fact that rather than being a difference-maker, Williams has been an invisible man.
During Wednesday’s media day, Mario, who had already separated himself from Sunday’s 52-28 debacle against the Pats by saying he “wasn’t at the point of attack” as New England rushed for 247 yards, made reference to an ailing left wrist.
“(It’s) just a little deal going on,” he said, “it’s just lingering a little longer than expected.
“I just have to get back out there, try to deal with it and play better. I’m a hands-on player. It’s all about power with my game (and) it’s just been odd having a little nick or not being able to use (the wrist) to the full extent.”
Williams did admit, “When you’re out there on Sunday you have to play regardless of what’s going on (health-wise). You have to make it happen. The biggest thing is just finding ways to heal and get out there and play at full speed.
“I don’t expect it to hinder me all year, but it’s already been almost six weeks ... a little longer than normal. I didn’t expect it. It is what it is and we have to find a way to get through it.”
COACH Chan Gailey, when asked about Williams injury, demurred, saying, “Only he can answer that. He’s been getting some treatment, but it’s not been a thing that has kept him from ever practicing or anything like that.
“How much it bothers a guy? We have guys with ankles, knees, hips and shoulders. Everything bothers you during a season. How much? Only a player can answer that. But it isn’t enough for him to not make every rep in practice and do what he’s doing.”
WHEN Williams was asked why, if he’s hurt, his name isn’t on the injury report, he said, “Because I play and I practice.”
And Gailey admitted, “We don’t put every ankle, every sprain, on every injury report.”
As for the public condemnation he’s received, Williams maintained, “I could care less about criticism. I care about what we do. I’m always angry, but I don’t show a lot of emotions. It’s not just football, I’m just not an emotional person.”
And even Gailey conceded, “He’s trying to play the best he can. What happens a lot of times is that there’s a great deal of respect for him. They chip him and put a couple of guys on him ... bang him around. You don’t know how much of an impact it’s been just by (his) presence. Does everybody wish (his) numbers were up? Yeah, we wish the numbers were up.
“Can he play better? Yeah, he can play better, but there’s a lot of guys that fall in that category ... a lot of guys that can play better. I can coach better.”
Of the fan criticism, Gailey added, “That comes with the territory. Everybody understands that. I’m the object of criticism, (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is the object of criticism, everybody is the object of criticism when you don’t win.
“I can’t control people's thoughts.”
STILL, Williams knows he’s fallen far short of expectations.
“I have to have more impact, more of a role in things and get back to playing like I used to play,” he admitted. “I put a lot of pressure on (myself). It comes down to finding a way to do it and try to overlook (the injury). I just have to go out and do it. At the end of the day, you play on Sunday, you have to perform.
“I feel my pressure. I know what’s (expected) and I know what I need to do. I just have to bear down and fix things that are wrong with me health-wise.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)