Shaq Lawson got after it Sunday – on and off the field.
The Buffalo Bills’ fourth-year defensive end recorded the second two-sack game of his career during a 20-3 victory over the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. He let his opponents know about it after the game, too.
In video captured by Rochester’s WROC-TV, Lawson angrily confronts Broncos guard Connor McGovern, telling him, “you remember me now, I got two sacks off your (expletive).”
“He was like, ‘I don’t remember you since college,’ ” Lawson said in the winning locker room about what set him off. “I said, ‘I bet you I’ll show you better than I can tell you.’ That’s what I did, man. That motivation when he said it the first couple plays I was in sparked me up.”
Motivation hasn’t been hard for Lawson to find this year, including from his own team. Bills General Manager Brandon Beane declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Lawson’s rookie contract, which means the Clemson product will become a free agent after this season.
The message is obvious: If Lawson wants a new deal here in Buffalo, he has to show the team why they should give it to him. Remember: He was brought in by former General Manager Doug Whaley and coach Rex Ryan, so Beane and current coach Sean McDermott do not have the ties that come with drafting a player in the first round.
“I sit back and think like, man, it's changed around here, you know?” Lawson said after Sunday’s game. “As far as, I been with Rex my rookie year, and now. It's just different. This whole environment has changed, and I'm glad to be a part of this environment right here.”
The Bills are happy to have him.
"He brings a lot of energy to our football team during the week," McDermott said. "Today you saw, as well, on the field. He's one of those dogs -- in a good way. He likes to hunt and I love having him on our football team."
With a single season-high five sacks after Sunday’s game and still five games left this year, Lawson is building a compelling case to stick around.
“There's still a lot of football left. That was my motivation this offseason, didn't get the fifth-year option, knew what I had to play for,” he said. “I want to win and get this team to a Super Bowl, man, and play great while I'm doing it. It's a personal challenge every day that I wake up.”
Lawson’s first sack against the Broncos came in the second quarter. The Bills rushed four on the play, but Denver’s offensive line seemed to be thrown off by Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano rushing the passer. That allowed Lawson to come to the left side of the offensive line untouched, dropping Brandon Allen for a 13-yard loss.
His second sack came when he rushed from a defensive tackle position, splitting McGovern and rookie Dalton Risner to drop Allen for a 10-yard loss.
“He was phenomenal getting after the quarterback. Wherever they put him on the line, whether it's right end, left end, inside at any other defensive tackle position, he goes out there and makes plays,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “That's what he's capable of doing. He knows he can do it. He pinned his ears back and had fun today, and it was fun watching him get after the quarterback. ... That's the Shaq we all know in this building, so it was fun just to see him let it loose.”
Lawson has never had a problem with that. He’s easily one of the more fun-loving players on the Bills’ roster who is almost always heard before he’s seen in the locker room. That carried over to the field Sunday.
“I was out there talking junk the whole game because No. 72 (Broncos tackle Garrett Bolles) was talking,” Lawson said. “That’s my game plan. I talk junk, not you trying to talk junk to me. You can’t get me. They were coming at me. I like that.”
As a former first-round draft pick himself who was traded, Hughes can relate to Lawson in the sense that both players have been doubted during their professional career.
“That's the nature of this business,” he said. “They doubt everything you do. They doubt if you should be a first-rounder. … We've just to go out there, play football and do what we do.”
The Bills will get a chance to do that on a national stage. A trip to Dallas is coming up for a Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys.
“Every game is important. It's a one-game season each week,” Lawson said. “You can get beat by any team in this league. That's the NFL. Every game is important. We couldn't look past Denver and go straight to Dallas. We just take one game at a time. We've got a short week this week, Thursday, playing on Thanksgiving. I've been dreaming of this. I've never played on Thanksgiving before, so it's kind of great.”
The Bills got some help Sunday with the New York Jets defeating the Oakland Raiders. That gave the Bills a two-game lead for the final playoff spot in the AFC. At 8-3, Buffalo is two games clear of a logjam of teams at 6-5: the Raiders, Titans, Steelers and Colts. Buffalo holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee, and will get a chance to do the same against Pittsburgh next month.
A lot can still happen, but the bottom line is if the Bills can beat the Steelers and Jets in the season finale, they have a 99% chance of making the playoffs, according to the New York Times’ playoff machine. Currently, they have an 82% chance.
