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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Jerry Hughes shakes his head in dismay and mutters, "That's crazy."
The Bills defensive end has difficulty imagining how the Houston Texans were being second-guessed for selecting Mario Williams with the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft.
No offense to running back Reggie Bush or quarterback Vince Young, who went Nos. 2 and 3, but Hughes makes his case by noting the numbers Williams has consistently put up through six seasons in Houston and the past three in Buffalo.
"Numbers speak volume," Hughes said. "It's tough to (compare) offense and defense. I get that. But just look at the guy. I don't think he's staggered off of anything."
The 29-year-old defensive end is enjoying what might be his most impactful season by placing a pass-rushing stamp on a defense that ranks among the NFL's best.
Williams has a team-leading 13 sacks — one off his career high — on a defense that leads the league with 49. And he's producing game-changing plays for the Bills (8-6), who have already won their most games since a 9-7 finish in 2004. They play at Oakland (2-12) on Sunday.
Williams particularly made his presence felt in a 21-13 win over Green Bay last weekend. After blocking a field goal in the second quarter, Williams sealed the victory by forcing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to fumble into the end zone for a safety on what became the Packers' final possession.
"Obviously, great play," said defensive tackle Kyle Williams. "I think that kind of signifies him. We got in a position where we needed a play, and he was able to make it for us."
In the process, the player nicknamed "Super Mario" is performing to the $100 million contract he signed in Buffalo in March 2012, and continues to affirm his draft status as a former No. 1 pick.
Mario Williams isn't one for introspection or retrospection. He'll call his last game his best only because, as he put it: "You're only as good as your last game. We won."
The three-time Pro Bowl selection is not one for rating his seasons. And forget asking whether he's ever been motivated to justify his draft position, or prove wrong anyone who doubted him.
"If I have to use something from somebody else to prove my worth, then I don't consider that being a man," Williams said, defiantly. "The guys in this building, that's all that matters to me. Anything else anybody else says is irrelevant."
For all the money he's made and headlines generated, Williams is a team player at heart. Since arriving in Buffalo and signing what at the time was the most expensive contract awarded an NFL defensive player, Williams insisted he couldn't do it alone.
Nothing has changed since.
"Not one person can do it," he repeated once again on Thursday. "I just wanted to be a piece of the puzzle."
As puzzles go, Williams is a bigger piece than most, and not simply because of his imposing 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame.
Williams drives the Bills' pass-rushing attack in part because his mere presence attracts so much attention from opposing teams. As a result, he's opened holes for others, a reason why Buffalo is the NFL's only team featuring three players with at least nine sacks. Marcell Dareus has 10 and Hughes 9-1/2.
Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano is all too familiar with the problems Williams poses, having faced him at several previous stops. What sticks out to Sparano is how Williams appears to be playing at an even higher level.
"He's kind of helped re-energize that group defensively," Sparano said. "You always have to be concerned with where he is and how to block him. And if you're not, a guy like that can wreck the game."
Former Texans general manager Charley Casserly still remembers being booed by fans for drafting Williams out of North Carolina State. Young, who hasn't played a down since 2011, was a favorite because he was from Texas and had won a national title.
Bush was coming off an accomplished career at Southern California that included a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.
Rather than feeling vindicated for making the right choice, Casserly said Williams deserves all the credit.
"I'm more happy for him because he took the criticism that wasn't deserved," said Casserly, now an NFL Network analyst. "He should never have been criticized. He was never appreciated in Houston the way he should have been."
They're not complaining in Buffalo.
"I don't think there's any 'think' about it," Kyle Williams said of who deserved to be No. 1. "Texans fans and football fans in general can look at it and know that now — the right decision was made to begin with."
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