Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: B
If I were evaluating only C.J. Spiller, then the grade would be an A. But coach Chan Gailey insisted on giving Tashard Choice key touches. Choice didn’t do much, gaining 14 yards on six carries. Spiller, meanwhile, was his usual, exhilarating self. Every time he touched the ball, Ralph Wilson Stadium buzzed. He had a workmanlike 22 carries for 91 yards against the league’s fifth-rated run defense.
PASSING GAME: C+
The Bills challenged the Dolphins’ 28th-rated pass defense downfield. Even when the ball hit the ground, good things seemed to happen. The Bills induced pass-interference and illegal-contact penalties for four first downs in the first half alone. Overall, the Bills were pedestrian through the air. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 17 of 27 for 168 yards and no touchdowns, but he didn’t commit any turnovers.
RUN DEFENSE: A-
The Dolphins’ ground game doesn’t resemble the 1972 undefeated champs’, but it’s not a pushover either. The Bills’ often-abused run defense handled the NFL’s 19th-ranked ground offense with aplomb for most of the night. At the end of the third quarter, running backs Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush had 14 carries for 15 yards. Miami didn’t run its first play in Buffalo territory until 3:23 was left in the third quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: A
The Bills came up with three turnovers here. Jairus Byrd and Bryan Scott made drive-killing interceptions inside the final two minutes. Stephon Gilmore forced receiver Brian Hartline to fumble in the first quarter, and Byrd recovered. The Bills generated a nice pass rush against a respectable offensive line. Kyle Moore, Mario Williams and Kyle Williams all had stellar moments.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The first time the Bills touched the ball, Leodis McKelvin returned a punt 79 yards for a TD. Rian Lindell made all four of his field-goal attempts. Shawn Powell had a big night, nailing a 51-yard punt to pin the Dolphins on their 7-yard line late in the second quarter and a 52-yarder at the 1-inch line with 4:42 to play. Points deducted for giving up Marcus Thigpen’s 96-yard kickoff return.
The crowd showered Gailey with boos for third-down and red-zone decisions. Spiller often came off the field in those situations for Choice. On one third-and-short, Gailey called an unsuccessful Wildcat play. On another in the first quarter, he emptied the backfield for an incomplete pass. Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt put together perhaps his best game plan of the season.
Grading the Dolphins
RUNNING GAME: D
Despite some talented offensive linemen such as left tackle Jake Long and center Mike Pouncey, Miami couldn’t find any traction against the NFL’s worst run defense until the fourth quarter. Bush totaled zero yards on his first seven carries. He and Donald Thomas finished with 53 yards on 22 carries. The Dolphins managed only two rushing first downs.
PASSING GAME: D
Rookie quarterback Tannehill struggled for most of the night. Midway through the third quarter, he had completed just six of his 13 attempts for 44 yards. He eventually made a couple of nice plays before throwing those two costly interceptions. The eighth overall draft choice was 14 of 28 for 141 yards and a 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The offensive line had trouble keeping the Bills’ pass-rushers at bay.
RUN DEFENSE: C+
Spiller made his yards, but the Dolphins did a decent job of containing him. Spiller averaged 3 yards below his season average. At times, the Dolphins’ swarming pursuit made Spiller look like he did his rookie season, when he routinely got thrown for losses. The Dolphins stiffened up in the red zone, but that was partly because they had to tackle Choice instead.
PASS DEFENSE: D
Miami’s secondary had a rough night. Cornerback Nolan Carroll gave up 46 yards with two pass-interference calls on the same drive, including one on third down, to help Buffalo kick a field goal. Safety Jimmy Wilson dropped an end-zone interception at the end of the first half — just before cornerback Sean Smith committed an end-zone pass interference that gave Buffalo an extra crack at the end zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Most of this grade is based on Marcus Thigpen, who scorched the Bills for a 96-yard touchdown return in the first quarter. That was one of the Dolphins’ scarce special-teams highlights. McKelvin’s touchdown return set the tone. Dan Carpenter missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt near the end of the third quarter that would’ve cut the Bills’ lead to nine points.
The Dolphins were flat and failed to take advantage of a defense that has been on the ropes all season. In the first half, the Dolphins gave up 54 yards in penalties, gained 50 yards of total offense and had two first downs, one of which was courtesy of Marcell Dareus lining up offside. The Dolphins didn’t gain their 100th yard until three minutes into the fourth quarter.