For the fourth time in as many weeks, the Bills were allowing an inferior opponent to hang around.
Despite another all-world outing from quarterback Josh Allen and a dominant showing from Buffalo’s offense, the Las Vegas Raiders were just 36 yards away from a game-tying score with 12 minutes left to play. The Bills needed a spark. They needed a big play.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr dropped back and found ascending star Darren Waller in the flats. The speedy tight end trucked Jordan Poyer, turned upfield for more yardage…and then a funny thing happened. Something the Bills faithful hadn’t seen nearly enough of through the first quarter of the season: a Bills defender came flying into the picture, cocked his arm back, and punched the ball out with a walloping strike that would have made “Peanut” Tillman proud. The pigskin skittered across the turf. Several Raiders watched helplessly as the fumble-forcing defender then pounced on the ball, securing the turnover for the Bills.
That defender? Cornerback Josh Norman, suiting up for his first game as a Buffalo Bill, saving the day, and immediately endearing himself to all of western New York.
“Coach was actually saying, ‘Somebody make a play, somebody make a play. Make a play,'” Norman said after the game. “I was like, ‘I’ll make a play.’
“The whole sideline just erupted,” Bills running back Devin Singletary said. “Everybody was crunk”. Four plays later, Singletary punched in a three-yard touchdown run to give Buffalo a two-score lead.
There were still over ten minutes on the clock, though, and the Raiders had proven themselves more than capable of moving the ball with success throughout the day. When the Bills defense returned to the field, though, something had changed. The tightness, the flatness, the anxiety with which they seemed to have been playing for most of the season was gone. In its place was a confidence, an energy, a fierceness more in line with what we’re used to seeing from Sean McDermott defenses.
First Ed Oliver burst through the line to stop Josh Jacobs for no gain on 4th and 1. And who was immediately in the picture, pumping his fist, slapping his teammates on the helmet, and firing everyone up again? Josh Norman, of course.
Then, after the Bills offense failed to put the game on ice, the Raiders got the ball again, the game’s outcome still not certain. With Carr in the pocket, scanning the field, tackle Quinton Jefferson bull rushed his way in, swiped the ball away, and fell on it. Darting into the picture again, the first player to lift Jefferson off the ground and congratulate him? Norman, naturally.
On a day when the Bills defense was needed to help bring home a critical win against a good conference opponent, they stepped up. It was not just technical acuity that saved the day, though. It was not just the usual fine detail or meticulous minutiae that one expects from a Frazier/McDermott crew that put the Raiders down for good. No. It was the swagger and determination of Josh Norman — and the confidence thereby injected into the entire Bills defense — that did the trick.
Norman reflected on his excitement and his impact after the game. “It was one of those things, they were having a pizza party and I was like, ‘Well shoot, I’m knocking on the door, ya’ll not going to let me in? So, I had to kick it down”. Kick it down, indeed.
It was a great game by the Bills’ newest cornerback, to be sure, but what does his addition mean to the bigger picture going forward?
NFL defenses are funny beasts. For all of the talent and skill and jaw-dropping athletic ability they possess, they also rely on certain intangibles in order to perform their best. They rely on confidence, on energy, on what more than one Bills player after the game called “juice”. In a season (mostly) without fans in the stands to provide that energy and to spur on that confidence, defenses across the league will need to find different ways to reach their peak optimum. THIS is where I believe Josh Norman — with his brash and outspoken nature, with his loud and swagger-ific playing style — will pay huge dividends for the Bills. Yes, his coverage ability and penchant for forcing turnovers will provide a boost to the defense’s performance, but it is the intangible spark he provides that has me most excited.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Just listen to one of his teammates.
“I’m glad to see him get healthy and get out there and get into a position to make plays for us,” Cole Beasley said. “He definitely made some for us today and I don’t know if we win that game without him.”
How about his head coach? “The players responded. The fourth down stop was big for us as well as Q Jeff’s sack fumble and Josh’s (fumble recovery) really ignited the turnover situation there. Good to see,” coach McDermott said.
If the Bills want to continue their winning ways against the murderer’s row of tough opponents they’ll be facing in the next four weeks, they’ll need their defense to continue to improve. They’ll need to force more turnovers and make more big stops at pivotal moments. With the “juice” and the confidence and the swagger that Josh Norman brings to the table, they may have stumbled upon the missing puzzle piece that will help them do just that.
Editor’s babble: Thrilled to have Matthew Rule back in the fold writing for the blog. You can find Matthew on Twitter @MatthewLRule1.