It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon for Trae Elston.
The Buffalo Bills’ safety found himself in coverage on back-to-back, 20-yard gains on the Oakland Raiders’ first drive Sunday. There was cause for concern about the injuries in the Buffalo secondary, and Elston’s tough start only heightened those.
Those concerns, however, were quickly put to rest. Elston bounced back after his tough start to lead the Bills in tackles during a convincing 34-14 victory at New Era Field. He even iced the win with an interception of Derek Carr with 1:43 remaining.
“It was a great feeling, man, just to help the team out,” he said. “Anything I can do, just to help the team in a positive way.”
Elston made his first career start in place of Jordan Poyer, who missed the game because of a knee injury. Given how good Poyer had been the first seven weeks of the season, fear of a dropoff was justified.
“I just feel like everybody was a little jittery at first, but everybody calmed down,” Elston said. “We knew what they were going to do. ... I wasn’t nervous, but just trying to be real detailed in what I was doing fundamentally and I feel like I was just trying to think too much on that first drive. After that I calmed down and just played ball.”
Elston said Poyer texted him every day throughout the week leading up to the game, asking him if he needed anything.
“I leaned on them a lot,” Elston said of Poyer and fellow starter Micah Hyde. “I just tried to do my job. If the tackles came my way, I was trying to make them. I know I had a couple missed ones, and I can always improve on that. I’m just thankful for Micah and Jordan, man. I’m blessed to have them.”
Hyde, who had his NFL-leading fifth interception, raved about Elston’s performance after the game.
“Awesome job, awesome job,” he said. There were no hiccups out there. None. He stepped in, played his game. He brings something else to the table, just because he's out there and he wants to hit. Just an awesome, awesome job stepping in. I love it.”
Hyde said there wasn't one time he felt Elston didn't know what he was supposed to do.
Elston’s performance was emblematic of the Buffalo defense as a whole. Playing without three starters, the Bills limited the Raiders to just 14 points.
"Those guys are leaders on our team, but at the same time we preach 'Next man up,' " Hyde said. "Those guys that are stepping in for those other guys that are hurt did an awesome job. As a defense, as a secondary ... all the film study we put in is paying off."
“When it's your turn, just know that you've got to do your job,” Elston added. “That holds everybody accountable.”
The learning experience continued until the very end for Elston. After his interception, he took a massive clothesline from Raiders center Rodney Hudson.
"I should have just went down," Elston said with a laugh.
That's a lesson gladly learned when it comes in a win.