The Buffalo Bills’ defense lives.
The Bills’ much-maligned, underachieving defenders dominated the Miami Dolphins Thursday night, leading Buffalo to a 19-14 victory.
A crowd of 69,118 at Ralph Wilson Stadium watched the Bills snap a three-game losing streak and improve to 4-6.
The Bills put the clamps on Miami in all areas.
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, who scorched the Bills for 203 yards last December, was held to just 20 yards on 10 carries.
Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed only half his passes 14 of 28 for just 141 yards, and he was sacked three times.
And the Bills came up with interceptions from Jairus Byrd and Bryan Scott, both in the final two minutes, to secure the victory.
“It feels good to put four quarters together,” said Bills safety George Wilson. “We talked about it at halftime. Anybody can do it for 30 minutes. We had to go out and take this victory.”
“That’s how it’s supposed to be week in and week out,” said defensive end Mario Williams. “As long as we go out and play fundamental football, gap sound football, that’ll be the result.
“It was gap football. Playing our assignments and being where we’re supposed to be.”
The Bills held Miami to just 184 yards, the lowest by a Bills opponent in more than a year, since the seventh game of last season.
Bush managed zero yards on his first seven carries.
“We knew he was the key to their offense,” Wilson said. “If we allowed him to have success on first down running the ball, then that was gonna give them more opportunities in their play-action game and in their boots and nakeds, getting Tannehill on the perimeter. He’s very accurate throwing on the move. By nullifying their run game, we made them one-dimensional for the most part.”
The Dolphins dropped to 4-6.
The Bills got 91 rushing yards from C.J. Spiller on 22 carries. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hit 17 of 27 passes for 168 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bills’ only visit to the end zone came on a 79-yard punt return by Leodis McKelvin. Rian Lindell kicked four field goals for the Bills.
While the Bills never trailed, the victory was not without its anxiety. Miami pulled within five points with 8:42 left when Tannehill capped an 81-yard drive with a 2-yard TD strike to Davone Bess.
The Dolphins got the ball back on their 1-yard line with 4:42 left. Tannehill moved them out to their own 32. But then Byrd made the interception of the season for the Bills. He sprinted 25 yards from his center field position to make a diving pickoff near the Miami sideline at the Buffalo 35 with 2 minutes left.
“The quarterback looked to the right side,” Wilson said. “There were two receivers over there. The inside guy went short, the outside guy went deep. The quarterback looked to that side the entire time. Byrd was being Byrd. He’s great at reading the quarterback. He’s great at getting a jump on the ball. He just showed his awesome ball skills, being able to lay out, secure the catch and stay in bounds. That was a big-time play.”
“That was crazy,” Williams said. “That’s a baller right there. He laid out for that thing, and to bring it in with his finger tips and to go through the catch after hitting the ground, that was a heckuva play.”
Miami stopped the Bills on the ensuing possession and had one more chance, getting the ball at its own 16 with 1:24 left. But Scott picked off a Tannehill pass over the middle with 41 seconds left.
Buffalo’s defense entered the game last in the league in points allowed, yielding 32 a game. Buffalo was last in the league in run defense, too, allowing 163.7 a game.
“We played our base front,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “I think it’s just starting to click, playing fast, playing downhill.”
McKelvin’s return gave the Bills a 7-0 lead in the nationally televised game. McKelvin, who leads the NFL in punt return average, burst up the left side of the field and went untouched to the end zone. He got key blocks from Byrd, Ruvell Martin and Corey McIntyre on his way to the end zone. It was the fourth return touchdown of McKelvin’s career.
The Bills stretched their edge to 10-0 thanks to a Miami turnover. Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline was stripped of the ball by Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore after a short completion over the middle. Byrd recovered for the Bills at the Buffalo 48.
That led to a 38-yard drive to a field goal, which Lindell converted from 32 yards with 5:07 left in the quarter.
But the Bills’ comfortable advantage was short-lived. On the ensuing kickoff, Miami’s Marcus Thigpen showed off his speed by bursting through a big hole up the right side of the field and sprinting 96 yards to the end zone. It appeared the Bills’ coverage unit made a crease for Miami. Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham veered to his left to give Thigpen enough room to cut up the seam of the field. The TD pulled Miami within 10-7 with 5:07 left in the quarter.
The Bills added a field goal late in the first quarter, driving 60 yards in eight plays to a 34-yard kick by Lindell with 40 seconds left.
The big gain on the march was a well-developed, 24-yard screen pass to Spiller to the left. Receiver Ruvell Martin lined up in a fullback position in the backfield and made a block to help spring Spiller. A 22-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler moved the Bills down to Miami’s 25.
Buffalo added another field goal early in the second quarter. This one came at the end of a 64-yard drive that covered eight plays and 3:57.
The Bills benefitted from two pass interference penalties on the Dolphins. The first one came on a deep pass attempt for T.J. Graham down the sideline and gave the Bills 31 yards to their own 48. The second came on a shorter pass for Donald Jones and gave the Bills 15 yards to the Miami 24.
Miami relied on mostly short, conservative passes early in the game with rookie quarterback Tannehill at the helm. Tannehill completed 5 of his first 10 passes for 41 yards.
The Bills controlled the time of possession, holding the ball for 35:03 to just 24:57 for Miami.