Tied at 14 with 21 seconds left and the ball on the Bills' 40-yard line in Week 5 at Detroit there were a few nervous looks being shot back and forth across the Buffalo huddle. Kyle Orton, who had only become a part of that huddle four days prior, made sure everyone knew where things stood.
"He was a leader that whole game," said Sammy Watkins. "Throughout the whole time we were going through adversity he was in the huddle leading this team. He knew where he was going with the ball."
Where he was going was to Watkins on a crossing route, and though he got a giant assist from the rookie receiver on the play, the 20 yards gained led to another big assist from Dan Carpenter on a 58-yard game-winning field goal with nine seconds to play. Orton's calm in the face of enormous pressure at a critical point in that game let everyone else relax and play.
That effect has carried into the games that have followed giving Buffalo's offense a stabilizing force at the most important position.
From Purdue to Buffalo, check out these photos of Bills quarterback Kyle Orton.
Showing poise might be seen as rather easy for Orton. When one considers how often Orton has found himself on the wrong side of quarterback playing decisions in his career, be it Chicago or Denver, poise would appear to be something Orton has in spades.
Of course back in Week 5 at Detroit showing poise was easier said than done when he threw a pick six on Buffalo's fourth possession of the game. It was the first game with Orton in the lineup as the new starting quarterback and he had just put the team in a 14-0 hole.
Orton calmly trotted to the sideline and told his offensive coaches he was fine and knew exactly what happened.
"The best thing about Kyle is he doesn't care," said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. "He is just straight even-keel all the time. He throws a pick six and I'm going, 'Oh my gosh, what's going to go on?' We go down 14-zero and he comes right back and says, 'Hey, what's the next play? What do you want to do? Where can we get another big play?' He never stops. He keeps going. He is just a straight line guy the whole time. He just wants to keep making plays."
He reassured his teammates as well.
"He kind of knew, he stared me down," said Watkins, who was the target on the interception play. "That veteran cornerback basically read his eyes and he jumped the pass before I even broke."
Being a veteran himself, Orton quickly re-adjusted to the speed and talent that was present in that game day atmosphere.
"After that he never stared me down," said Watkins. "Every time he came to me he looked me off and the ball was where it needed to be."
That poise that helped Buffalo win the game against the Lions was also on display against the Vikings, in another instance where the Bills offense wasn't having much success. The run game was stymied and pass protection was compromised by the offense's one-dimensional nature in the game against Minnesota. Orton was also responsible for a pair of turnovers, but when the game was on the line he was unflappable.
With 11 of Buffalo's previous 12 possessions in the game lasting no more than six plays in duration, Orton put together a 15-play trek that began at the Bills' five-yard line. It was a drive that covered 95 net yards with Orton going 8-12 passing for 105 thanks to yards lost by penalty and a pair of sacks on the possession. Conversions of 4th-and-20, 3rd-and-12 and 2nd-and-20 were part of the unlikely march to a game-winning touchdown pass to Watkins with one second remaining in the game.
Throw in a four-touchdown passing day against the Jets in Week 8 and, for a quarterback who arrived August 30th to line up with players he didn't throw with and a playbook he hadn't laid eyes on until a week before the regular season, the production has been impressive.
"It's been a crazy ride for me, for him just coming on the team, 'Hey Kyle, how you doing?' Now he's starting. What Kyle can do – I think it can only get better," said Hackett. "We've only really been working together for the last four weeks. We've been able to put together three wins and a couple of good pass outings. I don't know yet because it's still such a young season, only at the halfway point, but I think it's very promising the way he's prepared himself, the way he's handled himself."
A demanding orchestrator
Off the field Orton is soft spoken with the media. If you're more than two deep at one of his weekly question and answer sessions at his locker you're unlikely to hear his responses. But that demeanor changes in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. It's very clear, very quickly who is running the show.
In fact in just four short weeks Orton has changed the way his offensive teammates prepare for games by showing them how you prime yourself to play winning football.
