Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- Back in 2012, the Buffalo Bills could do no wrong in the off-season. They re-signed all their core players that had expiring contracts and roped in arguably the biggest free agent in franchise history in Mario Williams.
Approaching the first game of the season, a road contest against the New York Jets, the stage was set for Williams to make a huge impact. The Bills were up against a Jets team that wasn't exactly showing quarterback Mark Sanchez a lot of faith, and pulled the ripcord on his long-time right tackle just ahead of the season.
Williams, who at that time was primarily a left defensive end in former defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt's defense, was given the task to raise hell on a right tackle that was almost as green as the very field they played on.
In stepped Austin Howard, a former undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa with only one start to his name, to try and stop the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
A predictable result, right?
Williams struggled to fire out of the gate, registering no sacks against Howard. Then after the game, the defensive end wasn't pleased with the officiating of the matchup to say the least.
“You’re getting off the ball and getting punched in the face, literally, not an accident, just about every other time," Williams said of the original matchup. "That’s a penalty. Unless they changed it with the new C.B.A. or something, but last time I checked it was a penalty.”
With him being the focal point of the Bills heading into the game, the criticism flowed through the local airwaves and message boards as easily as the water of Lake Erie into Niagara Falls. It was later revealed that he had a wrist injury that slowed him down, leading even to prolonged concern from fans about the team's highest paid player.
That was then, and two games into 2013 the pass rusher seems to have turned a corner.
Now coming off the most statistically productive game of his entire career, a 4.5 sack effort versus the Carolina Panthers, Williams admitted that he has a clear mind. On the surface at least, the pass rusher doesn't seem to be sweating the small stuff nearly as much as he did in his debut season in Buffalo.
Over a year removed from their initial matchup, Williams isn't letting the qualms of old enter his mind for Sunday's matchup.
"No, just play ball,” Williams said Wednesday, asked if he's considering Howard's uncalled penalties of 2012. ”That’s the mindset, just go out there and mix it up, get after it.”
Williams' concerns from 2012 were also broached to Howard on Thursday, and the right tackle took the same tactic as his Sunday counterpar, choosing not to engage in verbal warfare.
"Our focus is just to stop the rusher and that's what we did," Howard told Kimberley Martin of Newsday.
It could wind up being a winnable matchup for Williams. According to ProFootballFocus.com Howard allowed 10 sacks in 2012, the most of any Jets offensive linemen that season.
The Bills and Jets square off Sunday, 4:25 pm at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.