Perhaps the best matchup of NFL Play-offs’ Wild Card Weekend is Sunday night’s decisive third meeting of the season between the Bills and the Patriots. Ahead of which, Squawka joined a media roundtable to chat with Bills defensive lineman Efe Obada.
The Bills and Pats’ first meeting came in Buffalo, Week 13. Though hardly an aesthetic masterpiece, it was one of the more memorable games from the regular season, taking place in a driving snowstorm, with winds over 50 miles per hour.
18+ only. New customers only. Min deposit requirement. Free Bets are paid as Bet Credits and are available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply.
This was the game in which Pats coach Bill Belichick installed the most controlled offensive game plan in recent memory, having his team rush the ball a whopping 44 times while asking his quarterback, rookie Mac Jones, to attempt all of three passes.
“We definitely have to make sure Mac Jones is not comfortable at any point during the game,” said Obada.
“It’s just making sure that he doesn’t get a chance to settle in and relax, because he’s obviously new to this postseason scenario. So getting to him is going to be huge, both because it will affect him, but also help us with stopping the run, and getting the ball back into Josh Allen’s hands.
“That’s really all it’s going to come down to: everybody playing complementary football – the special teams getting good field position, the defense stuffing the run and pressuring the quarterback, and the offense putting up points.
“That’s why the whole game is probably going to be a fight, and come down to the wire. Because you know both teams want it. Both teams know each other. It’s just down to who executes.”
The result of these two teams’ first match was the epitome of a ‘ground out’ 14-10 victory for the Patriots, their seventh in a row. It dropped the Bills record to 7-5, two full games back in the AFC East. On the heels of that defeat, with the Patriots in the their bye week, the Bills lost again, by six points in Tampa. Now 7-6 and clinging to a playoff spot, they looked dead in the water. But then, a funny thing happened down the home stretch…
From that point on, the Bills have reeled off four double-digit wins and captured the AFC East crown. It’s worth noting they’ve had a helping hand from the schedule-makers, as three of those four games were against the Panthers, Falcons and Jets. However, a) we’ll never judge anyone here for simply beating the opponents in front of them and b) the other game during this stretch was the vital return matchup against the Patriots in Foxborough in Week 16, which they won by 12 points.
Of the Bills up-and-down (and up again) season, Obada said: “Leading up to the season and throughout the season, there was so much focus what the team did last year. And yeah, we were the favourites. And then we went through some adversity during the season […] but we have found a way to come back.
“As far as the play-offs, we know the Patriots. We’ve already played them twice. So, yeah, we know them and they know us. This weekend is just going to come down who executes better.”
The Patriots, meanwhile, since delivering that ‘knockout blow’ to Buffalo’s season and taking a week off, lost consecutive games, by double figures, to the Colts and the Bills, and turned in an atrocious performance in their season finale in Miami. Their only win came in Week 17, when they hammered the hapless (unless you ask the Colts) Jaguars.
So, here we are. Back in Buffalo (where the temperature at kickoff is expected to be no higher than -12 Celsius, though this time the wind is not expected to exceed 10 mph), for a Wild Card matchup. But what about the emotional temperature among Bills fans?
“There’s an extra buzz here, like when you go shopping or at the gas stations and things like that,” Obada says.
“The fans here are intense. They’re intense. They know who you are, and they really support you.
“We’ll come back from away games and it’ll be like four or five in the morning, and there are always some fans at the airport when we land, just cheering us on, win or lose. Or I’ll be Wegmans (a local grocery store), and, even though I’ve got a hat on, and my face covered, people are coming up to me… So, yeah, it’s really intense. It’s great.”
Bills vs Pats is a game of head-to-head subplots; Sean McDermott vs. Bill Belichick, Josh Allen vs. Mac Jones, the in-form (and likely just better, based on talent) Bills vs. whatever creative and potentially outlandish game plan Belichick cooks up to harness the weather, narrow the quarterbacking talent gap, and once again turn the game into a street fight from the sport’s prehistoric days.
