By JOHN WAWROW The Associated Press
Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — The foot’s fine. So’s the wrist.
As for Mario Williams’ mental state, the Bills’ high-priced defensive end is finally starting to feel at home in his second year in Buffalo.
Whatever questions that dogged Williams during a headline-filled offseason he set out to answer with one of the most dominating defensive performances in team history. Just don’t ask him if he’s satisfied after earning AFC defensive player of the week honors following a team-record and personal-best 4-1/2 sacks in a 24-23 win over the Carolina Panthers.
“Nah, ‘cause the work’s never done,” Williams said.
And that’s because he can appreciate that the expectations are never lowered for someone who has to live up to the reputation of being “Super Mario” every time he steps on the field.
Williams casts himself as a reluctant star because he realizes what he did Sunday won’t be enough to satisfy his detractors or meet the expectations that come with being a former No. 1 draft pick and the NFL’s first $100 million defensive player.
Fans and broadcasters, including former standout safety Rodney Harrison, were on Williams’ case last year after a wrist injury hampered his production through the first half of the season. It was no different during his first six seasons Houston, where Williams felt he had to play up to someone else’s standard.
“They’ll hate you when you’re doing good, and they’ll laugh at you when you’re doing bad,” Williams said. “I mean, which one is it going to be, you know? Either way it’s negative.”
If he can’t win when it comes to his critics, he’ll settle on having found peace of mind in his eighth NFL season. And that might just have been the most significant development to come out of the game Sunday, when Williams opened up in the locker room, providing a rare glimpse of his emotional state.
“I don’t think I’ve felt this way in the last five years, so that’s great,” Williams said. “I finally feel like I’m at peace just as a person.”
It wasn’t easy for Williams during an offseason that was tumultuous at best.
In May, he was refuting allegations of having contemplated suicide after a series of text messages were released by his former fiancee in a contentious lawsuit over possession of a $785,000 diamond ring. In June, he was forced to explain himself for attributing “kill,” as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine used in describing defensive philosophy with his players.
In July, Williams’ health was in question after he was excused from training camp complaining about soreness in his right foot.
There was nothing wrong with Williams Sunday in getting to Cam Newton. Four of his sacks came with the Panthers in Bills territory, and 3 1/2 of his sacks came on third down.
That was the type of outing Williams had envisioned since spring, when he first got a glimpse of the attacking style Pettine was introducing in Buffalo. It’s a system that’s captured Williams’ imagination, because it has him lining up at numerous positions to keep opposing offense’s guessing.
Pettine saw what Williams was capable of during practices, and was excited to see him translate that effort to the field on game days.
“I was happy for him personally just because of everything he’s gone through,” Pettine said. “And then even his comments afterward, where he feels at peace or there was a weight lifted.”
Don’t underestimate the impact Williams’ performance had in boosting the entire defense.
“He was relentless,” linebacker Manny Lawson said. “Just talking to him and seeing the passion in his eyes, you could tell he had his mind set.”
That sense of purpose was lacking in Williams through parts of last season, and even after he had his left wrist surgically repaired in October. Though he finished with a team-best 10 1/2 sacks, Williams had difficulty finding his niche, essentially playing a one-dimensional pass-rushing role in former coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s system.
Williams acknowledged he never felt at ease last year in Buffalo, particularly being hailed as the franchise’s “savior” while adjusting to his new surroundings.
“It was a whirlwind,” he said. “It was almost like being drafted again.”
Williams is no rookie. On Sunday, he played his 100th career game, a stretch during which he has 68 career sacks to rank sixth on the active list.
Williams has no intention of setting any limitations on himself. Why, he was asked, stop at 4 1/2 sacks?
“It’s just a number,” Williams said.