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What they're saying: National media weigh in on the Bills defense

MMQB, Peter King – Monday Morning QuarterbackFine Fifteen
11. Buffalo (8-6).
* *Last two games: Buffalo 38, Denver/Green Bay 37. Composite Peyton Manning/Aaron Rodgers stat line: 31 of 62, 358 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions, 40.9 passer rating.


Defensive Player of the Week**

Bacarri Rambo, safety, Buffalo. Bacarri Rambo is not just a great name anymore. In September, Washington cut the second-year safety from Georgia, feeling he gave up too many big plays. He was on the street for two months. "It really humbled me,'' Rambo said from Buffalo on Sunday evening. "I went to work out for some teams, but no one was signing me. You wonder, Is it over? Doesn't anybody want me?" Then the Bills worked him out and signed him a month ago, and after injuries to incumbents Da'Norris Searcy and Duke Williams, Rambo got his shot Sunday against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. 

He intercepted two passes in the game's last 19 minutes, ending two of Green Bay's 13 scoring chances and handing Rodgers only his fourth and fifth picks of what could be an MVP season. He stepped in front of Randall Cobb for the first interception and got the second on a ball that bounced off wideout Jarrett Boykin. Over the phone, Rambo sounded stunned, an hour or so after Buffalo's 21-13 upset win. "For the first pick of my career to come off Aaron Rodgers, that's incredible,'' said the former sixth-round pick. "Two, in the same game? I don't know what to say. It's a blessing. I am blessed. I just thank the Bill organization for believing in me." 

The Bills passed the praise back to him Sunday. "It's a credit to him,'' said coach Doug Marrone. "Let me tell you, there's a lot of stuff going on out there formationally—the checks, the things that are going on. You can't sit there and just play normal stuff against an offense like Green Bay." Good to have a player in the right place at the right time against a quarterback like Rodgers.

Special Teams Players of the Week

Marcus Thigpen, punt-returner, Buffalo. Claimed on waivers only because of an injury to starter Leodis McKelvin, Thigpen provided the spark the Bills needed to start their surprising win over Green Bay. A vision in blue with two minutes left in the first quarter—the Bills' all-blue uniforms are keepers; if I were club president Russ Brandon, I'd move to make that my home uni in 2015—Thigpen took a Tim Masthay punt at the Buffalo 25, zigged out of traffic up the left hashmark, zagged to the left sideline and sprinted almost unbothered for a 75-yard touchdown, giving Buffalo a 7-3 lead. A gorgeous play, bordering on effortless, and vital to a 21-13 Buffalo win.

Early gamesMVP: The Buffalo defense

Not often does a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, with an offense as potent as Green Bay's, look as out of sync as he did Sunday. Several times, Rodgers fired to ... well, nobody in particular, with his receivers going anywhere but where the Packers' quarterback expected. Even Jordy Nelson dropped a couple balls, including one that may have gone for a 94-yard touchdown.

Still, the majority of the credit here belongs to the Bills defense and coordinator Jim Schwartz. Buffalo sacked Rodgers just once, but they pressured him constantly and worked aggressive coverage downfield. The secondary came up with two interceptions, both by safety Bacarri Rambo, while the Packers' receivers were left looking for flags repeatedly.

The final nail in Green Bay's Week 15 coffin came courtesy of Mario Williams, who swung around the left side of the offensive line to swat the ball from Rodgers' hand, forcing a safety.

"They really get after you with their four-man rush, which is the typical Jim Schwartz defense," Rodgers said earlier this week. "He's a very talented coach and always has some schemes that put pressure on the offense."

Rodgers had thrown multiple interceptions in just one other game this season: a 44-23 loss in New Orleans. (He's still yet to throw one at Lambeau Field.) He was just 8-of-24 for 70 yards in the first half, his quarterback rating dipping from 42.2 at the break to 34.3 when all was said and done. That's the lowest mark of his career. *-- Chris Burke


WinnersBuffalo Bills defense: In today's NFL, the idea that a defense could hold Manning and Rodgers each without a touchdown in consecutive weeks sounds crazy. Except that the Bills did it.

Buffalo is not dead yet in the playoff race, thanks to Sunday's upset of Green Bay. The defense is the reason. They hounded Rodgers into a 34.3 quarterback rating, the worst rating in any start of his career. The Bills are a game back in the AFC wild-card race, although their 5-6 conference record wouldn't help if it came down to tiebreakers. The Bills play at Oakland and then finish the season at New England, so they might need to shut down Tom Brady in the regular-season finale to have a shot at the playoffs. But hey, if they can shut down Manning and Rodgers, you can't rule it out.

Photos of the Week 15 matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Green Bay Packers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

  1. The Bills entered the game as the NFL's No. 1 pass defense in Football Outsiders' metrics. They are particularly impressive at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where they fly to the ball in a frenzy. Led by a pair of interceptions from Redskins castoff Bacarri Rambo, Jim Schwartz's troops harassed Rodgers into the worst completion rate (40.5), passer rating (34.3) and yards per attempt (4.4) of any game he has finished in his magnificent 10-year career. The victory keeps Buffalo in the playoff hunt, with road games at Oakland and New England in the final two weeks.

Bills defense impresses: When the Bills' defense is on, it's as good as anything we see in this league. They suffocated the Packers on Sunday in a way rarely seen. When Aaron Rodgers had time to operate -- sometimes oodles of it -- there was no one close to being open. Other times, there was no time to operate. Rodgers was as flustered and flabbergasted as I have ever seen, and Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deserves full marks for his work with this unit. And Buffalo's special teams were nothing short of dominant Sunday. Impressive across the board. With new ownership in place, a strong finish in Buffalo would be good for job security.

