The Buffalo Bills' 19-14 win over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night was far closer than it should have been. Buffalo scored all 19 of their points in the first half via their specialists. Though the Bills went into the locker room at halftime leading 19-7, they did not score another point. The Bills' defense fished up against a weak offense led by a rookie quarterback, and thankfully, the 19 points were enough.
The Good: Remember the days when fans questioned the selection of C.J. Spiller? He is now the poster child for having patience with rookies. Spiller and the offensive line carried the offense, producing against a Miami defense that entered the game with the league's sixth-best rushing defense, allowing less than four yards per carry. Even with star Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby shadowing Spiller, he gained 130 yards on 25 touches, taking a step towards proving he's an every-down running back. Spiller has grown up, runs with patience, takes what the defense allows, and breaks spectacular runs when they come. Buffalo fans, this is what a star running back looks like. Tonight, the whole nation got an introduction to what is hopefully a long career of big plays and lightning cutbacks for Spiller.
The Bad: The lack of second half offensive production allowed the Dolphins to hang around and make the game close. Buffalo started the second half with a promising nine-play, 43-yard drive that drove to the Miami 36-yard line, only to settle for a punt. Buffalo followed that up with two straight three-and-out drives, after which Ryan Tannehill drove the Dolphins for Miami's first touchdown in 28 drives. Buffalo gained 24 yards on their next drive after the Miami touchdown, and could not gain a first down after a Jairus Byrd interception. The offense put far too much pressure on the defense. A lone field goal in the second half was all that was required to seal the game, and the offense could not deliver. That type of play can pass against a team with a weak offense, but it's not going to work against Indianapolis or the Seahawks, upcoming opponents that Buffalo must beat.
Let's Not Overreact: The defense played well, but let's not get ahead of ourselves with praise. Miami's offense is not good. The Dolphins are suffering from what Buffalo faced last season - defenses compressing the field. Color commentator Mike Mayock noted that almost every play on offense for Miami is like playing against red zone defense. They're ranked 25th in the league, constantly facing eight man fronts, cornerbacks in press coverage, and safeties playing robber coverages inside ten yards. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are slot receivers that don't drive corners deep. Add into that mix a rookie quarterback; Tannehill is talented - I believe he's a future franchise quarterback - but he's making the mistakes that most rookies make. Buffalo's defensive line beat blocks, played fast, and Byrd is possibly the most underrated defender in the league, but they faced a team tailor made for the Bills to have a big game.
Outlook: The Bills took their first step toward any potential playoff bid. Amazingly, they are second in the AFC East now, and two game out from a wild card birth with six weeks remaining. They got to this point by putting away a team they should beat, something they could not do earlier in the season versus Tennessee. That's progress.
The next step comes in ten days against the upstart Indianapolis Colts. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is doing his best Dan Marino impression, and the Colts are playing inspired football for head coach Chuck Pagano, who is beating leukemia. The Bills need to bring their lunch pail and a lot of effort to win that game, another step to the post-season, and a must win game.