Buffalo began a new era under head coach Chan Gailey with an important division test against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday. And though the defense came to play holding Miami off the scoreboard for the entire third quarter to keep it a one score deficit (10-3), Buffalo's offense could not find enough rhythm in time as they fell to Miami 15-10.
The Bills offense had trouble stringing positive plays together. At halftime Buffalo had just 57 yards of total offense as they went three-and-out on three of their five first half possessions. Miami's defensive front was getting consistent penetration at the line of scrimmage, which helped to keep Buffalo's plays from developing.
"We realized we weren't going to be able to run the football like we wanted to," said Gailey. "I did a poor job of getting it designed and getting it going the way it needed to. We finally decided to go to our two minute offense and that was the one way we moved the football."
"They wanted me to go outside just like most teams are going to play me this year. They're going to want me to go laterally instead of north and south," said C.J. Spiller who finished with six yards on seven carries. "I've got to be able to adjust to it. I didn't do a good job of that. I've got to pick it up. I've got to make the plays."
A stingy Bills defense kept Buffalo within striking distance for most of the game, and the offense came alive in the fourth quarter going when they went to their hurry up attack. Trent Edwards and company staged a 10-play 80-yard drive that initially appeared doomed after Edwards was sacked on a 3rd-and-2 at the Miami 22. On 4th-and-11 however, the Bills went for it.
Edwards got the protection he needed and tossed a perfect touch pass over the shoulder of Roscoe Parrish, who got behind his defender for a 31-yard touchdown to pull Buffalo to within a field goal with 5:13 remaining (13-10).
"For the most part on that 10-play drive they were sitting back in the coverage and made it a lot easier to find our guys underneath and fortunately on that fourth down play we found Roscoe down the seam and that was a great way to find a rhythm and get into something positive," said Edwards. "But we needed more of that today and unfortunately we didn't get that."
Buffalo's defense came up big again stalling a Dolphins drive near midfield to force a punt, but Dolphins punter Brandon Fields dropped a punt perfectly, which died at the Bills one-yard line. Buffalo then threw three straight incompletions and took a safety on fourth down to make the score 15-10.
Brian Moorman tried to pooch kick the ensuing kickoff, but Brandon Marshall signaled for a fair catch and the Dolphins were able to kill most of the remaining time on the clock and post the five-point win. It was the first season opening win for Miami in five seasons.
"It was really a one score game, most of the game," said Donte Whitner. "Second half they were up 13-10 after the touchdown to Roscoe. We gave up a touchdown and two field goals and I'll take that any day of the week against any team in the NFL. We are all professionals and they're a run first football team. So we have to stop the run against them first and then stop the pass. I think we did a little bit of both."
The Bills from the very start of the game were battling poor field position. After they went three-and-out on their opening possession they also gave Miami favorable field position as their first drive began at their own 49. Brandon Marshall converted a key third down and Ronnie Brown got 16 yards after a reception out of the backfield to move the Dolphins into the red zone. But Terrence McGee dropped Marshall for a loss on a 3rd-and-4 play forcing Miami to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter for an early 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Miami would pad that lead with a touchdown drive early in the second quarter. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams pounded out yards on the ground to get the Dolphins into the red zone. On a 2nd-and-12 from the Bills 17, Chad Henne threw a solid touch pass to Anthony Fasano to set up first-and-goal at the one-yard line. Ronnie Brown plunged in from a yard out a play later to make it 10-0 Miami with 11 minutes left in the half.
Buffalo's offense had trouble finding their rhythm in the first half as protection for Trent Edwards was inconsistent and Miami did a good job of bottling up some rush lanes. Edwards finished the game 18-34 for 139 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times.
"They did a good job of getting into our backfield and wrapping people up and causing negative plays and not allowing us to get in our rhythm and that's a credit to their front guys, they're physical, fast and well coached and coming to play," said Edwards.
The Bills did however, put together an eight-play drive with a 15-yard run by Marshawn Lynch getting Buffalo deep enough into Miami territory for Rian Lindell to put a 51-yard field goal through the uprights to pull to within a touchdown.
With under a minute to go in the half the Bills couldn't quite pull to within reasonable field goal range, but head coach Chan Gailey had Lindell attempt a 63-yard field goal at the end of the half that fell about three yards short.
The Bills defense played its best in the third quarter holding the Dolphins to just 37 total yards of offense on four possessions sending them three-and-out twice. But with the offense unable to sustain a drive, Buffalo's defenders began to tire and eventually surrendered enough yardage on a Dolphins nine-play drive to allow Dan Carpenter to put a 43-yard field goal through for a 13-3 Dolphins edge with 9:32 to play.
It was then that Buffalo put together their best drive of the game, but it was all they could muster on what proved to be a long afternoon for the Bills offense. In no way however, are the players discouraged after one unsuccessful outing.
"You have to focus on the positive and fix the negative," said Parrish. "If we come in (Monday) and break down film and if the mistakes that we made aren't a major issue then we don't have a major problem. It's just something we have to break down and see what we can do to get a faster start in the first half."
"We don't have our heads down," said Whitner. "We understand what we have in this locker room and we're going to build on it. The offense is not going to struggle like that every week. I can promise you that."
The Bills lost ILB Paul Posluszny to a knee injury early in the second half. No details yet as to how long he could be out. Safety Cary Harris suffered a hamstring injury and did not return.
Buffalo (0-1) travels to Green Bay next week for a cross conference matchup with the Packers. Kickoff is set for 1 pm.