He's toiled mainly on special teams as an unknown rookie this season, but as injuries have mounted on defense this season linebacker A.J. Tarpley has increasingly made his presence felt. On Sunday his impact reached critical mass. Tarpley had both of Buffalo's takeaways in a much-needed 16-6 win over Dallas.
On a day when Buffalo was missing 10 starters from their offensive and defensive lineups head coach Rex Ryan could not have been more appreciative of the game turned in by Tarpley.
"There's a guy that obviously… what a game he played," Ryan said. "He gets the interception, forces a fumble. He just did a tremendous job."
Tarpley's first takeaway came at a critical time when it was still a field goal game. With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Dallas QB Kellen Moore threw a pass to Brice Butler, but the ball was behind him and in his attempt to make the catch he was labeled by an oncoming Leodis McKelvin. The collision sent the ball off of Butler's body and into the waiting arms of Tarpley, who tore up the right sideline after making the interception.
"I've got to credit Leo," said Tarpley. "He made the play. He popped the ball out, getting the pass break up, and I just happened to run over there, grab it, and get some yards."
Tarpley returned the ball 37 yards to the Dallas 46. Unfortunately Buffalo's offense couldn't capitalize on what was then the only takeaway of the game because Karlos Williams was stripped of the ball just three plays later at the Cowboys 19-yard line.
The Bills did eventually provide themselves with more of a cushion when Mike Gillislee ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run to make it 16-6 with just over two and a half minutes left in the game. On the ensuing kickoff Tarpley sealed the win forcing Dallas returner Lucky Whitehead to fumble.
"I was coming down the field on kickoff. I kind of played off Boobie Dixon in my lane," said Tarpley. "And then I hit one of the fullbacks, and I came out and punched the ball out with my left hand."
He then recovered the loose ball himself at the Cowboys 26-yard line. Buffalo's offense ran out the remaining time on the clock for the win.
Tarpley has been a player that impressed Ryan since training camp. His on field anticipation and general football knowledge were innate skills that Buffalo's head coach knew weren't all that common in a rookie. Now at season's end, Tarpley fills roles on special teams and at all three linebacker positions.
"He backs up the inside linebackers, both spots," said Ryan. "Stepped into that role sharing it at WILL linebacker inside. He also had to play some SAM linebacker too when Manny (Lawson) went down for a little bit (Sunday). He's just a sharp guy. Obviously a Stanford kid, but he's a football player and I'm just really proud of him."
"I just want to go out there and make plays," said Tarpley. "I think we all do. We all feed off each other, play off each other and I'm grateful for my teammates. I want to help the team. It's just great to get a chance."