PHILADELPHIA – The Buffalo Bills’ best offensive lineman of the 2015 season, a veteran who has resurrected his once-doomed NFL career, took a seat and didn’t mince words.
Richie Incognito has been a constant this season. Reliable. Dependable. One risk who has absolutely worked out in a locker room full of them.
But this was a very long, very frustrating afternoon.
“Fletcher Cox, he ate my lunch today,” Incognito said. “He really shows up on film and makes a lot of plays. I got to see it first-hand today. He got me early and often. I didn’t play nearly up to my level. I’m man enough to say I didn’t play well enough for this team to win.
“Penalties late. Giving up a sack. That’s not a recipe for success.”
The best player on the field in Philadelphia’s 23-20 win over the Bills – quite possibly the knockout blow to Buffalo’s season – was not LeSean McCoy. Not Sam Bradford. Not DeMarco Murray. Not anyone associated with the weeklong soap opera. No, it was a defensive end the Eagles acquired before coach Chip Kelly even took over. Unlike J.J. Watt a week prior, Cox single-handedly wrecked plays in finishing with eight tackles (seven solo), including two for loss and a sack.
This 6-foot-4, 300-pounder’s strength was an issue all game for an offensive line that had been mauling teams.
On Buffalo’s first drive, Cox beat Incognito for a third-down sack. With 7 minutes to go, he overpowered him to engulf McCoy for a 10-yard loss that derailed a drive. And later, with 3 minutes and 23 seconds left, Incognito had no choice but to hook Cox with a hold to prevent another sack.
It was a strange sight. Most of this season, Incognito’s been the one pulling and dictating the physicality up front. Buffalo has rushed for 266, 148, 94, 129 and 187 yards in the five games since the bye week.
On Sunday, the tires finally popped on Buffalo’s ground game. Incognito grasps the magnitude of falling to 6-7.
“We live this every day,” he said. “We know what that loss means.”
Cox didn’t exactly sneak up on Buffalo. A week ago, he was a human sledgehammer against the New England Patriots, hitting Tom Brady four times. Yet the Bills seemed content blocking him with only one player most of the game.
As Eagles players were quick to note, a lot of that was their doing. They used stunts and movement up front to create those one-on-ones.
“He’s not getting them all the time but when he does get them,” defensive tackle Beau Allen said, “he takes advantage of them, which is incredibly important.”
Added linebacker Connor Barwin, “You double him but you can’t double everybody the whole game. You know? He made some game-changing plays for us and he’s been doing that the whole year.”
As a result, Shady faded away, from kissing the Eagle at the 50-yard line before the game to bolting through the tunnel once it was all over.
After a dynamite first half (12 carries, 63 yards), McCoy mustered only 11 yards on eight carries in the second. Philadelphia funneled his runs into traffic and rallied to the ball. As Allen noted, they faced him every day in training camp so they knew this was the key.
Said Allen, “We kind of know to keep him from the sideline.”
Sure doesn’t hurt to have one of the NFL’s best interior rushers disrupting plays, too. Cox didn’t say much himself afterward, though he pointed to the 10-yard loss as a turning point.
“The momentum switched,” Cox said, “and everybody went crazy in the stands.”
A week ago, Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman quarantined Watt away from the action. The Bills double-teamed him, ran away from him and used a flurry of different running schemes to keep the Texans guessing. This day, Cox dictated the action.
Incognito acknowledged that the Bills were singled up on him most of the game and that Cox, a “big, strong, physical guy,” was simply too much to handle.
This is someone who once ran the second leg of his high school track team’s 4x100 relay. And at the NFL Scouting Combine, he ran a 4.79 in the 40 while also bench-pressing 225 pounds 30 times. A freakish combination. The player Buffalo drafted ahead of Cox? Cornerback Stephon Gilmore? Sidelined with a shoulder injury.
“He’s got some quicks to him, he’s got some elusiveness,” Incognito said. “He really does a good job of keeping his feet moving in the pass rush. Our job is to get them to stop their feet and throw an anchor on them and it’s hard to throw an anchor on a good guy like that when he’s got his feet moving.
“We had a plan in place for him. We had a special emphasis for him but just some of the sets that they got us in – they got us in five-on-five.”
Now, the Bills’ playoff hopes are all but dead. Cox may be the No. 1 reason why.
“I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown,” coach Rex Ryan said, “but I’m not laughing now.”