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Pitoniak: Bills D answers the call
ORCHARD PARK - Kyle Williams reminded us again Thursday night that it only takes a spark to start a fire. I don't think this 19-14 Bills victory against an offensively challenged Miami Dolphins team has re-ignited Buffalo's flickering playoff hopes. But it does keep the Bills season relevant for at least another week.
The encouraging thing about this win is that it was delivered by the much-maligned defense that finally put together a game that lived up to the pre-season hype the unit received. On a night when the offense consisted of four Rian Lindell field goals, a 79-yard punt return for touchdown by Leodis McKelvin, and 130 yards of rushing and receiving by C.J. Spiller, the defense did not rest.
It came to the rescue.
It made Ryan Tannehill play like the rookie quarterback he is - limiting him to just 14 completions in 28 attempts for 141 yards and one touchdown. And, twice, with the game on the line with under two minutes remaining, safety Jairus Byrd and linebacker Bryan Scott intercepted the Dolphins QB to put an end the Bills three-game losing streak and give them their first AFC East victory in nine games spanning 13 months and their first prime-time victory in 11 years.
Mario Williams, the $100 million man, earned some of his bread, dropping running back Reggie Bush for a five-yard loss early on, which helped set the tone. And he sacked Tannehill later on. Bush, who torched the Bills for 203 rushing yards last December, managed just 20 yards on 10 carries.
The Dolphins finished with just 60 yards rushing - 103 below the Bills average yield - and just 141 yards passing - 105 below Buffalo's norm. And the 14 points were 32 below the average number the Bills allowed in their previous three division games - two meetings vs. the New England Patriots and one vs. the New York Jets.
So, it's a start, but it's going to take a lot more fanning of the flames to get these embers raging.
At 4-6, the Bills still have to get on a roll that sees them win five of six. Next up is a game at Indianapolis against the Colts and their precocious quarterback Andrew Luck. Win that game and we can start talking more in earnest about these playoff hopes being alive. That game will be followed by home games against Jacksonville and St. Louis, a home-away-from-home game against Seattle in Toronto, a road trip to Miami and a home finale against the Jets.
On paper, it all looks doable. But I won't Bill-lieve it until I see it. Long, long way to go.
We've been duped enough by these guys. It's conceiveable that Luck could light these guys up for 400 yards. And it's conceiveable they could bottle him up enough to win this game.
"I know it's the old clich,'' Kyle Williams said. "But we do have to play it one game at a time. We dug ourselves quite a hole. Every game is a must-game. And tonight we won the first in a series of must-games."
SCOTT'S REPORT CARD
OFFENSE: Spiller was solid with 91 hard yards on 22 carries and 39 yards on three receptions, but nobody else really stepped up. The best thing you can say about Ryan Fitzpatrick (17-of-27, 168 yards, 0 TDs) is that he didn't turn it over. Bills converted only 2-of-12 third downs, which proved fatal in the red zone. Grade: B-minus.
DEFENSE: Best overall game of the year. Stopped the run. Stopped the pass. Came up with two game-saving interceptions and also forced a fumble. Grade: B-plus.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Leodis McKelvin returned his second punt for a touchdown this season. Lindell drilled four field goals. And Shawn Powell pinned five punts inside the 20, including a pivotal one at the Dolphins 1 late in the game. The Bills return team was burned for a 96-yard kickoff return by Marcus Thigpen. Grade: B.
COACHING: Chan Gailey admitted he grew a little too conservative in the second half and some of his red zone calls were baffling. How can you not have your most dynamic weapon on the field near the opposition's goal line. Defensively, Dave Wannstedt called a good game. Grade: B.
OVERALL: Well, they live to fight another day. They have nine days to rest and prepare for Indy, which is another must-win. Grade: B.
Nationally honored columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s, covered them since the mid-1980s and written five books about their storied history.