Mario Williams arrived at his locker late Wednesday morning for his one mandated weekly session with the press. A crowd of reporters gathered, waiting to be illuminated by the $100 million man.
?Go easy on him, guys,? a Bills public relations man said. ?He?s got a little bit of a sore throat.?
Well, it?s always something with Mario. That?s what the Texans fans said when the Bills rolled out the money truck for the guy last March. He?ll be great in some games, barely visible in others. But one thing you can count on is an endless trail of complaints about nagging injuries.
This year, it?s his left wrist. Coach Chan Gailey mentioned the wrist before the opener. Williams confirmed it then. Evidently it?s still an issue. Williams mentioned it several times Wednesday. He didn?t even bother to use the stock athlete?s qualifier ? that he?s not making excuses. He was making excuses for his disappointing play.
?Um, it?s just a little deal going on,? Williams said, ?but we?ve already mentioned that before. It?s just lingering a little longer than I expected and I just (need to) get back out there and just try to deal with it and play better with it.?
The injury does appear to be a ?little deal? in the coaches? eyes. Mario?s wrist hasn?t been on the injury report all season. He said that?s because he plays and hasn?t missed practice. That?s true. Are we supposed to believe that a mild wrist sprain is the reason for his early struggles?
?Only he can answer that,? Gailey said. ?He?s been getting some treatment, but it hasn?t kept him from ever practicing or anything like that. I mean, we?ve got guys with ankles and knees and hips and shoulders, and everything that bothers you during the course of a season. How much, only a player can answer that. But it?s not enough for him to not make every rep in practice and do what he?s doing.?
Or to be on the injury report, I asked?
?No,? Gailey said. ?We don?t put every ankle and every sprain or ?shoulder hurts? or iced elbow. We don?t put that on every injury report.?
Williams is no stranger to the injury report. Over the past three seasons with Houston, he showed up for problems with his knee, thumb, elbow, groin (all three years), hip, shoulder and general illness. He missed the last 12 games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle. He was shut down late in 2010 with an inflamed hernia. He suffered from foot problems in his rookie season of 2006.
So the guy has a problem with injuries, both large and small. Football is a rough game. By the middle of the season, just about every NFL player is hurt in some fashion. I?ve always been careful about questioning players? injuries. It?s best to give them the benefit of the doubt.
But you can?t expect fans to be sympathetic when the presumed savior hides behind a minor injury after one of the most humiliating defensive showings ever by a Bills team. Trust me, there are players in that locker room who are rolling their eyes.
You didn?t hear Fred Jackson complaining about his sprained knee. He was back on the field in three weeks. That?s the sort of toughness that made Ryan Fitzpatrick call Jackson his favorite teammate ever. Fitz played with cracked ribs for a month last season and didn?t let on. Terrence McGee has been playing on a bum knee for years. You don?t think C.J. Spiller?s shoulder injury is lingering?
?I don?t expect it to hinder me all year,? Williams said, ?but it?s already been almost six weeks now. Like I said, it?s a little longer than normal, than expected. But yeah, it is what it is, and we?ve got to find a way to get through it and be able to play normally.?
The Bills expected more for their money, that?s for sure. Williams has nine tackles with a sack and a half in four games. He was a virtual non-factor when the Bills gave up 48 and 52 points to the Jets and Patriots. It?s getting hard to rationalize that performance from a supposed star.
?I think a lot of times, there?s a great deal of respect for him,? Gailey said. ?They chip him and put a couple of guys on him. They bang him over there. I think if he?d have been one-on-one a lot, we?d have seen a lot different.?
Really, Chan? People are watching the games. They can review them on-line. Joe Buscaglia, who covers the Bills for WGR, charted the game and determined that Williams had been double-teamed once in 29 drop backs by Tom Brady. He was single-blocked on all 11 running plays to his side.
Pats right tackle Sebastian Vollmer missed most of camp after offseason back surgery. He?s still not 100 percent. But he was healthy enough to shut down Williams. Austin Howard, an undrafted free agent making his second career start, manhandled Mario in the opener. Williams figures it would have been a different story if not for the sprained left wrist.
?I?m a hands-on player,? he said, ?and it?s all about power in my game. It?s just been a little odd having a little nick or whatever and not being able to use it to the full extent. But you know, you gotta play. When you?re out there on Sunday, you gotta play regardless of what?s going on. If you?re out there on the field, you?ve got to make it happen.?
Gailey seemed uneasy when confronted with the notion that Williams hadn?t been double-teamed against New England. He?s been reluctant to criticize the pass rush since immediately after the opener. But fans are crushing Mario.
?That comes with the territory,? Gailey said. ?Everybody understands that. I?m the object of criticism. Fitz is the object of criticism. Everybody?s the object of criticism when you don?t win.?
But when a team made you the highest-paid defensive player in team history, you?re an especially large target. When you start hiding behind excuses, the target only gets larger.