Following the Jets' season-opening 48-28 win over Buffalo on Sunday, Bills star defensive end Mario Williams had some not-so-kind remarks regarding Jets tackle Austin Howard, whom he often matched up against.
"He's a hands-to-the-face guy," Williams said, "and they don't call it, so he'll continue to do it."
Howard, making his first NFL regular-season start at right tackle, didn't have much to say on the subject today, a day after the Jets' victory.
"I'm not really going to step into that too much," Howard said. "All I know is that there were no flags thrown, and I didn't hear too much complaining throughout the game, either, so it is what it is. Regardless, we got the win. Penalties were a little low for us and we're happy about that."
One of the biggest questions heading in against Buffalo was how the 6'7", 333-pounder would perform against the two-time Pro Bowl selection. Williams is the former No. 1 draft pick of the Texans and in March signed a six-year contract with Buffalo. Despite all the accolades beside Williams' name, Howard proved he was up for the challenge.
"Austin Howard played a tremendous game," head coach Rex Ryan said after the game, then added at his news conference today that Howard's play was "impressive" and that he didn't agree with "Super Mario's" criticism from the game
"We had some concerns, there are no doubts about that," Ryan said about working him into the starting lineup. "I think Austin, when we put him in against Cincinnati to start at right tackle, he performed extremely well. In other games that he played in, he did a nice job in those games. We were confident in him.
"Did I think he was going to have that kind of game against Mario Williams? I don't know if I could say that. I thought our plan was good. We mixed a lot of different things up, some shifts. We had Jason Smith on him a few times, playing the tight end position. We had some slide protection to him too. Again, Austin had him a lot of times by himself and I thought he did an outstanding job."
Jets center Nick Mangold added, "I thought Austin did a fantastic job against a premier pass rusher. He did some good things out there, and some things that can obviously be worked on. He needs to take that performance that he had this past weekend into this week against a very good Pittsburgh defense. It's going to be a heck of a challenge for us."
Howard is still adjusting to his new role as a starter on the O-line. Last year, he served as the backup to Wayne Hunter, who was traded to St. Louis for Smith less than two weeks ago. Yet up to this point, the transition from reserve to starter has provided Howard with more highs than lows.
"The amount of time we put into this game and into this job, you have to believe in the guy next to you," Howard said. "Everyone is out there playing for the guy next to them. The fact that we put in the effort that we do and the time that we do to prepare for these games, we all respect each other tremendously and they've really welcomed me to the group as much as possible, I feel."
After watching the Buffalo game film this afternoon, Howard said he was matched up 1-on-1 with Williams more than people would think. Due to Howard's outstanding play, Williams finished the day with no sacks and just one tackle.
"I think a lot of guys stepped up that we needed to step up and a lot of guys proved things that as a team we all needed to see," Howard said. "People have been having great practices all offseason and now they just went out there and showed it. So I'm excited for what's going to come."
And while his performance Sunday was praised throughout Jets Nation, Howard's brothers on the offensive line don't predict that No. 77 will take a step back.
"As an offensive lineman everyone believes that you'll stay level-headed," Mangold said. "With the daunting task of a fantastic Pittsburgh defense coming up, I would expect Austin to stay very level-headed."