A column and notebook by CHUCK POLLOCK
Remember the frustration Bills fans felt during training camp when it seemed the coaches couldn’t decide who would play middle linebacker in place of the departed Tremaine Edmunds?
Coach Sean McDermott finally made his choice after the final preseason game, picking second-year pro Terrel Bernard, a third-round draft choice in ’22, who didn’t play a single snap in an exhibition game as he rehabilitated a hamstring injury.
When the season started with that embarrassing Monday night loss to the Jets at the Meadowlands, Bernard, as with most of his teammates, wasn’t necessarily a standout though he did lead the Bills in tackles with 14.
Then, in last week’s 38-10 win over the Raiders at Orchard Park, he topped Buffalo with six stops, in a game where Las Vegas had the ball for only 20 minutes, but also added his first career interception.
But it’s what he did on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Landover, Md. in a 37-3 embarrassment over the Commanders, that leads you to believe McDermott knew what he was doing all along.
IN FAIRNESS, it wasn’t all Bernard as the Bills’ defense, collectively, produced one of the most complete efforts in recent memory.
When it was over, Buffalo had turned Washington over five times (four interceptions and a fumble recovery), sacked Commanders quarterback Sam Howell nine times, the second most for the franchise since the Super Bowl era, plus 15 hits on the quarterback, 10 tackles for loss and five defensed passes.
But part of all that was Bernard’s historical performance.
He finished with an interception for the second consecutive game, recovered a fumble and logged two sacks while adding two quarterback hits.
Only seven times since the 1970 season has an NFL linebacker logged an interception, a fumble recovery and at least two sacks in one game, the last being Bears star Brian Urlacher, until Bernard did it on Sunday.
And Bills’ fans knew the team couldn’t afford to re-sign the Virginia Tech star after Chicago made a four-year $72 million offer.
THE CONCERN over Bernard was his being undersized at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds compared to the hulking Edmunds (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), a first-round draft choice in 2018, shortly after Buffalo took quarterback Josh Allen.
But there was also an elephant in the room.
During his five seasons with Buffalo, though his length was touted while in pass coverage, Edmunds resume was sadly lacking in big plays. In three games, Bernard has already shown a proclivity to do just that.
After the game, when asked about his new middle linebacker, McDermott noted, “He comes to work every day, he puts in the time, he prepares, he’s mature beyond his years … that’s why he’s had the success he’s had to this point.
“He’s still a young player and he’s still going to continue to grow and there are some guys who have taken him under their wing and helped him to grow.”
Of the performance of his ‘D,’ for which he calls signals, McDermott added, “The defensive line really set the tone for us upfront … they did a great job of impacting the inside of the pocket. We saw some things where we felt there would be an opportunity for us and took advantage of those.”
BESIDES, Bernard, Buffalo got interceptions from cornerback Tre’ Devious White, safety Micah Hyde and defensive end A.J. Epenesa who deflected a screen pass to himself, then took it 32 yards for a score. It was his first career pick.
In addition to Bernard’s pair of sacks, end Leonard Floyd had two and three quarterback hits, tackles Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones had 1.5 each, end Greg Rousseau and Epenesa added one apiece. Floyd leads Buffalo with 3.5 sacks this season.
“It’s contagious,” McDermott said, “some guys who have made plays for us the first two games maybe didn’t make those plays today but some other guys are stepping up as well … it’s being spread around. When you go back to the habits during the week and the preparation that’s what you’re seeing.”
Next up is a Dolphins visit to Highmark Stadium next Sunday, a team that dropped 70 points on the Broncos yesterday in Miami Gardens. That total was the most in the NFL since Chicago scored 73 against Washington in the 1940 NFL Championship Game.
OTHER NOTES from the Bills victory over the Commanders:
— McDermott is now 7-0 versus quarterbacks who have had five-of-fewer career starts.
— The Bills lone giveaway came when Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller, a high school teammate of Buffalo wideout Stefon Diggs, intercepted quarterback Josh Allen, who was picked off for the fourth time this season.
— Buffalo kicker Tyler Bass continues to be perfectly reliable as he was 3-for-3 on field goals against the Commanders including a 54-yarder. He’s 7-for-7 on field goals this season and 10-for-10 on extra points.
— The future of 2022’s first-round draft choice continues to be murky as for the third time this season cornerback Kaiir Elam was inactive. He was joined by safety Damar Hamlin, offensive tackles Germain Ifedi and Alec Anderson and defensive tackle Poona Ford.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)