ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It wasn’t until late into Von Miller’s weekly session with reporters when the Buffalo Bills edge rusher came to a realization regarding how his surgically repaired right knee is feeling better by the week, and the significance of facing his former team on Monday night.
After spending a majority of his time on Thursday detailing how much he cherished his 10-plus seasons in Denver and calling the outing “just another game,” Miller acknowledged there might be something more to it.
He didn’t exactly contradict himself.
It’s more as if the 34-year-old Miller found perspective in the timing of the game, how far he’s come in the nearly 12 months since he was hurt, and more importantly, how far he still needs to go after getting no sacks, one quarterback hit and one tackle in five games since returning.
“You know, I can go out there and win the game by myself, kind of like a quarterback on offense. I’ve always had that type of self-belief,” Miller said.
“So it’s definitely a sense of urgency for sure, especially for me,” he added. “And what a better week to get it done than this week. ‘Monday Night Football.’ Going against my old team.”
That’s the confident and self-assured Miller the Bills were accustomed to hearing during his first season in Buffalo last year.
Coming off winning the second Super Bowl title of his career after being traded by Denver to the Rams, Miller signed with Buffalo where he immediately muscled up a middling pass rush. He had a team-leading eight sacks in 10-plus games before getting hurt in late November.
And that’s the Miller the Bills have been patiently counting on to re-emerge at a time Buffalo (5-4) has lost three of five to drop out of the playoff picture entering Week 10, and needs something — or more specifically, someone — to boost an injury-depleted defense.
“It’s exciting to see his confidence, and to see his level of enthusiasm about him starting to round into what he’s been able to do and what he’s used to doing,” defensive line coach Eric Washington said.
Washington not only hears it from the NFL’s active leader in sacks, but is beginning to see it, too.
“The rushes are becoming more and more physical. The angles are a lot tighter. ... And I’m starting to see him put his rush combinations together,” Washington said. “They’re faster. They’re quicker. And it’s just a matter of time.”
Buffalo’s defense sagged to close last season without Miller. And though the unit got off to a powerful start this season by limiting its first four opponents to 49 points while combining for 16 sacks (nine against Washington), the production slowed once Buffalo lost cornerback Tre’Davious White (Achilles tendon), linebacker Matt Milano (right leg) and tackle DaQuan Jones (torn pectoral muscle) over the span of two games.
This might not be a revenge game of any sort, as Miller put it, but he can appreciate its importance at a time the Bills are running out of room for error.
“I definitely want to play better this game,” Miller said, noting his previous outing marked the first time he played freely without thinking about his brace-encased knee.
“You know, it’s time,” he said. “No need to sound the alarm, but it’s getting close.”
The Broncos (3-5) can fully appreciate Miller’s capabilities.
“The name Von Miller speaks for itself. He is a phenomenal player. And I think it’s going to be cool sharing the field against him,” Broncos guard Quinn Meinerz said. “I know he’s probably excited.”
Receiver Courtland Sutton acknowledged it’s going to be strange seeing Miller on the opposite sideline. Though Miller left Denver two years ago, much of his influence remains.
“Von’s my guy, man. Being able to have him as a vet when I first got here was amazing,” Sutton said. “He showed us the way to do a lot of things on and off the field.”
Miller gushed about his time in Denver, and explaining how much he stays in touch with his former teammates, including attending Sutton’s wedding in Mexico this past offseason.
Denver is where he made two Super Bowl appearances, a loss after the 2013 season, though he missed that game with an injury, and a win after the 2015 season, when he earned MVP honors following a six-tackle, 2 1/2-sack outing in a 24-10 victory over Carolina.
It’s where Miller played with Peyton Manning, Champ Bailey and DeMarcus Ware, and where he credits equipment manager Chris “Flip” Valenti for refusing to hand out his former number, 58.
“I didn't want to leave,” said Miller, who was traded to Los Angeles as part of the franchise's rebuilding plan. “I cried real tears when I left.”
If there’s no bad blood, then perhaps Miller can be motivated to play his best out of respect for his former team.
“Man, it would be amazing to go out there and be the Von Miller of Super Bowl 50. I mean, that would be amazing,” Miller said, referring to his MVP performance. “It's just taking a little bit more longer. I have progress. I'm getting better, and I can accept that."
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl