The one injury that derailed this Buffalo Bills defense more than anything might’ve been to safety Aaron Williams. He has missed all but three games with a neck injury. And while Williams vows he’ll be back in 2016, his future certainly is in jeopardy.
Corey Graham returns but has struggled of late. The head-hunting Bacarri Rambo is a free agent.
At the absolute peak of this 2015 season — a 22-17 win over the New York Jets — Rambo resembled the future. He was the AFC defensive player of the week with two forced fumbles and a game-sealing interception. Since then, it’s been a roller-coaster. Now, general manager Doug Whaley, coach Rex Ryan, whoever's calling the shots in March must decide if Rambo, a restricted free agent, is worth keeping around.
“We’ll see,” Rambo said. “I’m going to let Whaley, Rex and all them and my agent talk about that. I just want to play football. That’s all I’m worried about.
“Everybody has their own opinion. Some people say I’m doing good, some people say I’m not. I don’t worry about that stuff.”
Rambo missed Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury but returned on Thursday. He expects to play on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. The 6-foot, 211-pounder has started the last five games for Buffalo with 52 tackles and six pass break-ups on the season.
He leaves receivers with bruises; he punishes. But then, there are hard-to-watch gaffes like the 77-yard touchdown reception by Washington's DeSean Jackson.
In the 35-25 loss, Jackson caught a deep pass up the left sideline — Graham unable to locate the ball — and Rambo was on the scene to make the tackle. Yet he half over-ran the play, half froze in place as Jackson easily turned upfield for the score.
“A bad angle, bad adjustment by myself,” Rambo said. “That’s blame I put on myself. I should’ve taken a better angle. ... I was thinking about the ball when I should’ve been thinking about the tackle. So I put that on myself.”
This is the Catch-22 with Rambo. He’s around the ball, he makes plays, he’s a hard-hitting presence. But he has also been caught out of position in coverage. Such a relentless playing style can be a double-edged sword.
Ryan’s defensive scheme, as noted by many this week, is complicated. Rambo made it clear he’s grasping it all.
“If you just sit down and study, you’ll understand them,” Rambo said. “The more I sit down and study the playbook, I get a better understanding of Rex and the scheme, so I really don’t complain about it. I just go out and do what he asks and understand — play and do what they ask us to do.”
Ryan is “very understanding,” he added, and doesn’t put players in bad calls.
He’s not sure what the future holds, but Rambo hopes people know what type of safety he is.
This is someone who plays with a rare temperament. Rambo even said his favorite hit of all-time was back in college, when he was knocked out cold after a devastating collision at the goal line.
“A guy that just loves the game, that has a very good passion for the game,” Rambo said. “A play-caller. Understands the game. Understands the scheme. A very intelligent guy. And a playmaker. There are some things I have to work on but I’ll continue to get to get better at my technique and understanding of the game — understanding offenses and what plays are coming.
“All of that will come. I’m just staying patient and continuing to work each and every day.”
Running back LeSean McCoy (knee), inside linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle), tight end Charles Clay (back) and cornerback Ronald Darby (groin) all did not practice on Thursday.
Coach Rex Ryan wasn’t sure about anyone’s game status yet. On McCoy, he said the Bills are practicing as if they won’t have him.
“But if he’s ready to roll and the docs think he’s good, then obviously we’ll reconsider it,” Ryan said. “We’re prepared to go either way.
“We’re trying to win these games but we’re not going to put a guy out who’s hurt, and that’s any player.”
Limited at practice were guard John Miller (ankle), wide receiver Walter Powell (hip), safety Aaron Williams (neck), running back Karlos Williams (shoulder), center Eric Wood (shoulder), Rambo (knee) and end Mario Williams (hand).
Ryan is holding practice on Christmas Day.
The Bills expect running back Mike Gillislee to play a major role these final two games and, likely, to stick around into the 2016 season.
“Without question,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “A guy like that can play for me any day. I know the team is really pleased with what he’s done. He’s hit some big plays for us and done a lot of little things, too.”
The 2013 fifth-round pick previously released by the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals years has been one bright spot for the Bills, rushing for 146 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns the last three weeks. Last week, he slipped between a huge hole up on the left side for a 60-yard score.
Roman said Gillislee has picked up a ton in a very short span and has performed “brilliantly.”
“This guy has been nothing but impressive in meetings, behind the scenes. At practice, he’s 100 miles an hour, full speed mentally all time.”