S Byrd leads NFL and interception-happy Bills

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

For someone who's displayed a keen knack for taking away the ball, Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd proved he has a giving quality to his game, too.

The rookie second-round draft pick found himself back on top of the NFL's interception list Monday morning a day after securing his ninth of the season in a 16-10 win at Kansas City. It was no big deal to Byrd that he was denied a 10th when he and fellow safety George Wilson both got their hands on Matt Cassel's last-second desperation pass into the end zone.

Wilson got the interception - the Bills fourth of the game - after Byrd let go of the ball when realizing he was wrestling with a teammate.

``I didn't know who was down there, so I was trying to get the ball,'' Byrd recalled. ``And he was like, 'It's me, it's me.' And I said, 'Oh, OK, go ahead, you can have it.''

Byrd joked he'll settle for 9 1/2.

Split it up however you like as Buffalo (5-8) prepares to host AFC East-rival New England (8-5) on Sunday. In a season in which very little has gone right for the Bills, their opportunistic defense is showing it can share the wealth in leading the league with 25 interceptions.

Aside from Byrd, 11 Bills players have registered at least one interception this season, including Wilson's four and one by reserve defensive tackle Corey Mace, who's back on the team's practice squad after appearing in only two games.

The 25 interceptions are the most since the Bills managed 25 in 1975, and mark a turnaround for a defense that had 10 last season to match a franchise low.

And they've come rather unexpectedly during a season in which the defense has been ravaged by injuries. The Bills are so banged up that safety Bryan Scott is now starting at linebacker; they went three games without either starting cornerback; and Byrd wouldn't be starting if not for Donte Whitner missing five of six games with ankle and thumb injuries.

``I really can't pinpoint that,'' said cornerback Terrence McGee, attempting to explain the Bills' success at generating turnovers. ``That's kind of how things have been going. When you're getting as many interceptions and turnovers as the secondary's been getting, guys want to get their hands on the ball.''

It starts with Byrd, who was added to the AFC Pro Bowl fan ballot late last month after being kept off the list when it was first released in October.

Byrd has been tough to ignore. He first began drawing attention in October, when he had two interceptions each in three straight games, becoming the first player to do so since Dave Baker in 1960. Byrd then set a franchise record by extending his interception streak to five games.

With his interception against Kansas City, Byrd set the Bills record for most interceptions by a first-year player, and inched to within one of matching the record shared by Billy Atkins and Tom Janik. On the NFL interception list this season, Byrd is one ahead of two veterans, New Orleans' Darren Sharper and Green Bay's Charles Woodson.

It's elite company for a player who has been hampered by a sore groin, which is related to an operation Byrd had to repair a sports hernia in July.

``I don't think anybody expected it,'' McGee said of Byrd's production. ``It wasn't like he was getting eight or nine picks in practice every day or anything like that.''

Byrd has even managed to surprise himself,

``Of course I'm surprised. It's exciting,'' Byrd said. ``I wouldn't be lying if I said that.''

The only problem is he wishes his output coincided with a winning season.

``If we could be in the playoffs and doing something like that, I'd give (the interceptions) up in a heartbeat,'' Byrd said.

The defense has made a significant difference in providing support to a sputtering offense. Of the 29 turnovers the Bills have generated, 20 (19 interceptions, one fumble) have come in Buffalo's five victories.

And yet the unit hasn't done enough to overcome its struggles against the run, which is allowing a league-worst 170.5 yards a game, or forced enough turnovers in the team's eight losses.

``Yes, that's the problem,'' interim head coach Perry Fewell said. ``It's a work in progress every day.''

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