Sunday's win over the Broncos served as an uplifting result in a season that has fallen short of the postseason for many reasons. The inspired play, the big plays and the emergence of some rookies were all a part of the winning effort. But perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the victory was Trent Edwards statement as the leader of Buffalo's offense.
When Edwards left the lineup three weeks ago, outside observers were still wondering if he had what it takes to consistently lead a team. The offense was also stuck in neutral. They managed just three points in back-to-back games, and even though they put up 27 two weeks ago, not being able to finish off a four-minute drill to salt the game away against the Jets left the unit feeling as though they let the rest of the team down.
So upon returning to the starting lineup Sunday, Edwards was determined to have the offense carry its weight.
His stat line at game's end wouldn't convince anyone that he had a big impact on the game, but a lot of the things that quarterbacks are required to do like displaying toughness, making a play when it has to be made, making adjustments pre-snap and playing effectively in winter weather were all on display.
Edwards toughness was evident early. He took some big hits as the Broncos defense seemingly brought every defender on long down and distance situations in the first quarter. But Edwards kept coming back for another snap.
He was also struggling with the speed of the game as he had to re-acclimate himself to game day conditions after missing the last two games.
"The thing they were doing in the first quarter was all out pressure on third down and second and long," he said. "That's what we were getting early on. Hostile environment, I hadn't played in two weeks. It was just kind of getting back into the flow of the game."
"Obviously he hadn't played in a while and he was little bit rusty at first," said head coach Dick Jauron. "A very tough guy, a very resilient guy. You can see him in the pocket he's not a person that panics and he takes some hits. He'll stand in there and do what he has to do to help the team win."
After a rocky couple of possessions to start the game Edwards settled in and led a pair of second quarter scoring drives including the efficient two-minute drill at the end of the half to pull Buffalo to within three after falling behind early 13-0.
Edwards was just 7-10 for 64 yards on the two scoring drives, but he delivered a big third down conversion to Roscoe Parrish after taking an illegal hit behind the play on their first field goal drive, and managed the clock well on the two-minute drill using a pair of the three timeouts Buffalo still had left allowing Marshawn Lynch to score from two yards out with :19 seconds on the clock..
"Terrific leader," said Jauron. "(He) handles the information very well, in and out of the huddle, up to the line, on the line, making any adjustments he needs to make. Really just great to have him back on the field."
In the second half Edwards stared down a few more bone crunching hits to make a play. Facing a 2nd-and-6 from the Buffalo 32 in the second half, Edwards took a hit knowing by hanging in the pocket just a half second longer he had the potential to make a big play to Fred Jackson down the sideline. The end result was a 65-yard play that eventually led to a touchdown and the lead (23-20).
"He took a couple of big shots and got up from some big hits and delivered some times even with that pressure in his face," said Duke Preston. "So our hat is off to him. Playing for a quarterback like that who is tough as nails and stay in the pocket and still deliver the ball is big for our offensive line."
"I took some shots, but you've got to get back up and we were able to put a drive together," Edwards said.
Buffalo's signal caller also adjusted to what the Denver defense was giving him. The Broncos were committed to taking Lee Evans away. So Edwards found alternatives, most notably in his security blanket Josh Reed, who finished with a career high nine receptions. But he also made use of Steve Johnson and the versatile Jackson.
Edwards also showed improvement playing in winter weather. Sunday was the coldest game ever at Invesco Field with the mercury making it up to just 17 degrees, which felt like seven with the wind chill.
As the sun was quickly setting in the second half, Edwards went 9-11 for 127 yards and a touchdown. It may not have been the ultimate test in terms of weather, but it was a big confidence booster for his teammates.
"He threw some great balls out there especially in this cold," said Preston. "To bounce back and make the plays like he did rolling around and getting out on some nakeds and boots and moving the pocket, Trent was awesome."
"We fought hard and we can play in this cold weather and we're probably going to get it next week," Edwards said.
Edwards honesty after the game concerning his team's play the past few weeks also showed his leadership. He's always been accountable for his own play, but he took a step forward in holding the entire unit accountable for their play leading up to Sunday's game.
"The last couple of weeks haven't gone the way we've wanted them to especially offensively," said Edwards. "For me personally sitting and watching I think we kind of didn't hold up our end of the bargain. I think offensively we held our own for the most of the game (Sunday)."
Overcoming personal struggles, a double-digit deficit, weather, displaying leadership, toughness and holding his unit to a certain standard were all visible on a day when Buffalo was searching for answers not only for this season, but beyond.
Sunday served notice that Buffalo likely has their long term answer at the most important position on the field.