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Spoiler in South Beach: Bills Avenge Opening Weekend Loss, Down Dolphins’ Playoff Chances

The rivalry between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins isn’t anywhere close to the pinnacle it once reached in the late 80’s and through the 90’s.  It’s been some time now since these were two of the top teams in the AFC East, jockeying for position at the top of the AFC playoff picture.  There’s no more Dan Marino vs. Jim Kelly.  No more Don Shula gushing openly about his “good lookin’ quarterback”.  Bryan Cox, Jimmy Johnson, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith are all ghosts today.

But, despite all those high profile personalities a thing of the past, beating the Miami Dolphins is always sweet no matter what the players or the circumstances.  And with Miami hanging on for dear life to a glimmer of hope to sneek into the postseason backdoor, a week before Christmas and the Bills greatly put on their best naughty performance that would have the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge smiling.

Buffalo grabbed their fourth win in the last six games in great fashion, coming at the expense of Miami’s playoff chances.  When the Bills departed South Beach with a 17-14 win, on the way out they flushed the Dolphins’ playoff chances.  At 7-7, Miami is officially eliminated from playoff contention.  Kudos to the Bills for bringing Christmas to us all a week earlier.

You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen.  Those are Santa’s reindeer.  But who you don’t know, however, are the Buffalo Bills’ wide receivers.  Buffalo lost WR Lee Evans last week when he was placed on injured reserve.  For the final three weeks, that leaves the receiving duties on a seventh round pick (Steve Johnson) and three undrafted rookies (David Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt).  That’s not exactly a receiving unit blessed with a lot pedigree and NFL experience. 

But what was once perceived to be a major weakness before the 2010 season began has morphed into a tremendous strength and possibly the deepest position on the Bills: wide receiver.  It seemed as though Miami caught a lucky break facing the Bills without the services of Evans prior to Sunday’s game.  Without Evans, it’s almost a certainty that give any amount of time, you would not be able to conjure up the remaining names of receivers on the roster.  However, after Sunday, Miami could tell you a thing or two about the Bills’ young wide outs.

Facing a Dolphins defense ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed and sixth in the league against the pass, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and company had to deliver considering the struggles the running game endured all afternoon.  Backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for just 51 yards on 24 carries with a 2.1 yards per carry average.  Fitzpatrick finished the day 16 of 26 passing for 223 yards, 2 TD’s and one interception.  And showing a great deal trust in a collection of no-name kids, Fitzpatrick and the receivers delivered.

The quartet of Johnson, Nelson, Jones and Roosevelt combined to catch 12 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns.   Each receiver had a catch of at least 18 yards, with Johnson and Nelson hauling in touchdowns passes from Fitzpatrick.   Nelson, back in old stomping grounds, (Nelson went to the University of Florida) got the Bills on the board first with a magnificent 18-yard score.  Nelson made a fantastic leaping catch and was somehow able to hang on after taking a punishing hit from Dolphins CB Sean Smith.  Fitzpatrick saw Nelson matched up on Dolphins LB Karlos Dansby and put the ball only where the 6-foot-5 Nelson could come down with the football. 

Johnson’s breakout season continued, as he caught a  15-yard score with 6:23 left in the third quarter to give the Bills breathing room, 17-7.  Despite Evans’ being the Bills No.1 receiver, it’s become increasingly difficult not to label Johnson as the Bills’ best wide receiver.  Johnson now has 10 touchdown receptions on the season and with two games left, the former seventh-round selection has a chance to reach 1,000 receiving yards. 

For one of the first times all season, we’re able to give glory and praise to the Bills’ defense.  The unit turned in their best performance of the season, holding Miaim to just 65 yards rushing on 19 attempts.  Miami QB Chad Henne amassed 45 pass attempts and threw for 276 yards, but didn’t have a completion go for longer than 16 yards.  The Bills’ passing defense forced Henne into a gluttony of short drop offs and check downs, while registering three sacks, an interception from safety George Wilson and a fumble recovery.

So, how about these Bills?  Who would have envisioned this after an 0-8 start, the Bills posting a 4-2 record since?  Take away that nightmarish game at Minnesota and Buffalo has played some good, rough and tough football.  Despite their early humiliating struggles, the Bills have not lacked effort, desire or determination.  Even though their record isn’t pretty at 4-10, head coach Chan Gailey gets some high marks and praise for keeping the ship afloat and getting this collection of no-names, day two draftees to play some stretches of quality football. 

Buffalo’s first mission of playing spoiler football was a smashing success by squishing the fish.  Now the real tests begin for the final two weeks of the season.  Next week, the Bills get the New England Patriots at home and in the season finale they’ll face the New York Jets.

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