Things didn’t look great when the Bills were down 10-0 to the winless Jets on Sunday.
Sam Darnold had led three long drives that all reached the Bills red zone. The Bills defense was playing like it had the past two weeks in losses to Tennessee and Kansas City. There was ample reason to let doubt creep in.
Jerry Hughes was not having it.
He was on the sideline pumping up teammates and showing no cracks in a belief that Buffalo would find a way to rally.
“He was so positive and encouraging on the sideline. I remember saying to myself, ‘that’s what you need out of one of your star players who’s a leader’,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “And then for him to go out and play the way he played along with leading, it was really encouraging.”
All Hughes did was finish with two sacks, a tackle for a loss, a pass break up, a forced fumble and the first interception of his NFL career. That interception was the play that sealed the victory.
Frazier confirmed Hughes’ play on film was just as good as it was on TV.
“He was dominant,” Frazier said. “Even the times he didn’t sack the quarterback, he did a great job putting pressure on their passing game and did a good job in the run game as well. He was really stout. It was dominant on tape and we needed it.”
Hughes has been working more and more on the left end this season to allow Mario Addison extra time on the right side. Both players had traditionally been right ends before this season. Frazier said Hughes has never complained about the switch and called the game against the Jets a “coming out” party for Left Side Hughes.
The coming out party might also go for Hughes as a leader.
After the loss to Kansas City, Hughes made sure to get all the defensive linemen together and go over the film of their recent struggles. It was a task he took upon himself without the prompting of coaches.
Frazier said, in recent seasons, Kyle Williams or Lorenzo Alexander would handle large portions of the leadership role for the Bills defense. Hughes showed signs he could do it, but his leadership was overshadowed and almost made unnecessary by the two older defensive linemen.
The retirements of Williams and Alexander in consecutive seasons changed the situation.
“Now, we’re lacking that a little bit. Who steps into that role?” Frazier said. “Yesterday, I saw Jerry do it at a level that I hadn’t seen before. I think that bodes well.”
It’s always good to have a catalyst that can help erase ten point deficits on and off the field.