Josh Norman admitted he was bit rusty. He was even a bit surprised to be rusty.
Norman spent the first three weeks of the season on injured reserve. He said he watched games from the press box where he was “pissed off”.
The rust might explain why it took until the fourth quarter before Norman was much of a factor in the Bills’ win over the Raiders.
Back in 2015, Norman shared a defense in Carolina with Charles Tillman. You might know him better as “Peanut” Tillman or as the author of the “Peanut Punch”. Tillman was the best ever at punching a football out of a ballcarrier’s arm cradle and forcing a fumble.
That same season, Steve Wilks was the Panthers defensive backs coach. He preached the punch maneuver. Norman couldn’t stomach how good Tillman was at it. He worked his tail off trying to outdo the Peanut at his own punch. At the very least, Norman added the punch to his own arsenal. Now, he had a backup if he could not stop a receiver from catching a pass.
“If I can’t get you in the air, I’m gonna get you on the ground,” he said.
Norman knew from film study that Raiders tight end Darren Waller was a guy who liked to fight for extra yards. On the last Vegas drive of the third quarter, Waller blew right through a Norman tackle attempt to pick up five extra yards.
The next time the Raiders got the ball, Norman was ready.
On second down from Bills territory, Derek Carr threw another pass to Waller. Norman knew he had a teammate handling the tackle. He trusted that Waller would keep fighting and went to the toolbox for his punch. The ball was out. Soon after, another Bills win was in.
Brandon Beane has done some preaching of his own since arriving in Buffalo. His mantra is building through the draft. He’s been really good at it, but it’s only one part of building.
A good organization needs the free agent additions and the trades to work out just like the draft picks. Teams build foundations with draft picks and finish off championships with veterans.
Rookies can’t be counted on to win games every week. Gabriel Davis was the hero in Miami, but was lucky to draw a flag last week and didn’t even have a target after his first quarter TD in Las Vegas. AJ Epenesa did not make the stat sheet against the Raiders. Zack Moss couldn’t answer the bell. Tyler Bass woofed another short kick.
The kids are still learning. This time, the Bills needed the vets to secure a win. It wasn’t just Norman who delivered.
Vernon Butler got the Carr sack that kept Buffalo in front at 17-16 and forced a punt which set up the next Bills touchdown. Quinton Jefferson had the sack-fumble that, essentially, finished off the win.
Along with Norman, all three were depth signings. All three came off the bench Sunday. All three also have been to the playoffs. All three know how to close a game against a pesky opponent because all three have done it before.
Just like Stefon Diggs.
The Bills Number One is once again number one in the NFL for receiving yards after another 100 yard game against the Raiders. He saved one of the rare poor Josh Allen throws with a 49 yard catch that helped cash in Norman’s fumble recovery for a touchdown. He’s another guy from the “been there, done that” club and another guy Beane had to land outside the draft.
There’s no doubting the Bills can make a deep run in January. It’s going to take more wins like the one they got in Vegas–beating a competitive team on the road when things are all going quite right.
It’s good that the Bills have players like Josh Norman and they have them all over the depth chart. A guy who knows how to make the big play at the big time in the big game. A guy that has a layer of rust.
Those are the guys who know how to weather the storm.