Losses don’t get much more galling than the one the Buffalo Bills suffered last Sunday at Houston.
Their defense could not have played any better, yet a colossal offensive blunder made it all go to waste.
No one was entitled to more regret than Kyle Williams after watching Nathan Peterman throw that fateful pick-six. Williams played the game of his life, with two of the Bills’ seven sacks of Deshaun Watson and one of three fumbles they forced in the 20-13 defeat.
The performance was a stark reminder that, even if he did take a $1 million pay cut to return for a 13th season, the 35-year-old tackle can still do much, if not all, of what has made him one of the better defensive linemen in franchise history.
“I'm not here to stick around for nothing,” Williams said earlier in the week, as the Bills prepared for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis. “I'm here to play and I take a lot of pride in what I do and how I do it. When I go out, I want to perform at the highest level.
“That's the way I prepare. And that's what I've done for a long time and I plan on continuing to do it.”
In this week’s “One-on-One Coverage,” The Buffalo News spent some time with Williams discussing a variety of topics, including his and the Bills’ present and future, the team’s impressive defense and his family life.
Buffalo News: The Bills are 2-4 and starting a quarterback, Derek Anderson, who only joined the team a week ago and hasn't played in two years. Where do you see this season headed?
Kyle Williams: I think there's a lot of things that are right there. I think the great thing is it's not a lack of effort or toughness or things like that. Like last week, it's smarter play. It's protecting the football, it's doing all of those things and the things that you may struggle with, with some young players at some key positions. So it really kind of falls back on continual growth, trying to get better every day, letting these guys understand the difference between having a good week, and then having a down week, is understanding your preparation every week has to be paramount. It has to be the most important thing because you can't fake that.
You can't say, "OK, we had a great week of prep last week, it's going to carry us over this week." That's just not how it works. You can look around the league, you have six, seven, eight teams that won last week, then lost this week. Sustained success is a grind in this league.
BN: You've been through rookie quarterback transitions before and they haven’t gone well. How are you dealing with this one, especially with Josh Allen being out indefinitely with that sprained elbow?
KW: One thing for me was, when Josh got here, not knowing what we're going to do, but knowing that Josh is going to be a product of the future and that I may not see his best days as a player. I may not get to see the full, I guess, fruits of my efforts now. Obviously, we're going out there to win. We've got a bunch of good guys that prepare the right way. We're going to have to grind some games out and win to be the team that we'd like to be.
But at the end of the day, maybe the things that I planted now, today, show up and I get to watch and enjoy five, six, seven years, or whatever it is, down the road from now, whether it's with Josh, or whether it's with Harry (rookie defensive tackle Harrison Phillips), or (rookie linebacker) Tremaine (Edmunds). Hopefully, I can give something of myself that they find a value and they can add to their career and it can carry them to be to be a better player, to be the best version of themselves.
BN: How difficult was it for you to accept that pay cut?
KW: I could have gone elsewhere for more money, but didn't really entertain that. At the end of the day, I'm a Buffalo Bill. Compared to what I made the year before, a million bucks, a half a million bucks, at a certain point it comes down to, who are you? What's your legacy? And I think, at the end of the day, I'm a Buffalo Bill. And I want to stay that way.
BN: Did retirement ever cross your mind?
KW: No. In my conversations with (General Manager) Brandon (Beane) and (coach) Sean (McDermott) in our exit meetings, I said, "My intention is to play next year." And, obviously, my intention was to play here and then after that it was just a matter of working it out. Did they want me back? Etc., etc.
BN: This defense looks like it's playing as well as it has in a while. How good does it look to you?
KW: I think we've been good. We talked about it, as a defense, the difference between a bad defense being good and a good defense being great is making the most of our opportunities and making plays when we need to. So take, for instance, last Sunday. A great defense closes that game out when we go back on the field in the fourth quarter, with three minutes left. Now we actually made a play to end it, but we weren't able to come up with the ball. Obviously, I know some of that involves luck. The ball's funny shaped.
But whether that's me not missing a sack and stripping it. Or Jerry (Hughes) ending up making the sack and causing a fumble and we just don't get it back. Or if that's not getting a (pass interference) penalty. Or if that's making them punt the ball or get off the field on fourth down. I don't know what it is, but you find a way and great defenses, great teams, find a way. If we want to take these next steps, these are some things that we need to do.
BW: You seem to have formed some immediate chemistry with the newcomers to the front seven: tackles Star Lotulelei, Harrison and Jordan Phillips. How has that come together so quickly?
KW: I think it's good, but I think it's a product of straightforward communication, holding each other accountable, being very clear on our expectations. "What's your job? Do your job, I'll do mine." And we go in and we meet as a defense together, we watch the run tape together, we communicate because we're all out there together, and we have to work our way through it. And we want to see things the same way. If we can all see things the same way, we know our jobs and we're playing fast, then we can be a good defensive football team.
I feel like we've got a good group of like eight, nine guys (on the defensive line) that can go out and roll and play at a high level. I like our group, I really do.
BW: After six games, how well would you say you know each other, and how important is that to having success?
KW: You've got to build a foundation. We start in OTAs and mini camp of what are we going to do? What are we philosophy-wise? How are we going to play? And then you kind of morph and you grow into, "OK, he likes to play a six technique like this. He likes to play a three technique like this ..." So there's different feels and different looks based on the defenses that we're going to play, that you kind of get accustomed to and you get a feel for.
The more you play together, the more reps you see, you get more and more comfortable and you see that as we continue to grow through the season. We talk about getting a little bit better and a little bit better and a little bit better. And these young guys are going to continue to do that with the more reps they get. I'm here and other guys are here to try to help with that learning curve for them, trying to get them as comfortable as fast as we can.
