ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The “next man up” mentality is cliché around the NFL. As injuries and trades crop up, coaches and players will use those words as a rallying cry for the players stepping in.
It does not always work, but in the case of the Buffalo Bills‘ defense this season, their replacement players have barely missed a beat.
Sunday’s 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders, which helped the Bills to 5-2, was the latest example. Three starters — safety Jordan Poyer (knee), cornerback E.J. Gaines (hamstring) and linebacker Ramon Humber (thumb) — were ruled out with injuries. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was also traded Friday to Jacksonville, after the Bills had formulated their game plan to slow down the Raiders’ recently revitalized offense that gained 505 yards in Week 7 against Kansas City.
The changes didn’t cause many problems for Buffalo. After the Bills surrendered an 81-yard touchdown drive to open the game, their defense allowed the Raiders to cross midfield only four times more, including once at the end of the first half and once at the end of the game when the Bills were playing prevent defense.
Some of the usual performers made plays for the Bills, including safety Micah Hyde, who snagged his league-leading fifth interception of the season. But lesser-known players forced into bigger roles also proved the moment was not too big, including safety Trae Elston (replacing Poyer) and cornerback Shareece Wright (replacing Gaines). Elston came down with an interception on the Raiders’ final possession.
Rookie fifth-round pick linebacker Matt Milano, who has started in place of Humber since Week 4, recovered a fumble by Raiders running back DeAndre Washington and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. He also forced another Oakland fumble in the third quarter, recovered by Buffalo.
In all, the Bills forced four turnovers and did not give up the ball, extending their NFL-best turnover margin to plus-14.
Without Dareus, the Bills’ run defense did not let up. They allowed the Raiders to gain only 54 yards on 14 carries. Adolphus Washington started in place of Dareus and the Bills continued to use a rotation including Jerel Worthy and Cedric Thornton.
First-year coach Sean McDermott was not just using an empty cliché when he said Friday he expected the beat to go on despite injuries on defense.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I’m confident heading into this game. I’m confident in the players, that they’re going to go out and execute, [in] the backups that have to step up. That’s the mentality we embrace. You saw that last week [in a win over Tampa Bay], I expect the same this week.”