ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mario Williams finally had the type of game the Bills have been waiting for since he was signed to a record $100 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in March 2012.
Williams was a dominant force Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, recording a team-record 4.5 sacks in the victory. He could have had a couple more takedowns if not for being held, and for Cam Newton's Houdini-like escape-ability.
Williams has dealt with several off-field issues since coming to Buffalo from Houston and landing the richest NFL contract ever given to a defensive player, not the least of which was his engagement break-up. He has also dealt with some injuries -- a wrist ailment that hampered him for half of 2012, and a foot injury that slowed him in training camp this year, plus all the other nicks and bruises linemen have to deal with.
He was an underperforming player -- commensurate with his salary -- last year, and he was fairly invisible in the season-opening loss to New England on Sept. 8. But against the Panthers, he was a one-man wrecking crew.
"I finally feel like I'm at peace, just as a person," said Williams, who played in his 100th career NFL game and certainly made it one he'll never forget. "I don't think I've felt that way in the last five years. It's the whole mentality. I mean even physically, I feel great. I'm definitely the best mentally, just taking care of business and going out and playing hard. Football is football, but you have a personal life and a life in general. The players know the beginning of this season was totally different in my mind frame and my demeanor."
Williams' previous personal best for sacks was 3.5 while he was with the Texans. The old Bills record for one game was 4.0 set by Bruce Smith (twice) and Cornelius Bennett.
"I saw power today in rushing the passer," said coach Doug Marrone.
Added defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, "That's what we all expected from him. A guy like that, playing in a defense like this, it's designed for him to just cut loose and use his athletic ability and use his strength and power to overwhelm offensive tackles. It's nothing short of what I expected. I expect it to be the rest of the year as well."
The Bills desperately need Williams creating havoc because their secondary is young and injury depleted and can't hold up long in coverage. Still minus starters Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd, they need help from the front seven to generate pressure and force quarterbacks into quick decisions.
Newton was able to make some nice throws when he had time, but often he was under duress and he finished 21 of 38 for 229 yards and was sacked six times.
"I told him afterwards, 'Hey don't dance with this guy early, let's go and close the distance, make a move and go,'" Marrone said. "I thought he did a very good job of that. I think that when you get people behind in the sticks, that's where the pass rushing ability really takes a level up. Where they're not worried about run or pass and if you can get them in a situation, I think then those elite pass rushers really rise to the top."