ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It seems like it's been so long since Shawne Merriman got a sack, he can't get the numbers straight.
"What's it been, '09?" the Buffalo Bills defensive end said Wednesday.
Actually, Merriman overlooked the one he had against Cincinnati during an injury-shortened season with Buffalo last year.
But who's counting? One sack over two seasons for someone who had 39 1/2 in his first three campaigns isn't exactly much to crow about.
What matters is that it wasn't his last one.
A month into his second stint with the Bills (4-6) after the team released him in August, Merriman got an opportunity to reintroduce his sack dance in the final minutes of a 19-14 win over Miami last week. The eighth-year player finished with two tackles for losses — he also stopped running back Daniel Thomas for a 1-yard loss — while being on the field for a season-high 20 plays.
It was enough for coach Chan Gailey to call it Merriman's best performance in two-plus seasons in Buffalo.
"Hopefully he can build on that," Gailey said, looking ahead to the game at the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts (6-4) on Sunday. "Probably, his confidence has taken a notch up a little bit, so I'm looking forward to see what happens with him as the weeks unfold."
Merriman's confidence has grown, and the outing against Miami provided him a shot of validation after fearing he had run out of second and third chances of an injury-troubled career.
"It's been a tough road," Merriman said. "Five weeks ago, I wasn't even on a team, and wondering, 'When you're going to get that call or why nobody wants to give me a shot?' All those things go through your head. But you have to know that when you get that opportunity you have to take advantage of it."
The opportunities were dwindling because of injuries that hampered the NFL's 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year and three-time Pro Bowl selection.
The troubles began in San Diego in 2008, when Merriman was limited to just one game before having reconstructive knee surgery. Then he was nagged by a sore right Achilles tendon, which eventually led to the Chargers waiving him in November 2010.
The Bills claimed Merriman, who didn't make it through his first practice before aggravating the Achilles tendon. He made it through only five games last season before having surgery to repair the tendon.
In the spring he returned to Buffalo feeling rejuvenated, but was the odd man out. He was released in August because the Bills wanted to free up room to develop Kyle Moore.
Merriman spent two months waiting to find a new team before the Bills came calling. They required immediate help to shore up a defensive line that lost starter Mark Anderson (right knee) and backup Spencer Johnson (ankle) over a two-week span.
Merriman had not lost faith in his ability, and yet started to believe others around the NFL began to regard him as being washed up.
"The perception was, 'This guy can't even play. He can't rush the passer. He can't be physical. He can't be Shawne Merriman,'" Merriman said. "That really got under my skin. That upset me more than anything."
It's unclear what future role Merriman will have with the Bills. Moore is starting in place of Anderson, who is listed as week to week. And veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay is set to return against the Colts after missing two games with a neck injury.
Whatever happens, Merriman has learned to appreciate the chance to play again.
"You know, this is a privilege. It's hard to play in this league, and even harder to stay around," Merriman said. "I feel like I've done that. And now I'm back to where I need to be. And I have to keep on progressing."
NOTES: FB Corey McIntyre left practice after aggravating a nagging left knee injury. Gailey plans to hold McIntyre out of practice Thursday, but expects him to play Sunday. ... Rookie CB Ron Brooks missed practice after having emergency dental surgery, Gailey said. ... Kelsay (neck) and RB Fred Jackson (concussion) practiced fully and are expected to play. Jackson was cleared to practice for the first time since being hurt in a 37-31 loss at New England on Nov. 11.
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