The Buffalo Bills couldn’t have asked for a better start to Thursday night’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
They scored the first time they touched the ball.
“If you were late to the game, you missed it,” Leodis McKelvin said.
Buffalo’s defense forced a three-and-out Miami possession, and then McKelvin brought it back 79 yards for the score. McKelvin’s play was Buffalo’s lone touchdown in a 19-14 victory.
“Me and Rian, we put up all the points in this game,” McKelvin said, referring to Rian Lindell’s four field goals. “Special teams is very key. It can get you beat.”
McKelvin caught Brandon Fields’ 51-yard punt in front of the Bills’ sideline, slithered his way through a fissure and, with the help of a Corey McIntyre block, sprinted the rest of the way.
“This is what we’ve got to do,” McKelvin said. “As a return group, they do their job, I do my job. I read off them, and I can get to the end zone whenever I get past the first wave. I tell those guys, ‘Keep working.’ ”
The early cushion was needed. The Dolphins answered later in the first quarter with a 96-yard kickoff return from Marcus Thigpen.
McKelvin’s touchdown was his second of the season. They rank as two of the NFL’s three longest punt returns this season. His first touchdown was from 88 yards. Cincinnati Bengals returner Adam Jones has an 81-yarder.
McKelvin leads the NFL in punt returns with a garish 19.5-yard average.
The Dolphins hadn’t allowed a kick return touchdown all season, limiting opponents to 9.2 yards per punt return.
The Bills not only won for the first time in nine AFC East games, but they also finally broke their 11-year-old prime time losing streak.
The Bills lost their previous 11 prime time games. Their last victory on the national stage was Oct. 18, 2001, a 13-10 Thursday night victory at Jacksonville.
That streak includes four home games and another played in Toronto. The Bills have been outscored, 322-149, in losses that have ran the gamut from epic clunker (a 56-10 loss to New England in 2007 that is the worst in franchise history) to heartbreaker (a 25-24 season-opening loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football in 2009).
Who had been the Buffalo Bills’ best edge pass-rusher through the first nine games?
It’s not someone you would have guessed before the season started, according to the website ProFootballFocus.com. But after watching him record a sack Thursday night and chase Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into Shawne Merriman’s arms for another, you can see what the fuss is about.
ProFootballFocus.com had Kyle Moore ranked ninth in the NFL entering Thursday’s game, with an 11.8 pass-rush-productivity rating.
The site, which grades each play of every NFL game, factors sacks, quarterback hits and hurries in reaching its PRP rating. Moore had the minimum 100 pass rushes to qualify for the site’s rating entering the Miami game.
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams ranked third as a pass-rusher among linemen that aren’t edge-rushers behind Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay missed his second straight game because of a neck injury, while fellow defensive end Mark Anderson missed his fifth straight because of a left knee injury that has required two surgeries.
They were joined on Buffalo’s inactive list by running back Fred Jackson (concussion), who missed his third game of the season, and cornerback Aaron Williams (right knee), who missed his second straight.
Healthy inactives for the Bills were quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and linebacker Kirk Morrison, both for the 10th straight time, as well as offensive tackle Thomas Welch.
Dolphins receiver Jabar Gaffney, who was questionable with a knee injury, was inactive. He was joined by quarterback Pat Devlin, offensive lineman Will Yeatman, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and tight ends Michael Egnew and Jeron Mastrud.
The Bills honored current members of the U.S. Armed Forces by inviting 50 current military members and veterans onto the field for a ceremony prior to kickoff.
Members of all four branches of the military, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, were recognized, and a full-field flag was unfurled during the National Anthem by soldiers from the New York National Guard. In addition, 50,000-plus fans were part of an in-stadium card stunt thanking current and former military members and their families for their service.
The ceremonies were part of the NFL’s “Salute to Service,” in which all 32 teams designate a home game in November to honor the military community.
For every point scored during Thursday’s game, the NFL donated $100 to USO, the Wounded Warriors Project and the Pat Tillman Foundation, as the league will for each of the “Salute to Service” games. Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. is a Navy veteran and served in World War II.