BN: Each week you and Lorenzo Alexander get what Sean McDermott calls a "veteran day off" from practice. But you're still out here in uniform.
KW: I go through all the prepractice stuff, walk-throughs, meetings, all that kind of stuff. We come out here, I warm up and then for the first 45 minutes of practice, while they're going through individual in the first couple of team periods, I'm in the weight room doing a workout that's built for me. And when I finish that up, I come back out for the last half of practice to watch and help and do all that kind of stuff. So, really, I'm working out, I'm working hard, getting a sweat. I'm just not out here getting tons of contact.
BN: You don't last as long as you have in this league without having a tremendous work ethic. Do you have to balance that with not being a full participant in one practice per week?
KW: Yeah, there's a balance. I mean, that's why the walk-throughs and the meetings and stuff, some people may take for granted. I have to really lock in and kind of put myself mentally or visually in a state of like, "Hey, I have to get this right, I have to see these looks because maybe I'm not going to get as many reps through the week."
I've become more receptive to it as the years have gone, like, "Hey, you know what? I do need a little bit more recovery time from the week before." It's a sliding scale, but if you're committed to preparing and taking the small things seriously and getting better, it's not that big of a deal.
BN: What do you remember about suffering what looked like a pretty serious injury to your right knee in last August's preseason game at Cleveland?
KW: A receiver came in to crack Micah (Hyde) on a toss play and he missed and tripped on the offensive tackle and hit me from the side. And when he hit me, something popped in my knee and I went down. The problem was, it didn't hurt all that bad, it's just when he hit me, my leg locked and I couldn't get up, so we had to kind of move it to get up. I was pretty sure of what had happened. I didn't think, at the time, it was a catastrophic injury.
Obviously, it's something that's aggravating and you've got to deal with for a long time. The doctors are like, "Oh, you need like five or six weeks." And I'm like, "OK, I've got two weeks until the regular season." You're in football season and you don't have time to wait or time off or anything like that. So you just deal with it.
BN: How tough was it to see Eric Wood, your closest friend on the team, suddenly be forced to retire after last season because of a chronic neck problem?
KW: Seeing him retire was tough. And I think more along the lines of the terms that he had to had to go out on, you know, because he's the ultimate team guy and he is the ultimate competitor. He wants to play. You have some guys that, as they get along in their career, you can tell they're like, "I'm kind of beat down, I'm kind of looking for a reason to be done." He wants to play, he wanted to play, so that's a tough thing.
You have a guy that's a leader on offense, he does everything the right way, and it was tough to see how it happened. But that being said, I've been around long enough that I've seen a lot of really good friends come and go. The only constant thing in the NFL is change, so you see that, you learn how to deal with it and you adapt to it.
But the great thing about a team is if you've got young guys, 20-, 21-year-old guys from all over the country, from the inner city, from the country to a 35-year-old guy that's got five kids. And what bonds them? It's the game and it's the team. It's amazing how you have a built-in community and continuity through the game of football, so it's easy to relate and kind of bond together over something that we come out here and do every day.
BN: Has Eric's absence changed the leadership dynamic in any noticeable way?
KW: No, I think that we've got a pretty good core of guys. I'm going to be who I am. Now, I'm not in offensive meetings with the O-line or the receivers or running backs or anything like that. So you have to have guys that step up individually in that room and try to take the reins in those rooms. Because some rooms may be stronger than others with guys that either have done it or know how to do it. You can't be everywhere at once, so you have to rely on your teammates to a certain extent.
BN: What's the mix like of being a pro football player and having a busy family life with your wife, Jill, and your five children -- ages 11, 10, seven, five and three -- who always seemed to be running around your legs after training-camp practices?
KW: Number one, I've got a great woman at home that does what she can to make me comfortable or to make it easy on me during football season. I mean, just taking care of most things on the home front, because I'm here seven days a week. I'm not getting home 'til 6:30-7 every night for the most part. I'm gone at 5:45, six o'clock, so now there's a lot that falls on her plate. During football season, she's the king of the castle. She's our MVP for sure.
I try to pick it back up in the offseason, but this career is definitely at least half hers that she can hopefully enjoy and take some pride in.
BN: What's it like when finally you leave the facility?
KW: When I get home, it's typically straight to the dinner table. Maybe we have homework (to help with), maybe we don't. Maybe play a game or talk about the day, whatever it may be. I'll try to get out of here where I can take four of them to soccer practice and my wife can be at home and have a little off time for herself. Typically, I'll have a little time with them before bed and maybe I'll go watch film. But when I get home and until they go to bed, football is gone.
Sometimes on Tuesdays, when I'm either just rehabbing or watching film, I'll bring my kids here with me. They think this is their second home. I tell my wife, "They're way too entitled when they come around here." They think the indoor (practice facility) is their playpen. Sometimes they're like, "Dad, I don't want to watch film. This is boring. I want to go throw the football." But it's good, especially with the older ones, getting the opportunity to share it with them. This doesn't last forever.
BN: Speaking of which, do you ever allow yourself to think about this coming to an end?
KW: I think, for me, playing in the NFL, especially in the interior line, is way too hard and way too taxing to let your mind go different places. You have to be fully invested, you have to be fully focused to be your best. For me, I'm older, I've been around, so I have a constant balance between mental preparation, physical preparation, trying to recover and do the right things. So I can't split my mind into another third, or whatever it is, thinking about what the future may hold.
I've been doing the same things since my rookie year. I'm going to worry about today and go get after it. And whatever the future holds, we'll find out together.