"I know I've got to play well, I've got to play smart. I don't know everything, but I've been around. I think we're doing a better job every week with our preparation and really putting in the work that it takes to win football games," said Orton. "When you don't have those veterans to show you the way it's tough on guys. I think they think they're doing it the right way, but until they actually do it the right way it's hard to know. So they're doing a great job. We're getting better. We're preparing better every week and that'll end up paying dividends on the field."
"Kyle, he demands a lot from us and he should," said WR Chris Hogan. "He expects us to go through our walk-throughs and not have any mental errors, especially going into the game. He wants to know that we know what we're going to be doing on the field. That level of expectation for us is really helping us especially in our room as a group, being a bunch of young guys. He's kind of helping us prepare a bit more throughout the week."
Orton's demands are specific. It is very black and white with the veteran quarterback, which keeps his receiving corps from guessing.
"Kyle has demanded a lot from those guys, because he sees it a certain way, the two of us see it a certain way, he's just one of those guys who knows what he wants and he's not afraid to say it," said Hackett. "That's where the experience comes. He's an older guy. He says, 'Hey guys, this is where I want you to be. Let's get it done and do you understand why?' That working relationship, because of his experience, is what has been created. Those guys are kind of forced to do that."
Orton invites EJ Manuel to sit in with him on his Tuesday morning meetings with Hackett to get a jump on the preliminary elements of the game plan and to study film. He also sets up throwing sessions with his wideouts on Tuesdays at the practice facility.
"I think the communication between the quarterback and the wide receiver is paramount," Orton said. "First, it comes from the coordinator to me. So I know what (Hackett) is thinking on all the plays. It's better if the receivers are hearing it from me what I expect on each play and how I see the game going. So I think that communication is always big between the quarterbacks and the skill positions. We've focused our preparation on the right things. It's helping us. It's helped us on the field."
"He's done a great job of holding guys accountable," said Eric Wood. "Showing it with himself first, with his work ethic, with the time he puts in up here, and that rubs off on everybody. That kind of work ethic is contagious and that's good for us."
Better play ahead
When one considers that Orton has been heavily invested in Buffalo's offense for all of a month, and posted a 3-1 record in the process, the expectations for what's to come are intriguing. The fact that he's done it with a running game that's struggled to produce makes his level of play all the more impressive. Buffalo's offensive staff, as well as Orton and his teammates, believe their collective performance can only improve as Hackett and the skill position players get more in tune with Orton on the field.
"We're working hard on it. I think if we can kind of stop our self-inflicted wounds a little bit I think we give ourselves a better chance to reach our full potential," said Orton. "I think more than anything our preparation each week is getting better, which is going to give us a chance to go out and play better ball."
It's obvious his offensive teammates respect him and appreciate the calming presence he brings to the huddle.
"He's a leader. His poise is great every week," said Watkins. 'He knows what he's doing with the ball. He makes the passes that he needs to make. He puts us in the greatest situations. He knows how to help us out on the field, put us in different areas. That's what we need, a veteran quarterback."
Having his Tuesday meetings with Hackett has also proven essential in synchronizing his views of the offense with those of his offensive play caller.
"The two of us are on the same page, which is awesome," said Hackett. "That's the starting point. So when a play comes in he knows right before some of those other guys where he's going to go with the ball. He's one of those guys where when he sees it, he's going to put it there and he's going to put it there accurately."
That helps explain why since he's been in the lineup Buffalo's red zone touchdown efficiency has increased from 33 percent through the first four weeks of the season (5-for-15) to 60 percent over the past four games with Orton at the controls (9-for-15).
"The game last week, when he throws that (12-yard touchdown pass) to Chandler, it was awesome," said Hackett. "He knew, we all knew, where the ball was going right away and it was still between two defenders. When you have that much knowledge and that much experience you know you can pull the trigger and you know how tight a window it is, that's what you need in that red zone. It's such a small area and there's such a small margin for success. I think that's something he's really done a nice job at and it's something that he brings because of his expertise and his arm strength.
"It's always been a quarterback league. You need to have that trigger man who can make those plays down the field, who can do the quick game, who can really be the general on the field. Kyle Orton has done that for us. He very well could just continue to get better and that's what I expect from him."