ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It’s not every week Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander finds himself leading the NFL in sacks.
The 10-year journeyman intends to enjoy the moment for however long it lasts.
“I’ve got cats texting me and calling me from around the league that I’ve played with,” Alexander told The Associated Press on Monday, noting one of the congratulatory messages he received was from Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo. “Orakpo hit me this morning, saying, ‘Man, I’m chasing you.'”
Get in line, Orakpo. You, too, Von Miller.
Coming off a three-sack performance in Buffalo’s 30-19 win at Los Angeles on Sunday, Alexander has set the league’s early season pace by upping his total to seven. That puts him a half-sack ahead of Miller, and one up on Orakpo, Alexander’s former teammate in Washington.
The production is off the charts for a 33-year-old who totaled nine sacks in his first 127 career games . He’s Buffalo’s first player to register a sack in each of the first five games of a season since sacks became an official NFL statistic in 1982.
More important is how Alexander has played a role in helping re-establish the pass rush in Buffalo a year after Rex Ryan’s defense managed just 21 sacks — a franchise low in a 16-game-season. The Bills’ 17 sacks in five games matches the number they had through five games in 2014, when they led the NFL with 54 sacks.
So much for Buffalo missing Mario Williams, its top pass-rushing threat who was cut in March because of his high-priced contract and after he spent much of last season publicly questioning whether he fit in Ryan’s scheme.
That’s something not lost on Alexander, who was aware of the complaints raised last year.
“Everybody wasn’t bought in,” Alexander said. “And when you have that within your team, you’re not going to do as well.”
Ryan credited Alexander for how quickly he’s grasped the defensive system. Ryan then added he doesn’t recall Alexander ever complaining about having to drop back in coverage, which was one of Williams’ criticisms.
“Lorenzo deserves all the credit. This is somebody that came in here and accepted a different role that we had for him,” Ryan said. “He came in here and just outplayed everybody. He earned that job.”
The Bills signed Alexander in April to initially shore up their special teams units and play a complimentary role as a defensive backup.
Those plans began changing in May, when projected starter, rookie first-round draft pick Shaq Lawson, had shoulder surgery. Veteran Manny Lawson was next in line before he was sidelined by a partially torn pectoral muscle once training camp opened.
Alexander formally took over the starting spot once Lawson was cut a week before the start of the season.
Now, Ryan can’t foresee Alexander giving up the starting spot even when Shaq Lawson is eligible to return next week.
“We’ll worry about the rest of the stuff later, but Lorenzo’s a starter,” Ryan said. “I guess the big question right now is he going to start in the Pro Bowl because that’s how he’s playing.”
Alexander, who also has two forced fumbles, is enjoying a breakthrough season not long after he thought his career might be over. He contemplated retiring after sustaining a Lisfranc injury to his right foot three games into the 2013 season with Arizona.
The injury slowed his performance the following year with the Cardinals, and he spent last season playing mostly special teams in Oakland.
“I didn’t want to go out the way I was playing. I didn’t want to leave that lasting taste of regret,” Alexander said. “I became relegated to being ‘just another guy.’ And I didn’t want to end my career like that.”
The Bills were the only team that showed any real interest in signing him last spring.
In retrospect, Alexander can’t think of a better fit, noting few expected anything of him or the Bills, who are in the midst of a 16-season playoff drought.
“Nobody’s thinking we can do it. And obviously, nobody thinks that I’m capable of doing what I’m doing right now,” Alexander said. “So to be able to continue and maintain that and have success as a team would be picture perfect.”