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RETURN OF MILLOY A BIG BOOST
VETERAN SAFETY SOLIDIFIES BILLS' SECONDARY

Strong safety Lawyer Milloy doesn't see himself as a savior, but his return from injury has been a godsend for the Buffalo Bills' defense.

Milloy is three games into his comeback from a broken right forearm he suffered in the Bills' third preseason game at Indianapolis. He's playing as if he never left the lineup.

He was credited with 12 tackles in his regular-season debut at Baltimore and was involved in 18 stops during the Bills' 38-14 win over Arizona two weeks ago. He added four tackles and his first interception in almost three years during Sunday's 22-17 victory over the Jets.

"I'm just happy to have an opportunity to contribute in whatever fashion I can," Milloy said. "I'm not a savior or anything like that, but I definitely believed I had what it took to help the team."

Milloy has been a huge addition to a secondary that struggled in his absence. Coy Wire and Pierson Prioleau both got starts at strong safety and rookie Rashad Baker got playing time in some packages. But teams found ways to exploit each of them in the passing game.

Opponents haven't found as much success against Milloy, who has brought stability to a position that needed it.

"Experience is a big plus, and Lawyer has brought that back immediately," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey. "He's a difference-maker. There's no doubt."

In the five games Milloy missed, the Bills were 14th in the NFL in pass defense (207.8 yards allowed per game) and only 29th in allowing opponents to convert third downs (43.1 percent). Since he returned, the Bills have risen to third in passing yards allowed (172.3) and 13th in third-down percentage defense (36.5).

Coincidence? Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray doesn't think so.

"Lawyer is a big part of our defense, and when we lost him we lost four Pro Bowls, the experience of playing time and we lost a lot of the stuff that you could do with him that you can't do with Coy Wire or Pierson Prioleau," Gray said. "We can give teams different looks and disguise coverages a lot more. Every team has to account for Lawyer. Is he blitzing or not? Is he covering or not? With Coy and Pierson, they have to earn that reputation. Lawyer is a guy who already has it."

As much as Milloy's play on the field has meant a lot to the Bills, his role as a respected leader has been just as important.

His past success coupled with his professional approach to the game give him instant credibility in the locker room.

"Being in this game as long as I have, I've developed an awareness of what it's all about," he said. "If I say something to guys they respect what I say and do it."

Having Milloy on the field has been a welcome sight to his teammates, who believe he brings more passion to an already emotionally charged defense.

"I bring a lot of energy to the game," said linebacker Takeo Spikes. "But whatever I don't bring, I'm sure he brings it. I love playing with guys like that."

Not being on the field for almost two months was hard on Milloy, who entered his eighth NFL season having never missed a game.

To miss five games was especially difficult to take.

"It was hard," Milloy said. "Our team struggled a little bit with the losses and not being able to do something about it, individually, was tough. But I continued to work hard and kept my mind in the game by being at the meetings and practices and helping the young guys. When it was time to get back in there I was ready."

Milloy had to adjust to a new team and defensive scheme after signing with the Bills just five days before the start of last season following his shocking release by the New England Patriots.

But he didn't need an adjustment period after the injury. He knew the defense and his role in it. Once he was healthy, the Bills weren't going to hold him back.

"He has waited a long time to get back out there, so we said, 'When Lawyer's ready to go, we're going to turn him loose,' " Gray said. "Our guys are playing well defensively, but they have a chance to play better when you've got a guy like Lawyer Milloy on the football field."

Because of his whirlwind arrival, he didn't get fully acquainted to the city. But a year after leaving New England, Milloy finally feels at home in Buffalo.

"Last year was kind of crazy because I never got a chance to get settled," he said. "But I have a house here now and I just feel comfortable in my surroundings. I'm happy with my situation and now I can just go out and play ball and do my part to help turn this season around."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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