Dane Jackson had veteran players in his ear in the days and hours leading up to his NFL debut against the New York Jets on Sunday.
"I'm meant to be here," Jackson said.
The seventh-round pick looked the part of an NFL cornerback during the Bills' 18-10 victory, vindicating his teammates' confidence with big plays at crucial moments of the game.
With the Jets facing a third-and-4 and threatening to score in the first quarter, Jackson dropped back into the end zone before pouncing to break up a Sam Darnold pass attempt to Denzel Mims (another player making his NFL debut). The play helped keep the Jets to a field goal on their opening drive.
Later, with New York pushing to extend its 10-3 lead during the final minute of the first half, Jackson jumped a pass intended for Jeff Smith and earned his first career interception. The Bills capitalized and kicked a field goal as time expired, cutting the deficit to 10-6.
Jackson provided one more clutch moment with the Jets trailing 15-10 late in the fourth quarter. The rookie made a quick break toward the ball and engulfed Mims as he attempted to make a first-down catch, completing a three-and-out for the Bills defense.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott gave Jackson a special shoutout during his postgame speech.
"That was huge," McDermott said. "For any rookie to contribute like that, especially coming off the bench the way he did. That's our team, the 'next man up' mentality. The great part about it is he was prepared, which I give credit to him and to the coaching staff for that.
"It's a great lesson for the rest of the young players on our team that when your number is called, you've got to be ready. At any moment, you've got to be ready. Dane did a great job and players, really, I thought rallied around him as well."
Jackson spent the first six weeks of the season on the Bills' practice squad, where he was expected to remain for Week 7 until starting cornerback Josh Norman sustained a mid-week hamstring injury. That left Jackson with days to wrap his head around the idea of his first NFL start.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier credited secondary coach John Butler with implementing Jackson into the game plan.
"I've watched Dane throughout the training camp that we had and I've watched him on the practice squad prepare every week as if he was going to play," Frazier said. "So, I wasn't really nervous or overly concerned about if he would know what to do.
"It was a matter of how he would react to some of the ups and downs of a game. He handled every situation with so much poise. So, it was really encouraging to watch him play."
Jackson said the confidence from his coaches and teammates went a long way.
"I felt good," he said. "It felt kind of surreal out there. I went out there with a lot of confidence."
Here are more notes to wrap up Week 6.
Matt Milano returned from a two-game absence caused by a pectoral injury and played 19 snaps. All of them came either on third downs or within the two-minute warning at the end of each half, with the exception of a fourth-and-1 during the second quarter.
Milano showcased his sideline-to-sideline speed with a tackle of running back La'Mical Perine on his third play of the game, burst through the line to help stifle a Perine run on the aforementioned fourth-and-1, and powered past interior lineman Josh Andrews to earn a share of a sack on New York's final drive of the afternoon.
"I was happy," McDermott said. "I thought he brought good intensity to our defense, performed well, and did a good job in the role that he had."
McDermott said it remains to be seen when Milano will be ready to return to an every-down role.
"We just have to see," he said. "He's coming off a pretty significant injury there. But I thought he did a good job. Mentally, he was in a good spot today. We'll just see how it goes through the rest of the week here."
A game ball for Hughes
It was impossible to miss the impact made by Jerry Hughes, whether you watched the game or simply looked at the stat sheet. Hughes racked up two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception.
He became the second Bills player since 1982 to record two sacks and an interception in the same game, joining Cornelius Bennett.
"He was dominant," Frazier said. "Even at times when he didn't sack the quarterback, he did a great job for us in putting pressure on their passing game and did a good job in the run game as well, was really stout playing the left end position.
"He's traditionally been our number one guy on the right side and we kind of made a switch, putting him on the left and letting Mario (Addison) work the right. He's never complained and he's gotten better and better at the left side. Yesterday was kind of like a coming out for him on the left side of the line."
Hughes leads the Bills with 10 pressures and five quarterback hurries, according to profootballreference.com.
What was less evident to viewers was the impact Hughes had on the sideline. Frazier lauded the defensive end's attitude during the tumultuous first half and talked about how Hughes has actively filled the leadership role previously occupied by Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander.
"I was so encouraged by Jerry yesterday," Frazier said. "Early in the game, we had fell behind. Jerry was so positive and encouraging his teammates on the sideline. I remember saying to myself, 'Man, that's what you need out of one of your star players who's a leader.'
"He wasn't pointing fingers. He never doubted that we were going to win that game. You could hear it in his voice. For him to go out and play the way he played along with leading on the sideline was really encouraging."
Moss sees an increased workload
Rookie running back Zack Moss played 35 snaps Sunday for his highest share of the season (47 percent). He capitalized with 47 yards on seven carries and 25 more on three receptions, both of which represented personal bests.
Moss had played just 14 snaps against Kansas City last week, his first game back from a three-week absence stemming from a toe injury.
"Zack's a good, young player," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "He's still getting his feet wet here not having played a whole bunch. We just got to keep bringing him along both in the run game and the protection game.
"… He's a big back. He needs to play big. He's been making improvements since he's been here and hopefully we get consistency with him staying on the field."