When he had to step into the starting lineup on defense, he was viewed as just a place holder until top draft choice Shaq Lawson was healthy. When he started making plays on defense he was seen as a beneficiary to all the attention being paid to Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams. After five games of unprecedented pass rush production in team history, most are finally getting wise to the fact that 11-year veteran Lorenzo Alexander still has a lot of gas left in the tank.
The outside linebacker is enjoying a renaissance to his career at age 33. For the first time in three seasons he feels 100 percent healthy after he struggled to return from a Lis franc foot injury he suffered when he was with Arizona. Now with his legs fully underneath him, Alexander is proving to opponents if you don't account for him he will make you pay.
Alexander's three sacks on Sunday in the win over the Rams were the latest reminder. They not only vaulted him to the top position on the team in quarterback takedowns through the team's first five games. Alexander now leads the league in sacks with seven.
When asked if he knew he was leading the NFL in sacks his response was succinct.
"Oh really," he said with raised eyebrows.
It's not that Alexander couldn't believe it. He's always had confidence that he could be a productive player whether he was performing on defense or special teams, the primary role he was brought in to fill by Buffalo this offseason. It's just that the opportunity he's been given is like found money and the results for the Bills defense have been like hitting the jackpot.
The return on investment with Alexander has been so significant, head coach Rex Ryan sarcastically talked about the player they thought would be filling the role the veteran pass rusher is playing.
"We knew what we were getting. We thought we were getting a great pass rusher, it's just his name might not have been Lorenzo Alexander. But hopefully that young kid comes in and provides what we thought he would when we drafted him," said Ryan in reference to top draft choice Shaq Lawson. "Lorenzo, you can't say enough for him. I mean, it's just time and time again. You talk about a great pro that you wish every one of your players would emulate this guy, and you know what, to be honest with you, there are a lot of guys like that. But he's right at the top of the list and what a tremendous job he's done."
Sacks never come at a bad time, but each of Alexander's three takedowns of the Rams' Case Keenum proved critical along with a few other plays that he made.
With the Rams on the march and the Bills ahead by three early in the third quarter, Los Angeles had moved to the Buffalo 36-yard line facing a 3rd-and-3. Alexander knifed through a gap up the middle and dropped Keenum for a sack forcing the Rams to settle for a long field goal only tying the score at 16.
After the Bills took the lead on Nickell Robey-Coleman's interception return, the Rams were trying to respond on their ensuing possession.
Rams kick returner Michael Thomas took the kickoff out from three yards deep in the end zone and was laid out by Alexander who was on the kick coverage unit at the Rams 16-yard line. Three plays later he was dropping Keenum on a 3rd-and-4 to send the Rams three-and-out.
Late in the fourth quarter was where Alexander really shined. He had a hand, literally in ending each of Los Angeles' last two possessions.
With four minutes left and Buffalo up 23-19, the Rams had a 3rd-and-5 at their own 23. Alexander swatted Keenum's third down pass attempt to TE Lance Kendricks which fell incomplete.
With 2:17 left in the game on the Rams next possession Alexander sacked Keenum for a loss of eight. Going for it on 4th-and-18 at their own 16, Alexander then provided a quarterback pressure, forcing Keenum into an interception by Robey-Coleman to effectively seal the victory.
"I've kind of taken advantage of the opportunities that I've been given," said Alexander. "I think Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes have done a good job of drawing blocks and pushing the pocket and often times I'm able to finish off and make plays one-on-one."
This wasn't supposed to be Alexander's role, but the role he's filling now has unquestionably been one of the most important on the defensive side of the ball.
"It just fits my skill set," said Alexander. "I think Rob Ryan and Rex Ryan and D.T. (Dennis Thurman) do a good job of putting me in position to make plays. They move me around. I'm not stagnant, sitting there. I think I do a good job of blitzing and just trying to find my way within the scheme. I think everybody else around me does a great job. We have me Jerry and Kyle kind of roaming they don't know who to turn the protection to and (Sunday) I ran free and I was able to capitalize."
Alexander said earlier in his career when given opportunities he produced, but never like this. His highest sack total in a season was 2.5 before this season. In fact in 10 seasons he had nine career sacks.
His highest tackle total was 58 when he started 12 games and appeared in 16 for Washington in 2010. Alexander is almost halfway to that total with only five games played (28).
Prior to this season he had three forced fumbles in his career. He has two already this season.
"Anytime you prepare you can go out there and make plays," he said. "A lot of times in the league guys get an opportunity. You can have great players as backup players and then when the stars go down and you get an opportunity and you shine you can find yourself excelling in this league very quickly."
A season like this has been a long time coming for Lorenzo Alexander. A very principled man it hasn't been hard for him to stay humble. But there has to be a part of him truly enjoying the fruits of his labor. And though he's new to the team, there is genuine appreciation for Alexander as a teammate on both sides of the ball.
"I cannot say enough good things about that guy, as a football man, as a person, as a Christian and a husband and a dad," said Eric Wood. "He's a role model to me and a lot of guys on the team. To see a guy with three sacks, make a huge play on a kickoff… he's selfless. He's a selfless player and he's extremely valuable to us."