Leslie Frazier credited two players with rallying the Bills defense through the ups and downs of a tumultuous victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12, a game that saw the Buffalo offense commit three turnovers in a seven-play span during the fourth quarter.
One was an 11-year veteran. The other may as well be.
"I think for us, it starts with Tremaine and Jerry Hughes," Frazier, the Bills defensive coordinator, said. "Those are probably the guys that really set the temperament for our defense and they have been very resilient throughout the season.
"We've had some moments where things didn't look great, but they just continued to fight, and it's really a mirror image of Tremaine's demeanor and the fire that Jerry brings to the defense."
Tremaine Edmunds has been touted for having a maturity beyond his years since entering the league in 2018. Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander, the Bills old guard on defense, mentored the linebacker as the leader of the future. Edmunds took the responsibility and ran with it this past offseason.
And, yes, in moments of adversity, it's the 22-year-old Edmunds who sets the tone for his defense before taking the field. His message?
"The biggest thing is starting fast, playing physical, playing free, and guys just having fun," Edmunds said. "I think, if I had to say the number one thing, it's having fun. If you have fun, a lot of those things kind of take care of itself."
Edmunds is having fun again on the football field after an admittedly uncharacteristic start to his third season. He sustained a shoulder injury in the opener that forced him to miss Buffalo's Week 2 game against Miami and continued to affect his play afterward.
The injury was compounded by an early learning curve for a Bills defense with new players in key positions and no preseason games to become acclimated with one another. Strict COVID-19 protocols limited that off-the-field, team-bonding activities that Edmunds values highly.
Micah Hyde said that by Week 3 or 4, there were still teammates on defense he had yet to sit down and have conversations with.
"It doesn't matter what you did the year before," Hyde said. "You have to go out there and do it again. It's tough to repeat (as a top defense) in this league. Each and every game is a different challenge, different circumstances. You can even go as detailed as no crowds on third downs, stuff like that."
As the Bills defense has begun to find its aggressive identity in recent weeks, Edmunds has returned to form. Asked whether his recent play is a sign of a return to health, the linebacker instead described how the defense has begun practicing and playing more cohesively.
"I think the biggest thing is just I'm having fun out there," he said. "I honestly take my hat off just to the whole, you know, the team, just the people I have around me. I can't do it all by myself. I think just us as a team, we are having fun. And any time you have fun, I think those plays just kind of show up."
Fun is a fourth-and-1 stop to complete a goal line stand, like the one Edmunds had against the 49ers during the first quarter last Monday. The play was a tone-setter for the night, even after the offense fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive and the 49ers scored three plays later.
"Oh, that's very fun," Edmunds said. "That's probably the best of the best. That's a statement, and as a defense we talk about that every week. When we get down into the red zone, we preach field goals and takeaways. That's something that we instilled in our defense since Day 1.
"… To see it come alive and see the energy that the guys have, that's what this game is about. Playing with energy and seeing all their hard work pay off in the critical moments. So, you know, I know all those guys were happy, I was happy just to see everybody jumping around. That's football, at the end of the day. It's about having fun out there and I was glad to be a part of it."
Fun is also playing against your brother on Sunday Night Football, as Edmunds is poised to do for the second straight year when the Bills host the Steelers this Sunday. Safety Terrell Edmunds, 23, will be on the field while running back Trey – the eldest brother – is on injured reserve and will miss the game.
The three brothers pushed each other during the uncertain offseason and continued to lean on one another as the year progressed, including while Tremaine dealt with his injury early on.
"It makes me even more happy just to come to work and make sure I'm prepared the right way so I can go out and, you know, display to my family all the hard work I put in," he said. "I know they do the same thing."