It was a tale of two weeks for the Bills' defense Sunday.
One week after being steamrolled for 210 rushing yards and 38 points in a loss at Minnesota, the Bills forced three turnovers and held the NFL's third-leading touchdown scorer, Peyton Hillis (13), out of the end zone in their 13-6 defeat of the Cleveland Browns.
The Bills allowed season lows in points, first downs (nine), total net yards (187), net passing yards (82), net rushing yards (105) and time of possession (23:50).
Hillis ran for 112 yards on 29 carries, with 49 coming on the Browns' opening drive before Chris Kelsay and Donte Whitner combined to stop him at the Buffalo one on third-and-goal, forcing the Browns to settle for a 19-yard Phil Dawson field goal.
On Hillis' next carry, following a Ryan Fitzpatrick fumble, Hillis tried his patented hurdle move, but Jairus Byrd stripped the ball out, right into Kyle Williams' hands.
Coach Chan Gailey said the takeaway was a turning point in the game – the perfect response to Hillis' strong performance during Cleveland's opening possession.
"We told them we knew this was what it was going to be; you've got to stop the run," Gailey said. "We got everybody cheating up a little bit and cheating toward the line of scrimmage and staying in their gap, and we were able to eliminate the bigger plays. (Cleveland) got the big plays early in the game, (but) didn't have very many … after that."
Hillis fumbled three times on the afternoon, with Cleveland recovering two, but never had a run longer than seven yards after the one fumble he lost.
Bryan Scott said neutralizing Hillis was the key to Bills' defensive success.
"He came out of the gate and ran the ball down our throat, but we were able to stop him in the red zone," Scott said. "Once we were able to kind of contain him and force them to pass it to beat us, that kind of played in to our game plan."
Whitner said the Bills made it a point to rip at the football Sunday, with Hillis, the league's fifth-leading fumbler (eight), running in slick conditions.
"We knew, with the weather being the way it was and them wanting to run the football, that if we (play) physical and put a hat on them, then he would fumble that football," Whitner said. "After we starting hitting him and that ball started coming out, he started looking around. You could tell that he was looking around to see where the contact was coming from, and after he tried to jump over Byrd when he fumbled, he didn't try to jump over a guy again."
The Bills held a 10-6 lead early in the fourth quarter when rookie Arthur Moats stripped the ball from Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme. Scott recovered at the Cleveland 23, leading to a 19-yard Rian Lindell field goal to put the Bills up by seven.
With the Browns just shy of midfield with 4:01 remaining, following an exchange of punts, Scott hit Delhomme as he threw, forcing an underthrown pass that Leodis McKelvin snagged for an easy interception that ultimately allowed the Bills to run out the clock.
Whitner said forcing Delhomme to throw outside was also a priority.
"When he throws outside, that's when he tends to have trouble – we've seen it all week on film," Whitner said. "That's why they wanted to get everything in the middle to Ben Watson, and get Hillis up through the middle and check down. We did what our coaches wanted us to do, we stuck to the game plan and came out and executed and got a win."
The Bills – who have struggled against tight ends this season – held Watson to just one catch for eight yards, Delhomme to just 86 passing yards on 12 of 20 attempts, and the Browns to 2-for-10 on third downs.
Whitner noted attacking Cleveland's offense and forcing it to go to the air – which it did on all but two of its fourth-quarter offensive plays – as keys to victory.
"Other than that first drive of the football game, we really held our own," Whitner said. "We did a really good job of getting off on third down, and we did a really good job of being physical with one of the most physical backs in the National Football League, so I think the sky's the limit. If we continue to be physical with each and every team we play, we'll always give ourselves a chance."
After adding five forced fumbles to the Bills' previous season total of 13, Gailey said he's pleased the his team is being more aggressive going after the ball.
"The guys are starting to understand the whole scheme of things and we're getting better and they're hitting the guys and knocking the ball loose," he said. "It's not they're just dropping on the ground, we're knocking the ball loose and that's good."
Whitner said Sunday's defensive performance should be the team's benchmark for future success.
"If you can hold teams to field goals and you can get turnovers, then you've got a pretty good chance of winning that ball game," he said. "If we continue to play like that – keep getting that ball on the ground and getting those turnovers and holding teams out of the end zone – we're going to win a lot of football games."