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Bills secondary a den of thieves

For Buffalo's defense it has been a case of feast or famine. Getting a stop when they need it against the run has proven hard to come by this season. But when it comes to making a play on a ball in flight there is no team in the NFL that has done better.

The Bills four second half interceptions Sunday vaulted them ahead of the New Orleans Saints as Buffalo now leads the league with 25 on the season. Their 25 picks have already matched their best total since the AFL-NFL merger as the 1975 Bills had 25 in a 14-game season.

On pace for 30 interceptions this year, the Bills would triple their interception total of 10 just a season ago, which tied a franchise low. When asked what changed from last season to this season defensive backs coach George Catavolos pointed to his hands.

"If you take a look at the past four years that we've been here we've had opportunities to make interceptions and have not come up with them," said Catavolos. "We've dropped a number of balls where there were opportunities to make plays. This year we have people catching the football."

Responsible for more than a third of those takeaways is rookie phenom Jairus Byrd, who picked off his league-leading ninth interception Sunday to set a franchise record for most interceptions by a rookie in a season.

"It feels great," Byrd said. "Any time you can lead the league in interceptions I think that's big."

"Jairus Byrd is doing a great job, has excellent eye-hand coordination, tracks the ball well and he's gotten his hands on a lot of balls," said Catavolos. "He leads the league right now in interceptions and that's a credit to him.

"Then you have George Wilson who has four and he's a former wide receiver so he has very good hands. Most of your DBs are guys that could play wide receiver and for one reason or another they were moved from that position. It's a matter of developing your hands, having confidence in your hands and when to break on the ball. That's what we're accomplishing right now."

Buffalo's defensive backs have pulled in 19 of the 25 interceptions this season. While they're quick to credit the pass rush of the men up front, they also believe a major factor in their success is the time they have invested in the meeting rooms.

"They study," said interim head coach Perry Fewell. "This group of DBs they show up on Monday nights and study. They haven't flinched all year. They come in on Tuesday nights, on Wednesday. They know their game plan. It's a tribute to them. They want to be a good secondary."

"We communicate so well," said Byrd of their film room sessions. "We'll argue and say different things, but it's like a family. I'm going to be here and I'm going to do this and at the end of the day we're all on the same page and we all have each others' back. If he says he's going to go here and jump this route because he sees something I'm going to be over the top of the corner. We just all work together and that's what really leads to the turnovers."

Even more impressive is the takeaway production has continued no matter which defensive backs have been in the lineup. Starting left cornerback Terrence McGee missed the last four games recovering from a knee scope before returning on Sunday. His replacement Reggie Corner has an interception on the season. Starting right cornerback Leodis McKelvin went on injured reserve in Week 6 and veteran Drayton Florence has capably filled the void and has an interception.

George Wilson replaced an injured Bryan Scott at strong safety and has logged four interceptions this season. Donte Whitner played nickel corner for about a month when there was a shortage of cornerbacks and has a pair of interceptions.

"The biggest accomplishment of this group in the secondary is we've had about eight or nine different guys starting for us this year," Catavolos said. "They've done a good job stepping in for one another."

And when the interceptions come in bunches everyone on the field wants a piece of the action.

"When you get this many interceptions guys want to get their hands on every pass out there," said Terrence McGee, who got his first interception Sunday.

The competition between players has become so intense that the interception as time expired to seal the win over the Chiefs Sunday was stolen from one Bills defensive back by another according to photo evidence and eyewitness accounts. Most contend and photos indicate that George Wilson pulled the interception from Byrd who had his hands on it first.

"I had it in my hands and I was going to throw it (down)," said Byrd. "We were on the ground and I didn't know who was down there so I was trying to get the ball and he said, 'It's me, it's me.' And so I let him have it."

"Those guys were fighting over interceptions," said Fewell. "At the end of the ball game we were telling them to knock the ball down, but those guys were fighting over the interception and George Wilson got it at the end."

As happy as the Bills are with the production they're getting in terms of takeaways, they're disappointed that they've only returned two of those 25 for touchdowns, Aaron Schobel in Week 1 and Donte Whitner in Week 2.

"With those interceptions I just wish we could have done more with them. We need to turn those into points and that is something we've talked about and it's something we need to get accomplished," said Byrd.

With three games to play Buffalo's defenders have to really kick it into gear to break the franchise mark set in 1962 when the Bills had 36 INTs in just 14 games. And with a quarterback next on their schedule that doesn't make many mistakes the task to continue the takeaway spree will be anything but easy.

"This week we're facing one of the best quarterbacks in the business," said Catavolos. "Over the course of the last nine years there hasn't been anyone that's accomplished more than him and I think we only have one interception on him in the last four years."

Actually the Bills have two in their last five games against Brady when he's started for New England. Of course he has thrown 15 touchdowns in that span as well.

Buffalo would have to average almost four interceptions per game over their last three games to beat the team record, but knowing they already have three games this season in which they've had four interceptions or more, they don't see it as impossible.

"I know these next three teams they like to throw the ball, Indy the Falcons and the Patriots," said McGee. "Three great quarterbacks with great receivers too, but at the same time we'll have opportunities to make plays on the ball."

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