Leslie Frazier was upfront about why the Buffalo Bills started Ryan Lewis at cornerback Sunday.
“I don’t know if it was anything (he did) in practice,” the team’s defensive coordinator said. “Some of it had to do with the injury to Phillip Gaines. I mean, that had a lot to do with it.”
Whatever the reason, the Bills had to be pleased with what they got from Lewis in his first career start. After being claimed off waivers by the Bills from the New England Patriots at final cuts, he spent the first week of the season on the 53-man roster, but was inactive in Week 1 against Baltimore. He was released after that game, only to be re-signed the next day.
Lewis rejoined the 53-man roster last week after Vontae Davis’ shocking halftime retirement and Gaines’ elbow injury, which put his availability in doubt heading into Week 3.
“We went through practice, took a look at what he was doing, took a look at what Lafayette (Pitts) was doing, and just determined that he was our best option at this point,” Frazier said. “Fortunately for us, he stepped up and really played well. We applauded him in our defensive meeting. His first start as a rookie … to play as well as he did on the road says a lot about Ryan.”
Lewis, 24, played collegiately at Pitt before entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 2017. He was released by the Cardinals at final cuts, and spent a brief amount of time on their practice squad before again getting cut. The New England Patriots then added him to their practice squad.
The Bills attempted to add Lewis to their roster last season, but he passed on the opportunity to stay with the Patriots. When he became available again this year, the Bills didn’t let him get away.
“I'm extremely proud of Ryan,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I think we as a staff overall and his teammates are extremely proud of Ryan. To come in just over two weeks ago, give or take … I just really appreciate the way he was ready to go when his number was called. That's really a part of what we do and who we are."
According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, Lewis gave up three catches on four targets against the Vikings, for a total of 24 yards. That’s good work against the high-powered Minnesota offense.
“That’s just the mindset that I have, as a corner they’re always going to take a shot at me no matter who you are,” he said. “No matter what receiver you cover.”
Both McDermott and Frazier credited defensive backs coach John Butler on getting Lewis prepared to play in short order.
“First of all, just understanding our scheme and what we were trying to get accomplished. … He’s only had a short time on task,” Frazier said. “So that’s asking a lot… to pick up the system, and then be able to incorporate that in a live situation when you’ve only primarily practiced as a scout-team player, you haven’t been taking reps with the first unit. He began to do that later in the week, and credit to him and John, to be prepared and go out there and play with some poise.
“The way he played at the line of scrimmage, his grasp of the system, the way he handled the various situations in the game, whether it was first and 10, third and 3, third and long, red zone, whatever, he handled each one of those situations extremely well.”
Lewis had to leave briefly in the second half on a couple of occasions, but said afterward that he was fine.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve played a full game of football, so my body was just cramping up a bit. Nothing crazy,” he said.
Gaines’ availability for the Week 4 game at Green Bay is still to be determined.
The Bills, though, learned Sunday that the stage isn’t too big for Lewis if he’s called on again.
“It’s always the next-guy-up mentality – whether it’s a guy leaving or a guy getting hurt,” he said. “That’s just something we take pride in.”