Wade Phillips hopes he doesn't have too many Sundays like the one 10 days ago, when the Buffalo Bills rallied from a 26-0 deficit to defeat the Indianapolis Colts by two points.
"That was the hardest game I've ever coached," said the Bills' defensive coordinator, in his 22nd year in the NFL. "That's because of all the things that were going against us. It came to a point where you couldn't afford to give up anything."
The hang-tough nature of the Bills' defense was nothing short of miraculous that game. Eight times the Colts took possession in Bills' territory. Only once did they manage to score a touchdown. It's not a stretch that Bills could have trailed, 49-0.
But that kind of performance is not out of the ordinary for Phillips' unit. The Bills' defense has shown remarkable stiffness in adverse situations the past two seasons. Last year, opponents gained possession 26 times in Bills' territory and managed just three touchdowns. That TD rate of 11 percent was the second-best in the NFL, bettered only by Green Bay.
This year, the Bills' defense already has entered the game on its own half of the field 14 times. It has allowed only two TDs.
That's what you call keeping your team in the game. It's also called asking for trouble. The Bills, who have committed the second-most turnovers in the league, obviously can't keep giving the ball away.
"You've got to rise to the occasion," defensive end Jim Jeffcoat said. "Instead of backing off, we all got together and tried to get it on. I think it's the mentality of the guys out there. A lot of these guys have had success. The Bills have been to four Super Bowls. There's a mentality that you're never out of a game, and the defense can keep you in the game."
"You can say what you want about the offense, but I'm a defensive player," Phil Hansen said. "I don't care if it's on the 20, the 50 or our 10. Your job is to go out and stop them."
Phillips said it's important for the coaches to show a stiff upper lip to the players.
"I don't think Marv and our defensive coaches overreact to something bad happening on offense," Phillips said. "Players are guided by your reactions. If you start saying, 'Oh God, we've got terrible field position again' and throw down your headset, that's not good. It's got to be, 'Hey, let's go get 'em.' I think that comes from Marv overall."
The Bills' defense also is accustomed to adversity. Most of the years the Bills ran the no-huddle offense, the defense was on the field for more plays than any other team in the league. And they got used to going back on the field quickly.
"I think that contributes to the psyche," Phillips said. "Even if they didn't turn it over, they'd be off the field sometimes in three plays in 19 seconds."
The defense has been among the league's best against the run the past two years. And last year the Bills tied for second in the NFL in Red Zone defense. Opponents scored TDs on just 37 percent of their marches inside the Bills' 20.
"In the Red Zone, the number of pass routes a team can run tends to decrease, but the complexity of the offense tends to increase," cornerback Jeff Burris said. "Teams tend to run a lot of different pick routes down there. Our coaching staff does a very good job of preparing us for the different tactics that teams use against us."
HOLD THAT LINE
Opponents have begun drives in Bills' territory 14 times this season. The Buffalo defense has allowed just two touchdowns on those possessions:
Opp. DrivesTDsFGs Where drive started
Minnesota 31 0 43, 35, 45
N.Y. Jets 30 3 7, 37, 27
Kansas City 00 0 --
Indianapolis 81 5 16, 49, 39, 25
35, 20, 8, 48