Leger Douzable sat in front of his dressing cubicle after the Buffalo Bills' 28-21 victory Sunday, a jersey from the vanquished opponent folded up on the floor in front of him.
It was a gift from Jacksonville Jaguars running back Chris Ivory, Douzable's good friend and former New York Jets teammate. "That's my guy," the Bills' defensive lineman said with a smile.
Friendship has its limits, though.
Although no one on the Bills' defense was offering any apologies for what it did to heavily contribute to sealing the outcome that improved Buffalo's record to 6-5, Douzable couldn't conceal his joy over some good fortune it had along the way. On a day when the unit mostly struggled and was having a particularly tough time against the run, he was happy Ivory wasn't on the field for the better part of the final three quarters.
In fact, Douzable was absolutely thrilled the Jaguars didn't have Ivory -- who ran nine times for 44 yards and a touchdown before exiting the game with a hamstring injury late in the first quarter -- for their final two drives that ended with a punt and an incomplete pass on fourth down to help secure the win.
Before exchanging jerseys after the game, Douzable told Ivory, "Hey, you my dog, but I didn't mind you going out of the game."
The Bills' defense was missing some big dogs of its own for those final two possessions. Cornerback Ronald Darby also exited the game in the first quarter with a concussion, prompting all sorts of shuffling in an already thin secondary. Defensive lineman Marcell Dareus -- who finished with two sacks, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits -- left the game just before the first of Jacksonville's last two drives with what Rex Ryan called an "abdominal issue."
Still, the defense held. Finally.
The Jaguars set an uneasy tone for the Bills by taking the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards on 11 plays to Ivory's two-yard touchdown run. The Bills would cut the margin to 7-6 at halftime, then take a 13-7 lead when LeSean McCoy tore off a career-best 75-yard touchdown run on the first snap of the third quarter.
It seemed that things were beginning to click for the Bills. McCoy wasn't showing any ill effects from the surgery he underwent on his left thumb barely a week ago.
But the defense couldn't keep a lid on Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who did more damage running than throwing but did manage to toss a couple of touchdown passes. The Jaguars had leads of 14-13 and 21-20 before Tyrod Taylor, who looked awful through the first half before finally getting into a groove, connected with Justin Hunter from 16 yards for the deciding touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
"We were there to make plays," Douzable, who replaced Dareus, said of the Bills' defense. "We just didn't make them until the last two drives of the game. Of course, there's frustration, but at the end of the day, we're professionals. We've got to go out there and do a job and we were able to close the game out.
"I'm just glad everybody was on one accord and we went out there and closed the game out and won."
With 10:46 left, the Jaguars took over at their own 25. Four plays later, they punted.
They got the ball again with 6:44 remaining. Douzable and fellow veteran defensive lineman Kyle Williams gathered the defense to deliver a message.
"We've held them up long enough," they said. "If we want to be a consistent defense, we have to get off the field."
"And I think, to that point," Douzable said, "(Bortles) had converted maybe 60 percent on third down, which we can't have."
On fourth-and-nine from the Buffalo 45, Bortles completed a four-yard pass to Marqise Lee.
The Bills took over with 3:25 on the clock, and the Bills twice converted on third down: once with a seven-yard Taylor completion to Charles Clay and once with a nine-yard run by McCoy.
Game over. Playoff hopes still alive.
Just as with last week's 16-12 victory at Cincinnati, the Bills didn't do anything brilliant. They just did it well enough. They struggled mightily to beat a three-win Bengals team. The same was true against the two-win Jaguars.
"Obviously, we'll take the win," Ryan said. "That was a heck of a game. Shoot, you got to give Jacksonville a ton of credit."
Perhaps that's being generous.
After all, the Bills have playoff aspirations. The Jaguars are playing out the string to what is likely to be an overhaul of the coaching staff and possibly the front office. Bortles has regressed as a quarterback. And when they suffer injuries, such as the one to Ivory and others to key players, they shouldn't be able to push almost any opponent to the brink.
But the Bills have now won two games in a row and are in position, by winning all of their last five (and possibly four of them) to end their 16-year playoff drought. The path gets more difficult with the next game at Oakland, against one of the NFL's hottest teams in the 9-2 Raiders.
How much stress do the Bills feel having to play "must-win" games every week?
"We put ourselves in that situation, but we understand it," Ryan said. "One thing about us, we're going to compete all the way. I mean, all the way until they say we can't play anymore. We're going to keep competing and keep grinding, and that's what we'll do.
"Whether we're comfortable or not, this is the situation we're on. We're going to be fighting all the way, though."