Looking ahead to Week 13, the biggest games that could impact the Bills are Steelers-Browns, Titans-Colts and Chiefs-Raiders. Losses for any of those teams help the Bills, but the best case would be losses for the Steelers, Colts and Raiders. That would get all of those teams to six losses.
The Bills gave it to Frank Gore after their win. We'll follow suit. Gore's statistical output -- 15 carries for 65 yards -- was significant in the win. He was presented the game ball, though, as a result of what those 65 yards meant historically. They boosted his career rushing total to 15,289, moving him ahead of Barry Sanders into third place on the NFL's all-time list. Additionally, Gore moved ahead of Marshall Faulk into fourth place on the all-time scrimmage yards list, with 19,155.
"It's an honor to watch Frank every day," McDermott said. "We should all be grateful for being able to witness that."
“Our guys understand how important these wins are. They work extremely hard during the week with their habits, the routines. Coaches have done a really good job. The coordinators, all three of them, and the staffs, are putting the players in position and then the players have taken ownership of that and they’ve executed at a high level. And so we have to continue to do that.” – McDermott
1. A finger injury limited center Mitch Morse to just 16 snaps (20%). Guard Spencer Long played 64 snaps (80%) after coming off the bench. Jon Feliciano played 100% of the snaps – 16 at right guard and then 64 at center after Morse went out.
“I trust in our our guys implicitly and those next men up and Spencer came in and did a great job at right guard,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “We didn’t really miss a step there.”
2. The Bills again used heavy “11” personnel, meaning one running back and one tight end on the field with three receivers. Most often, that look was Devin Singletary (57 snaps, 71%), Dawson Knox (62 snaps, 78%), John Brown (74 snaps, 92%), Cole Beasley (65 snaps, 81%) and Isaiah McKenzie (61 snaps, 76%).
3. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is the only member of the team to take every snap. He’s been on the field for all 716 defensive snaps, including all 50 against Denver. Left tackle Dion Dawkins has missed just two snaps this season, playing 770 of 772 offensive snaps, including all 80 against the Broncos.
4. The rotation at cornerback opposite Tre’Davious White continued. Levi Wallace got more of the playing time, playing 32 snaps (64%) against the Broncos, compared to 18 snaps (36%) for Kevin Johnson.
5. With Siran Neal out of the lineup because of a concussion, Taron Johnson saw an increase in work on special teams, playing a season-high 16 snaps (67%).
The Bills play on perhaps the biggest stage the NFL has to offer -- Thanksgiving Day at the Dallas Cowboys. "I'm going back to work," McDermott said in his postgame press conference Sunday. "I'm going to go over there (to his office) and change and try and grab something to eat and get back to work here. Not a whole lot of time. So, good opponent, at their place, a lot of tradition and it will be an opportunity for us to put our best foot forward." Here are three things to know about the Cowboys, who fell to 6-5 on the season with a 13-9 loss to New England on Sunday.
1. Coach Jason Garrett appears to be on the hot seat. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke with the media following Sunday's loss and came far from offering a ringing endorsement for Garrett, who is in the final year of his contract. "I think you're going to get out-coached during this era when you come to New England. I do. I think you are," Jones told reporters. The Cowboys haven't beaten a team with a winning record this season. "We needed a win against an opponent like this, and we haven't had one," Jones said.
2. Garrett got conservative Sunday. With his team trailing 13-6 and facing a fourth and 7 from the Patriots' 11-yard line with 6:04 remaining against the Patriots, the Cowboys' coach called for a field goal that made the score 13-9.
If "they go ahead and kick a field goal coming back, it's still a chance to be in the game," Garrett explained afterward. The Cowboys did get the ball back with 2:38 remaining and all three timeouts, but an incomplete pass intended for Amari Cooper on fourth down sealed the game.
3. The Cowboys' offense is for real. Yes, they had a tough day against the Patriots, but the Cowboys still lead the NFL in yards per game (433.4), yards per play (6.60), passing yards per game (303.5) and passing yards per play (8.37). They are second in third-down conversions, falling out of the top spot after going 2 for 13 against New England. For the season, the Cowboys have converted 48.5% of their third downs.