Rarely does tackling Marshawn Lynch amount to a one-man job. Usually it requires two players, three players, and in some cases more. Lynch's legs drive relentlessly, like pistons, always propelling him forward in his quest to take one more step, produce one more yard.
The qualities that distinguish Lynch as a powerful, workhorse back also qualify him as an dangerous source of deception. Opponents must commit to total pursuit whenever the ball's in his hands. It's imperative to get as many bodies on him as possible. And when a defense over-commits in the red zone, that's when Lynch suddenly looms as a triple threat.
Yes, he can run. Sure, he can catch. And now the NFL, like the Pac-10, knows he can throw.
The fourth-quarter option pass that Lynch tossed to tight end Robert Royal on Sunday has hibernated in the Bills' playbook since early summer, awaiting circumstances that warranted its awakening.
"It was something we'd been working on since training camp," said Royal of the 8-yard touchdown pass. "And the defense guys didn't even know because we never run it in practice against each other. So when it happened the defensive guys are like, 'Man, where did that play come from?' And I'm like, 'We work on it. We just work on it when we're separate away from you guys.' "
The Bengals were ripe to be had. They had confounded a Lynch run to the left side in the second quarter, dropping him for a 4-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 1. The Bills ended up settling for a field goal. Whether by luck or design, the decision to run Lynch wide in that situation positioned the Bills to unleash the option pass later, with the game on the line.
Stopping Lynch became Cincinnati's obsession. The Bills ran him six straight times in advancing from the Cincinnati 32 to the 8. When Lynch was handed the ball a seventh consecutive time, the Bengals swarmed.
"It was a straight pass all the way," Royal said. "We had those guys suck up when Marshawn got the ball, because we were consistent trying to pound the ball, and it just so happened the safeties and the linebackers bit up on the play and I was able to get out there and could make a play."
"If he's covered at that point in time, I'm a running back so get that ball down hill," Lynch said. "But if he's open, put the ball on him. They had seen the sweep we ran earlier so they kind of bit up on it. Perfect call."
Cal knows the play. Lynch completed two option passes as a freshman, one good for a 20-yard touchdown strike. He threw another for a TD as a sophomore, that one covering 21 yards. Count Lynch's arm as another weapon the Bills have at their disposal, although his legs will remain what worries opponents the most.
Lynch showed his breakaway ability in the season opener, when he victimized the Denver Broncos for a 23-yard touchdown run. Since then, he'd come close multiple times to striking from long distance and attaining his first 100-yard rushing game.
"Every time it seemed like as soon as he'd get close he'd get a little shoestring tackle or somebody would happen to grab him at the end," Royal said.
Lynch's moment finally arrived. With 2:33 remaining and the Bills protecting a five-point lead, Lynch slipped linebacker Rashad Jeanty, outran the pursuit of defensive end Justin Smith and sizzled down the right sideline. The 56-yard touchdown jaunt put the finishing touch on Buffalo's 33-21 victory and propelled Lynch to a 153-yard rushing day.
"I think the safety came down and might have hit the linebacker off of me," Lynch said. "And gave me that free line to the end zone, which I took."
"I was just excited for him to be able to get out there in the open field," Royal said. "I really wanted to see him make a move on somebody and then get into the open field, but either way it came I was happy for him."
"It's been there all year, so it was bound to happen one game and I'm glad it happened this game," said tackle Jason Peters. "He hadn't got 100 yards all year and we kept telling him that we were going to get it for him and he finally got it."
"It feels great," Lynch said, "but the win feels better."