It took a pair of late interceptions by Buffalo's defense, but the Bills were able to make 19 first half points stand up to put an end to a three –game losing streak and hand Buffalo their first division victory of the season in a 19-14 win over Miami.
"The defense played outstanding," said head coach Chan Gailey. "They did an unbelievable job. One score (allowed). They just did a super job."
The Bills sprinted out to a 19-7 halftime lead, but an offense that reached the red zone four times in the first half could only reach Miami's half of the field once in the second half. It allowed the Dolphins to make things interesting with a fourth quarter touchdown drive making it a one score game (19-14).
But on the first play after the two minute warning, Ryan Tannehill's pass down the left sideline for Davone Bess was picked off by a fully extended Jairus Byrd at the Bills 35. For Byrd it was his second takeaway of the game.
Buffalo's offense however, could not get the necessary first down to kill the clock, giving the ball back to the Dolphins for one last possession. Following an offensive pass interference call, Tannehill's pass over the middle on 1st-and-20 from his own 43 was picked off by Bryan Scott to seal the victory for the Bills.
"There in the second half we really put it on our defense," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "They were playing great. We just wanted to make sure we took care of the ball. Continue to allow our defense to go out there and shine and they did. They did a great job."
The win helped the Bills improve to 4-6 on the season pulling them into a tie with Miami in the AFC East. What's more it was a satisfying feeling for Buffalo's defense to close out a win for the first time in a month.
"It feels great," said Byrd. "When the weather gets like this, this is when defense has to step up big. With a rookie quarterback too coming in here, a hostile environment, that's when the defense has to carry the tune."
Buffalo's defense was putting forth one of their better efforts of the season. Through three quarters of play the Dolphins had 75 total net yards on offense and had not put a point on the board, with their only score coming on a 96-yard kick return for a touchdown.
"They did a good job," said Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "We struggled getting something going. They did a good job of defending the run, mixing coverages up. It made it difficult for us to get the ball moving."
But Miami did get in a rhythm midway through the fourth quarter marching 79 yards on 10 plays. Forty of those yards came on a pair of defensive penalties. The second gave the Dolphins a fresh set of downs in a goal-to-go situation at the Bills six-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal from the two, Ryan Tannehill hit Davone Bess in the front right corner of the end zone to make it a one score game (19-14) with just under nine minutes remaining.
Clinging to a five-point lead Buffalo's offense could not enlarge it. Facing a 3rd-and-12 at their own 44 Ryan Fitzpatrick had to roll away from pressure and throw underneath to C.J. Spiller, who was short of the first down marker.
"The second half I was conservative," said Gailey of his offensive play calling. "The defense was playing good and I was conservative. I will be the first one to admit it. Maybe a little bit too much."
Punter Shawn Powell, however handed Miami a long field putting the ball over the right sideline at the one-yard line. That drive ended with Byrd's interception.
The Bills jumped into the driver's seat in this division tilt early. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Miami's first possession, Leodis McKelvin knifed through the Dolphins punt coverage unit and tore down the left sideline for a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, the third of his career, for a 7-0 lead just a minute and a half into the game.
"That is what we have to do as a punt return unit," said McKelvin. "They do their job, I do my job. I read off them. I have got to get to the end zone whenever I get past the first wave. They did a great job."
Buffalo's defense got into the act on Miami's third possession when Stephon Gilmore forced a fumble on a completed pass over the middle to Brian Hartline near midfield. Byrd recovered giving the Bills offense a drive start at their own 47.
Ryan Fitzpatrick hooked up with Stevie Johnson for a pair of first down plays to move the Bills into the Miami red zone. Fitzpatrick's 3rd-and-3 attempt for Donald Jones in the end zone went off the receiver's hands forcing Buffalo to settle for a 32-yard Rian Lindell field goal (10-0) midway through the first quarter.
Miami answered right back with a 96-yard kick return for a touchdown by Marcus Thigpen to pull the Dolphins back to within a field goal (10-7) with just under five minutes left in the quarter.
Buffalo again effectively moved the ball down the field, with C.J. Spiller picking up 24 yards on a screen pass to move the Bills into Miami territory, followed by a 22-yard catch and run by Scott Chandler. But again on a 3rd-and-short in the red zone the Bills couldn't convert as a 3rd-and-1 pass intended for Chandler was broken up by Karlos Dansby. Lindell came on to hit a 34-yard attempt (13-7).
The Bills would add another field goal drive as they could not convert on a 3rd-and-3 at the Dolphins 17 as Rian Lindell hit a 42-yard attempt after a false start penalty on fourth down to make it 16-7 Buffalo with 8:57 left in the half.
The red zone problems continued after Buffalo's defense got the ball back for the offense with just under two minutes remaining in the half. Again a steady diet of C.J. Spiller and a short passing game moved the Bills into the red zone for the fourth time in the half. But with the clock winding down, Buffalo had to use a timeout after Fitzpatrick was sacked with 28 seconds remaining.
After Fitzpatrick converted a 3rd-and-8 at the Miami 18 to Stevie Johnson for a first down, the Bills had to use their final timeout to stop the clock on 1st-and-goal with 15 seconds left.
Following three incomplete passes to the end zone, again the Bills took three points from Rian Lindell on a 19-yard attempt for a 19-7 advantage at the break.
"We struggled on third-and-short all day," said Fitzpatrick. "We have to be able to extend those drives. Four field goals in the first half. That is a game that we could have blown wide open early and we did not."
Fortunately the Dolphins offense struggled for the entire first half, as Buffalo's defensive unit stymied the Miami rushing attack. Reggie Bush had minus three yards on four carries through the first two quarters and finished with just 20 yards on 10 carries. The Dolphins as a team managed just 60 yards rushing on 24 carries.
"The best it has been for four quarters all year," said Gailey of his team's run defense. "By far the best. I think we are capable of maybe not doing that, but being close to that. And if we can be close to that we'll be in great shape."
C.J. Spiller carried the offense with 130 of the offense's 281 total yards from scrimmage.
Buffalo now has 10 days to prepare for their Week 12 opponent as they will be back on the road at Indianapolis for a 1 pm kickoff a week from Sunday.