As the men of Buffalo's offensive line strolled up to the team locker room after their 12-point victory over the Bengals last Sunday, a few smiles were cracked by some of the biggest players on the team. There were finally some offensive statistics that supported the good work the line had been doing for most of the year, including a couple of late drives in which they pounded Cincinnati into submission.
"We just wanted to take it upon ourselves to finish after not being able to do that two other times this season," said left guard Derrick Dockery. "So we just wanted to come out and run the ball. Marshawn (Lynch) did a tremendous job. We were physical, it wasn't perfect by any means, but we played hard."
The offense finally broke out posting season highs in nine different statistical categories including rushing yards, passing yards and third down conversion percentage. It was the kind of offensive performance most observers expected to see from the outset of the season. But head coach Dick Jauron doesn't believe the blame for the team's early season shortcomings should be heaped on the line.
"I've said through the whole year that our offensive line is pretty good," said Jauron. "They'll just continue to just get better. That's my belief. I don't think they've played poorly at all."
Protection has actually been pretty good through the first half of the season with the offensive unit surrendering just 16 sacks through the first eight games. That's on pace to be lowest sack total allowed by a Buffalo offense in one season since 1995 (32).
"The offensive line played excellent and they have been for the last couple of weeks," said J.P. Losman. "I've been a little jealous of Trent. I think he got hit for the first time against the Jets and he was like, 'I'm getting hit.' I said, 'You don't know what getting hit is.' (laughs) That was the first time he was hit in three weeks. The offensive line has been playing great. As a quarterback it feels good."
There were times when Losman had such solid protection last Sunday that he was given an inordinate amount of time to survey his options. It happened midway through the third quarter. Tied at seven the Bills were driving toward midfield. On a 3rd-and-10 at their own 44 Losman was given the time to deliver a 30-yard strike over the middle to Lee Evans to set up 1st-and-10 at the Bengals 26-yard line.
Two plays later on 2nd-and-7 at the Cincinnati 23, Losman dropped back surveyed the entire field twice before coming back to the near sideline to hit Michael Gaines for an 11-yard gain setting up 1st-and-10 at the 12-yard line. Buffalo would get a field goal on that drive to retake the lead 10-7.
"When you can get through your reads and go 1, 2, 3 and check it down," said Losman. "That's very comforting. They're doing an excellent job."
"We anticipated a little more pressure from them and we didn't get it," said Jauron. "Our guys did a good job. It's always more than just the line, but they played well. But our tight ends blocked well as did our backs in the course of that game. The whole thing came together and gave (Losman) time to hold it a little longer."
What has impressed Losman the most about his linemen is their self-motivation during the course of a game.
"You should hear them in the huddle," said Losman. "They're leading their own way. I don't have to sit there and tell them it's 3rd-and-1. They already know its 3rd-and-1, let's go. It's good to hear that from the offensive linemen. They're into the game and they understand the calls. It's a real positive right now.'
Right tackle Langston Walker feels they've progressed each week, and that Sunday's performance was in all likelihood one of their better outings. He attributes their success to a collective belief in one another.
"It comes down to a pride thing," said Walker. "Offensive linemen don't get a lot of the glory. They get a lot of the pain and the blame. But we were out there protecting."
While Buffalo's offensive front may not get much pub as the unit tries to establish some point scoring consistency, their head coach believes the linemen are a major building block in terms of where this team is headed.
"I think our offensive line is one of the strengths of our team as we move forward," said Jauron. "They've done a good job, but they can do better. They've only been together for eight games and Marshawn Lynch has only run behind them for eight games. I think they will get progressively better. But I believe they're good right now."