Aaron Schobel's ninth season with the Buffalo Bills is concluding, and might be his last. The veteran defensive end told reporters last week he is considering retirement at the end of the season. Well, if the 2009 season is truly the end for Schobel, he certainly made a final statement Sunday.
Among the reasons for pondering retirement, Schobel said, was questioning his ability to maintain a high level of play moving forward. He showed otherwise against Atlanta, posting three sacks, giving him 10 on the season. Schobel now has four career double-digit sack seasons and the first since posting 14.0 sacks in 2006.
Schobel has formed his Bills career around consistency and dropping opposing quarterbacks, ranking second on the team's all-time sack list, but said the performance is miniscule in defeat.
"When you get sacks you always feel good about it. But like I've told you it's sort of a silly stat. It doesn't guarantee a win, it doesn't do anything like that," Schobel said. "It's almost better to get a pressure that forces a quarterback to throw and get an interception."
The numbers almost get lost in the 31-3 drubbing, but not to interim head coach Perry Fewell.
"That's just Aaron Schobel period. The guy gives the best he has each and every time he lines up," Fewell said. "He's a football playing 'Jessie.' That guy can play football. We love guys like that."
Schobel also recorded two forced fumbles, tying a career-high and achieving the feat for the first time since October 28, 2007 against New York. Both came in the first quarter, but failed to halt a 13-play Falcons scoring drive.
On the Falcons third possession of the game, Schobel burst off the edge and sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for -3 yards. The second down play almost turned in the Bills favor as Schobel stripped the ball from Ryan's grasp.
However, the Falcons recovered and continued their drive until the start of the second quarter. In a similar situation on the same Atlanta drive, Schobel knocked the ball from Ryan again while bringing him to the ground. Even though the sack moved the Falcons back considerably, the ball was recovered, and Matt Bryant nailed a 51-yard field goal for a 10-0 advantage.
Schobel used basic speed and counter moves that gave Falcons second-year tackle Sam Baker fits. He was often seen getting consistent pressure in the pocket and broke through for another takedown in the third quarter. With the Falcons facing a third and short deep in Buffalo territory, Schobel raced around the left tackle and brought Ryan to the turf.
It failed to make a difference as the Falcons converted on 4th-and-12, which led to a short touchdown pass from Ryan to Marty Booker.
While Schobel caused disruption all afternoon, he thought the Falcons offensive staff would try to confuse him as a countermeasure.
"He took advantage of some things that they did. And he was talking before the game about how (Atlanta offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey was going to mess with him and bring different guys at him in different directions," Kyle Williams said. "But he took advantage of some of the looks that he got like he always does."
Schobel proved the opposition and former head coach wrong, but the Falcons took advantage of the Bills weaknesses. Now standing at 5-10, the organization enters the close of another losing season—a scene all too familiar with Schobel.
"You can pick out a lot of years, it's been a struggle," he said. "Nine years I've been here and it's been that way. It's frustrating. We're still playing hard, we're just not getting it done."
Since entering the league in 2001, the Bills haven't reached the playoffs. He has been on just one team that finished with a winning record and playing for his fourth head coach after Fewell replaced Dick Jauron.
"It's frustrating, there's no question," he said. "I'm going to go home and think about it the next couple of months and try to make the best decision I can make for myself, for my family and for the Bills."
Amidst the retirement questions, numbers prove his body of work through the years. Schobel's sack totals (78.0) rank 10th among active players and he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007. He has also started 116 games from his rookie season until the sixth week of 2008, before missing the final 11 games with a foot injury
This season, Schobel leads the team in sacks and is fifth in tackles (68). His four tackles against Atlanta give him 611 career tackles.
So, does Schobel's performance Sunday make him think twice about retiring?
"It's not just about how I'm playing, it's been a long time," he said. "It's been frustrating. I've been frustrated for a while."
Schobel's disappointment was evident and plans on waiting until the offseason to clear his head.
"When you're losing it's just not a good feeling in the locker room and around. Winning would have revived me a little more," Schobel added. "I haven't made a decision. I'm going to think about it and make the best decision I can make for everybody."