Alaina Getzenberg, ESPNJan 20, 2024, 06:00 AM ET
ShutAlaina Getzenberg is a workers author who covers the Buffalo Payments and the NFL. She joined ESPN in 2021. Alaina was beforehand a beat reporter for the Charlotte Observer and has additionally labored for CBS Sports activities and the Dallas Morning Information. She is a graduate of the College of California, Berkeley. You’ll be able to comply with her through Twitter @agetzenberg.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The moments do not get a lot greater than this.
An opportunity to host the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs within the playoffs after shedding at Arrowhead Stadium in consecutive postseasons (2020 and 2021) is right here for the Buffalo Payments. The importance cannot be overstated. The phrase “13 seconds” wants no context amongst Payments Mafia.
Sunday’s recreation (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS) is a chance to place that 2021 recreation absolutely within the rearview mirror, for the protection to show it may cease quarterback Patrick Mahomes within the postseason and advance to the AFC Championship for less than the second time since 1993.
To return away with a win, the Payments should proceed to work round lacking items as a result of harm — a actuality they’ve handled all season.
Solely two defensive starters began all 17 video games for the Payments — nickel nook Taron Johnson and center linebacker Terrel Bernard. However Johnson and Bernard, two of the group’s most constant gamers, are questionable for Sunday due to harm. The group misplaced two key starters for the season in Weeks 4 and 5 — cornerback Tre’Davious White and 2022 first-team All-Professional exterior linebacker Matt Milano.
“Not that I can recall,” assistant head coach and line of defense coach Eric Washington stated when requested if he is seen a unit with extra accidents. “… The coaches have achieved a very good job of constructing positive that everybody in our respective assembly rooms, everybody’s plugged in. … it is also given us a possibility to essentially determine the character that we’ve got.”
In yet one more check throughout a season stuffed with them, the banged-up Payments protection should cease Mahomes and the Chiefs forward of serious selections in regards to the unit to be made within the offseason.
“[This defense is] very resilient. It is simply one thing that is of their cloth,” coach Sean McDermott stated. “… It is of their DNA and it is turn into our group’s DNA actually with subsequent man up. We’ll determine it out and … I believe you may accomplish lots when you may have that sort of angle.”
Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have began 92 video games collectively since 2017, by the far essentially the most video games by an NFL security duo throughout that stretch, per Elias Sports activities Bureau. (Broncos’ Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are second at 62.) They’re two of seven present Payments who had been on McDermott’s first group in Buffalo in 2017.
Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are two veterans whose long-term future in Buffalo shouldn’t be assured. Photograph by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Pictures
Hyde, 33, who’s within the last 12 months of his contract with the Payments, performed in 14 regular-season video games in 2023 whereas coping with a stinger after present process September 2022 neck surgical procedure. Poyer, 32, was introduced again to the Payments in free company in 2023 on a team-friendly two-year deal. The 2 captains have been a part of this protection for each step of the Payments’ rise over time, however how for much longer they continue to be is a query for the offseason.
“To the protection, I imply, I believe they’re our heartbeat,” cornerback Dane Jackson stated. “They’re our leaders, the fellows that we glance to step up. To make these massive performs, trigger we all know they’ll, and we belief them to guide us.”
The Payments haven’t got an apparent subsequent technology at security. Backup Taylor Rapp, who’s out vs. the Chiefs with a calf harm, is ready to turn into a free agent. Backup Damar Hamlin, who appeared in 5 regular-season video games and was energetic in Monday’s wild-card win over the Steelers, might be within the last 12 months of his rookie contract subsequent season.
At cornerback, the group acquired Rasul Douglas simply earlier than the commerce deadline to compensate for the lack of White to a torn proper Achilles suffered in Week 4. Douglas made fairly the impression with 4 interceptions, together with a pick-six, eight passes defensed and two fumble recoveries, however is questionable for Sunday with a knee harm.
Douglas is below contract via 2024, which complicates the way forward for White, who might be recovering from a second important harm and is ready to account for $16.44 million in cap area subsequent season.
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“[Douglas’] persona is the very first thing that we discover right here within the constructing. I imply, the man’s a professional, the younger man is professional,” Washington stated. “… He is a superb particular person for our secondary to sort of actually take note of when it comes to how he approaches a state of affairs apply. … It is nice to have one other particular person with that sort of a mindset.”
Additionally a part of the long-term cornerback image is second-year cornerback Christian Benford, who will miss Sunday’s recreation vs. the Chiefs with a knee harm. Jackson, a pending free agent, ought to begin in his place.
Bernard, a second-year linebacker who rose to fill the departed Tremaine Edmunds ‘ sneakers from Week 1 on, seems to be the long-term reply alongside Milano — who’s out for the season with a proper leg harm however signed via 2026.
“[Bernard’s] play speaks for itself,” McDermott stated. “The 12 months that he is had as a younger participant stepping in with mainly no expertise and main our protection, not solely being productive, but additionally the management facet of the job on the center linebacker place.”
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The line of defense might be key to a Payments win over the Chiefs, particularly because the Payments face operating again Isiah Pacheco for the primary time this season. Just one defensive sort out is below contract for subsequent season — Ed Oliver, who’s having a profession season after signing a four-year, $68 million extension within the 2023 offseason. DaQuan Jones, who got here off injured reserve at a good time for the protection in Week 17, has paired nicely alongside Oliver.
At pass-rusher, Von Miller is ready to hold the Payments’ second-biggest cap hit subsequent season, and after not reaching a degree of play that the group hoped, together with being a wholesome scratch in Week 17, his play within the postseason might be one thing to regulate. Miller continues his try and recapture his earlier All-Professional type after main surgical procedure on his proper ACL in December 2022. Miller additionally stays below investigation for allegedly assaulting his pregnant girlfriend of their Dallas residence on Nov. 29.
Whereas Miller was the massive free company transfer in 2022, Leonard Floyd, who signed with the Payments on a one-year deal in June, will go down as normal supervisor Brandon Beane’s transfer of 2023 with 10.5 sacks this season.
The 34-year-old Miller and 31-year-old Floyd are seen members of a decidedly veteran group. Although a number of younger gamers have taken on important roles this season, this 12 months’s Payments roster has a mean age of 27.6 years — second oldest within the league. Solely the Dolphins (27.8) had been older in 2023. Contributions have come from gamers ranging in expertise, corresponding to within the linebacker room the place 32-year-old A.J. Klein and 22-year-old rookie Dorian Williams have labored collectively in concord.
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“It is all you may preach because the older guys for younger guys to step on the sector and know what they’re doing, ” Hyde stated. “… Now we have a basis right here, we’ve got a tradition. It would not matter who’s on the sector, we’re anticipating you to go on the market and do your job and make performs. There isn’t any compensating.”
There are important questions on how completely different a gaggle that has handled missed video games and new personnel would possibly look subsequent season. For the second, after permitting 22 factors or fewer throughout a six-game successful streak, the unit seems to be clicking on the proper time with massive targets for the remainder of the postseason.
“You in all probability can solely identify a few weeks, a number of weeks, when any individual, a key participant, wasn’t harm,” Oliver stated. “You’ll be able to identify the weeks the place the man that was harm, his backup stepped up or it was the subsequent man up and he made an enormous play. So, we simply have that mindset and belief in one another and we have achieved labored all 12 months for this, so we’re simply right here to play.”