Buffalo's defense is poised to be beastly: It's unlikely that the Bills will go to the playoffs. They can thank an uneven offense for that. But what Buffalo can point to as it looks to the future is a defense that stopped the hottest player in the league in Rodgers. Mario Williams ended the game with a sack and forced fumble that ended any hopes the Packers had for a comeback.

Buffalo's special teams make the difference: The Bills' offense had just 253 yards of total offense, so the Bills needed to find a different way to score. Enter special teams. Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Kicker Dan Carpenter accounted for 12 points as he made four field goals.

• Buffalo's upset win gives the Bills a pulse in the AFC wild-card race at 8-6, but it also assured them of their first non-losing season in the decade since they went 9-7 and just missed the playoffs in 2004. The Bills probably still need to get to 10 wins to have a good shot at ending the franchise's 14-year postseason drought, with road games against Oakland and New England remaining. But it at least looks possible after Buffalo shut down the previously red-hot Packers, who had won an NFL-best five in a row coming into Week 15.

What a defense Buffalo fields these days, and you have to think Jim Schwartz's career rehabilitation effort is going pretty well so far, with the first-year Bills' defensive coordinator and former Lions' head coach leading a unit that is elite in almost every way. Buffalo held Rodgers to a career-worst 34.4 passer rating and an average of just 4.4 yards per attempt. Safety Bacarri Rambo, the former Washington sixth-round selection signed in November, picked off Rodgers twice in the second half, as the Bills' airtight pass defense continues to excel. Last week it held Peyton Manning to just a 56.9 passer rating in a 24-17 loss in Denver.

Buffalo's offense was mediocre at best -- four Dan Carpenter field goals -- but the Bills won with defense and special teams. Marcus Thigpen had a 75-yard punt return touchdown, and defensive end Mario Williams produced a game-clinching safety with 1:51 left, when he knocked the ball out of Rodgers' right hand for a fumble in the end zone the Packers could not advance.

Come what may the next two weeks, I don't see how new Bills owner Terry Pegula can do anything but retain head coach Doug Marrone, whose team has taken a step forward in his second season on the job. After going 6-10 in 2013, Buffalo is playing its most meaningful December football in 10 years.

Pressure means a lot of things to the Buffalo Bills defense.

First, foremost and most obvious is the Bills' ability to put an opposing quarterback under pressure, resulting in him either throwing a harried pass or being thrown to the grass.

Another meaning of pressure is the burden the Bills defense carries for the team as a whole. With an offense that averages just 21.6 points per game, the pressure is on the Bills defense to pitch a perfect game so that their team can win.

That's exactly what they've done over the past couple of months, which is why they currently have a shot at making the playoffs. And if they're going to make it over that hump for the first time in a decade and a half, the defense is going to be what gets them there. 

That unit has been on an unprecedented run of dominance.**


WinnersThe Bills

Based on what the Packers said postgame, you might think they had lost to the Jaguars or Titans yesterday. "You have to show up every week," Jordy Nelson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne, "and we didn't show up today." When an offense gets rolling like the Packers', its players believe they're going to dictate every game. But that's just not how it went in Buffalo. Green Bay didn't play Washington, Oakland, or the Jets; they played the team with the best pass defense in football.

Buffalo was no. 1 in pass-defense DVOA *before *shutting down the league's most explosive offense. Over the past two years, the strength of Buffalo's (very good) defense has been its pass rush. The Bills have the best sack rate in the NFL this year,1 and last year only Carolina was better. Mario Williams's 26 sacks in his past 30 games are a big part of that, but Buffalo pushes the pocket from everywhere. Former Colts first-round pick Jerry Hughes resurrected his career as an edge rusher in upstate New York, and interior pass-rush duos don't get much better than Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Dareus, especially, has reached another level in his fourth season. He has 10 sacks — more than any other defensive tackle — and belongs in the conversation, along with Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, about the best players at his position.

Ralph Wilson Stadium cools off opposing quarterbacks in December

Before yesterday's game against the Bills, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the league in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating (81.1), which values quarterback on all play types on a 0-to-100 scale. However, against the best pass defense in the league (according to Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric), he struggled, completing 40.5 percent of his passes for 185 yards and two interceptions. His 34.3 passer rating halted a streak of five consecutive games where he topped 109 or better. It was also the lowest rated game of his career.

"Obviously, today was well short of the mark. I have to play better for us to win," Rodgers said after the loss.

Rodgers isn't the only quarterback to experience futility on a December day in Buffalo. Since the stadium opened in 1973, there have been just two opposing quarterbacks to top the 300 yards passing mark: Ken O'Brien in 1985 (370 passing yards) and Tom Brady twenty years later (329 passing yards in 2005).

Kyle Williams, DT: 4.4

Breakdown: Since most of the postgame discussion will focus on Rodgers' poor performance, Williams should comfortably remain one of the league's most underrated defensive tackles in spite of his dominant day. Earning pressure against both T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton alike, the long-time Bill made waves as a pass rusher and still did well enough in the running game too.

Signature Play: Not content to beat guards all day, Williams lined up outside and took left tackle David Bakhtiari for a hurry with 5:00 to go in the fourth quarter.

Mario Williams, DE: 1.2

Breakdown: It would be more than fair to say he lost his battle with Bryan Bulaga, doing very little as a pass rusher prior to Bulaga leaving the field with an injury. Beating the overmatched J.C. Tretter for a hurry and a sack in Bulaga's absence, Williams contributed to the Bills' strong special teams performance with a blocked field goal as well.

Signature Play: Williams nipped the Packers' comeback hopes with a strip-sack-turned-safety on Green Bay's only play of their final drive, beating Tretter around the edge to clip Rodgers' arm during his throwing motion.

PFF Game Ball

Going against one of the league's better offensive interiors, Kyle Williams ( 4.4) made no excuses and simply beat the man in front of him.

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