The investments were announced, one by one, with the most expensive saved for last.
Marcell Dareus — the Buffalo Bills’ new $108 million dollar man — emerged from the tunnel to a thunderous ovation. And right there waiting for him were Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes. The four trotted onto the field as one. This was the group carefully assembled over the past decade for this precise moment.
To torment Tom Brady. To take over the AFC East. To lead Buffalo back to the playoffs.
And for the next three hours at Ralph Wilson Stadium, those four players were then rendered mostly useless.
The Bills don’t have a franchise quarterback, so they’ve paid millions to the guys who are supposed to make the lives of them hell. Thus, Sunday's 40-32 loss had to be discouraging for the players, the front office, everyone involved. Brady was as cool and comfortable as ever in dismantling Buffalo for 466 yards and three touchdowns on 38-of-59 passing.
He was sacked twice and hit only three other times, muting 70,000-plus fans in the process. As he exited the locker room, Dareus made it seem like such a performance was out of this pricey pass rush's hands.
What else can Buffalo? “Not much,” he said.
Not a good sign considering this 38-year-old looked like he could play until he’s 50.
“As a defensive lineman, there’s not much you can do if he’s getting the ball out,” Dareus said. “Hell, you can put your hands up and try to put an O-lineman in their face but there’s not much you can do if the quarterback’s getting the ball out. Two seconds, three seconds, there’s nothing you can really do.”
Such comments might make fans cringe, but Dareus isn’t lying either.
Brady’s quick release — start to finish — was deadly. He targeted Julian Edelman 19 times, essentially turning the 5-foot-10 slot receiver into the Patriots' running game. Nine different players had a reception. That death-by-a-thousand-paper cuts offense from the Super Bowl was at it again. Linebacker Nigel Bradham was brutally honest, saying Brady "didn't really take any hits." He points to the coverage behind the investments.
"We've got to figure out a way to make him hold it," he said.
True, this front has gotten to other quarterbacks. The Bills have rattled Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck.
But Brady is the quarterback they must conquer. Has been since New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis knocked out Drew Bledsoe on Sept. 23, 2001. And on Sunday, Brady turned the Bills' defense into an arcade game. He continues to own this team, this defense. This highly, highly paid defense. The big spending began with Mario Williams in 2012 and, since then, the Bills are 0-6 when Brady plays the full game.
Asked if all of the investing makes Brady’s historic day that much more frustrating, Williams (like Bradham) hinted at other problems defensively.
“We’ve got to figure out how to prevent him from getting that ball out quick,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, if a guy’s open, throw it to him. Especially if he already knows who he’s throwing to and if what he thinks and predicts is what we’re doing, then he knows who’s hot and who he can get the ball to.
“He’s a great quarterback. So we can’t get frustrated. We have to keep going.”
When the Bills finally did ding Brady, it nearly turned the game around. Hughes’ sack-strip teed up a touchdown that cut the Patriots’ lead to 37-32 with 4 minutes and 16 seconds left. But for the most part, Brady relied on rhythmic three-step drops, slinging the ball out before anyone could touch him.
So the pass rushers are at a lost for words. Each contract is brought up to Dareus, too. He quickly says that such team-building isn't designed for one quarterback.
But, at some point, the Bills still must stump Brady.
“When he gets the ball out quick,” Dareus said, “there’s not really much we can do but have a good scheme to confuse him. ... We got there certain times to get pressure but at the same time, if he’s getting rid of it early—within 2 or 3 steps of the line he’s getting rid of the ball. We have to have a better scheme together and know what’s going on and just be more attentive.”
Added Hughes, “That’s why he’s been in the league as long as he is. He doesn’t take too many hits. He’s a smart quarterback.”
In true Belichickian form, Hughes repeated three times that the Bills were “on to Miami.”
If only the Bills’ end result was the same as New England in 2014 after Bill Belichick's monotone “We’re on to Cincinnati.”
Sunday left much to be desired.
Said Williams, “You can’t get frustrated. When you get that shot, you’ve got to be able to take it and try to make the best of it.”