The Miami Dolphins, riding the hot hand of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, had won three straight, and were in the hunt for a playoff berth.
The Buffalo Bills had been eliminated from playoff contention for the 14th consecutive year and were without their starting quarterback and leading receiver.
One team seemingly had everything to play for. The other team seemingly had nothing to play for.
So, guess what happens?
That’s right. The team with nothing to play for squishes the team that had everything to play for.
Bills 19, Dolphins 0.
The Bills didn’t just beat the Dolphins. They smothered them. They sacked Tannehill seven times, held him to 82 passing yards and eventually knocked him out of the game. Quite the feat, considering Tannehill was averaging almost 300 yards per game and had tossed eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his previous three games. Buffalo treated his backup, Matt Moore, just as rudely, picking off two of his six throws after he replaced Tannehill for parts of the fourth quarter. The Bills also bottled up the Dolphins ground game (14 yards on 12 carries).
Little wonder, first-year Bills coach Doug Marrone said it was “an honor to be on that sideline and watch those guys perform.”
The offense wasn’t quite as dominating, but thanks to Fred Jackson and the O-line, they wore the Dolphins down. Jackson, who surpassed the 5,000-yard mark, rushed for 111 yards and a score. It was the 15th 100-yard game of his marvelous, overachieving career. Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson are the only Bills running backs with more. C.J. Spiller added 77 yards rushing and 26 receiving. Thad Lewis, filling in for the injured EJ Manuel, was decent, completing 15-of-25 for 193 yards.
It was the first shutout the Bills have pitched at home in seven years. And as you watched the total domination by Mike Pettine’s unit, you couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.
“You try not to dwell on what you could have done, though that’s human nature to worry like that,’’ said defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who had two sacks Sunday.
Williams said he’d rather look forward, than back.
“We’ve got a chance to be really, really good, because of the scheme we are running and the people we have executing it,’’ he said. “I feel more excited about what’s ahead of us than regret looking back.”
The defense has a team record 56 sacks and is among the league leaders in interceptions. It can take another step in the season finale next week against the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro – a stadium where they’ve never won.
Presumably, Manuel will be back for that game, so we’ll get another chance to see what he can do under duress. A win vs. the Patriots would go a long way in allaying concerns about his ability to be the guy.
If the Bills could somehow eke one out in that house of horrors, they would end the season with a three-game win streak, and make the offseason much more palatable.
Yes, that scenario seems improbable. But Sunday’s scenario seemed improbable, too, and look what happened.
OFFENSE: The Bills rushed for 203 yards and Thad Lewis was solid, with only one interception. Robert Woods had 70 yards on three catches, but lost his composure and threw a punch that resulted in his ejection. B
DEFENSE: Most dominating game of the year against a quarterback who had been among the NFL’s hottest during the month of December. Nickell Robey, an undrafted cornerback, had two sacks on corner blitzes. Jim Leonhard and Leodis McKelvin had interceptions. The Dolphins mustered 103 yards of total offense. A-plus
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brian Moorman shanked a 13-yard punt, but rebounded with a 52-yarder and pinned one inside the 20. Dan Carpenter drilled four field goals. Great pickup. He is 31-for-34 this season. B
OVERALL: This was an impressive win, especially given the circumstances. It’s a credit to Marrone and his staff for getting his team to play hard even after being eliminated from playoff contention. A victory next Sunday in a place they never win would be another small step forward. A