The Bills won 11 games this season and all their wins were by at least 12 points, according to Opta; their average victory margin was 22.1 points, the highest in the NFL (with 21.4 the Patriots were second). So was there a specific moment during a game or practice where Obada felt this team could be pretty special?
“Every day, honestly. I get to see it behind the scenes, and see the development and all the work that we all put into this, from the coaching staff, to the players, to the guys on the practice squad, and the trainers. Their knowledge and their dedication to this, and how they approach it. I’ve really gotten to see that and just know that this is a different environment.”
Special the team may be. But no one individual from the Bills’ defense was selected to the Pro Bowl. Asked if this reflected the sense that team effort has powered the Bills to where they are now, Efe said: “Yes and no. I do feel like it’s important to highlight and single out the individuals that are doing amazing, you know? When you compare our guys to everybody else across the league, I wished they had been more highlighted for their hard work and commitment.
“Overall, though, it’s all about winning games, right?”
Obada was born in Nigeria but grew up in brutally tough conditions having moved over to England from the Netherlands aged 10 (“I was brought to England by a stranger that was supposed to look after me and my sister,” he explained in 2017, adding: “They did not. They abandoned us in the streets of east London and left my sister and I to fend for ourselves.”)
He began playing American football with English sides Kingston Cougars and later the London Warriors of the British American Football Association National Leagues. Thanks to his own determination and hard work, plus a bit of serendipity – a recommendation from his Warriors defensive coordinator, Aden Durde, who’d had a stint as an interim coach with the Cowboys – Obada made his way stateside.
British coach Aden Durde getting recognition on @gmfb! 🇬🇧
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) December 16, 2021
Hailed by some as the league’s most underrated assistant coach, London-born Durde is currently the defensive line coach back with the Cowboys, who are also competing in this Wild Card Weekend.
“I know! It’s amazing! It’s amazing. I was actually talking to my wife the other day and saying, ‘man, what if we both end up in the Super Bowl?’
“From Day One, he was the first person that really believed in me, and took time out of his life to coach me up, and invested in me when nobody else did. He made sure that opportunity in Dallas happened. That changed the whole trajectory of my life.
“He’s ****ing amazing – sorry, you might have to bleep that out (laughs). He’s amazing. What he taught me, that’s always stuck with me, especially at times when I’m struggling, is that it is hard. Training is hard. As people, we go through life and sometimes feel sorry for ourselves, but the impact that he’s had on me is that, when things get hard, I try not to feel sorry for myself and just keep pushing.”
After two years on the practice squads of the Cowboys, Chiefs and Falcons, he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2017.
A sensational Panthers debut produced a tackle, sack and interception in a 31-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Then-QB teammate ‘Super Cam’ Newton said of this dream start: “Opportunity knocked on his door, and he opened it smiling.
“He’s very intellectual, super smart, practices extremely hard and to see him have a day like today… man, the sky’s the limit.”
Over three seasons and 42 games in Carolina, he racked up 7.5 sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries. Last offseason, following his best season (5.5 sacks, 15 QB hits and four tackles for loss), Obada signed with the Bills as a free agent.
In 10 regular season games with the Bills, he accumulated 3.5 sacks, eight QB hits and three tackles for loss. How has his experience with the Bills been different?
“Well, we’re in the play-offs! (laughs).
“Seriously, though, every situation is different, and we are always evolving, and certain situations can be better suited for different guys.
“I just think the atmosphere is different here. I love the players and coaches and a lot of guys in Carolina. When I was there, though, I worked with three different coaching staffs, and so that’s different from a management perspective.
“Here I’ve prepared for a role and know the processes and systems for that. When you’re in different systems, those things are changing a lot. It’s just different.
“You know, the coaches have a great defensive mindset and they try to project a team-oriented, family-like environment. They give you the freedom to be yourself, but also take a very hands-on approach, in film study and on the field as well.”
Watch Efe Obada and the Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots live on Sky Sports NFL and NFL Redzone, live from 1.15am this Sunday 16 January.