This is precisely what the Buffalo Bills have been waiting for.
With their playoff hopes indisputably on the line in front of a national viewing audience, the Bills defense turned in their most imposing performance of the season. With an offense downright incapable of putting a destitute Miami Dolphins team away seemingly begging to get blown out, Buffalo defenders stepped up huge en route to a 19-14 victory.
Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams make the big bucks and along with Kyle Moore and Shawne Merriman, it was money well spent on this evening.
The line anchored a defense that shut down Miami’s run all night (60 yards on 24 carries) and pressured rookie Ryan Tannehill into regretful decisions.
Jairus Byrd intercepted Tannehill with 1:54 left and when Buffalo failed to get a first down to give Miami one final chance, Bryan Scott sealed the win with another pick on the Miami 43.
Buffalo improved to 4-6 and still in the AFC playoff conversation. They could delve deeper into discussion in 10 days when they travel to face the currently 6-3 Indianapolis Colts.
Of course, nothing comes easy for Buffalo and this one was no exception. The Bills offense moved the ball at will through three quarters, but were dreadful in the red zone and on third downs.
Buffalo went without a touchdown in four red zone tries and converted just 2-of-12 third down plays.
Even with the victory, Chan Gailey isn’t likely to have won any fans over. To put it mildly, Gailey often had peculiar play calls, particularly on third down. He also drew the ire of home fans by repeatedly taking C.J. Spiller out on third downs in favor of Tashard Choice.
Gailey admitted after the game that his game plan, largely in the second half and because of how the defense was playing, was “conservative.”
With Fred Jackson out because of a concussion, Spiller ran for 91 yards on 22 carries and caught three passes for 39 yards.
Largely because the Bills couldn’t put the ball in the end zone, Rian Lindell had a busy night in kicking four field goals, all in the first half.
“I love Rian Lindell but the only time I want to see him is on extra points.” Spiller said.
Buffalo’s only touchdown came on a 79-yard punt return by Leodis McKelvin just 1:30 into the game.
Miami would soon get a long score of their own in the first quarter; a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Marcus Thigpen.
Unlike last week when the Buffalo offense was doing the heavy lifting, it was the defense that got things done.
Regardless of how, the Bills came out on the winning end and with it ended a few dubious team streaks. The victory snapped an 11-game losing streak in prime time games and a seven-game November losing streak that dated back to 2010.
The streaks were broke almost entirely on the strength of a defense that utterly dominated for three quarters. Miami only gained 50 net yards in the first half and didn’t even cross Buffalo territory until there was 3:45 left in the third.
“We just want to be aggressive and keep moving,” Mario Williams said. “The biggest thing for us in the past is we were a little stagnant. We just wanted to come out here and turn it up and just get after it.”
Williams had three tackles, one for a loss and notched a sack to give him 5.5 for the season.
Miami’s offense finally broke through in the fourth quarter on an 11-play, 82 yard touchdown drive culminating in a two yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Davone Bess with 8:42 remaining.
Ultimately they couldn’t get in the end zone a second time and with the loss Miami now has the same record as Buffalo at 4-6.
“We dug this hole for ourselves so every game is a must win.” Byrd said.
After beating Cleveland and first-year quarterback Brandon Weedon earlier this season, the Bills improved to 2-0 against rookie quarterbacks. If they can make it 3-0 against Andrew Luck next Sunday and handle their business the following week at home against hapless Jacksonville, Buffalo could make things interesting over the last month of the regular season.
One game at a time—but you don’t need to study up on 2013 top ten draft picks just yet.
We’ll have plenty more on this critical Buffalo victory on Friday and over the next few days.