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Special teams peaking at right time


There is no debating that the Bills defense deserved the lion's share of the credit in Sunday's victory over the Packers. What also should not be questioned is the key supporting role that Buffalo's special teams units played in the win.

Sunday's win saw arguably the best performance of the year from the special teams. Looking back on the season however, coordinator Danny Crossman's units have played an essential role in more than half of Buffalo's victories.

Heading into Sunday, having a solid performance on special teams was part of the plan.

"We knew all week that special teams wasn't their strong point," TE MarQueis Gray said in the locker room following Sunday's win. "They gave up some blocked punts this year and we figured if we went after them and made some plays then we would have a good advantage this week."

Special teams accounted for all of the Bills points aside from the safety at the end of the game Sunday. The scoring began with WR Marcus Thigpen's punt return, and it wasn't his first touchdown return at Ralph Wilson Stadium. His first was with Miami in 2012.

Thigpen said after the game that he knew the Packers were a tough team to defend and that getting a touchdown on special teams was a goal they set during the week. When he caught the ball on that return, he saw his teammates making important blocks and then some holes opened up that he was able to exploit.

His 75-yard scoring play Sunday was followed by K Dan Carpenter's four field goals, two of which came from 48 and 51 yards.

"I actually think the 48-yarder was the more difficult one" Carpenter said. "That end, (the wind) was gusting pretty good down there. It was kind of in your face; left to right. I missed a few balls down there in warm-ups, so it was definitely one I was concerned about when I was going out there. I knew I had to hit a good ball."

Since Buffalo's Week 1 victory at Chicago special teams have been making contributions like this.

Buffalo held the Bears to minus one punt return yards in the opener, P Colton Schmidt had a net average of 43.0 yards on five punts and K Jordan Gay had five touchbacks.

The following week, in the home opener against Miami, RB C.J. Spiller had a 102-yard kick return and RB Boobie Dixon had a blocked punt. Carpenter also had four field goals that day.

Week 5, the field goal unit came up clutch with Carpenter's 58-yard game winning field goal with four seconds remaining in the game.

Seven weeks later in the rout over the Jets – coincidently in Detroit again – Dixon blocked another punt that was successively recovered for a touchdown by DE Manny Lawson.

After beating the Packers Sunday, DE Mario Williams, who blocked a Green Bay field goal attempt, kept it short and sweet in the locker room with the expectation special teams has each week:

"It's one third of the game," he said. "We try to go out there and make plays happen, make plays pop up and just play."

Much of this success can be quantified in the forms of Carpenter and P Colton Schmidt. After Sunday, Carpenter moved into the top 10 all-time scorers in franchise history with 253 points. He also is the second kicker in 2014 to have five successful kicks from 50 yards.

As for Schmidt, he has come on and replaced legendary punter Brian Moorman rather well. He's ninth in fair catches with 19 this year but what's more impressive, 29 of his punts have landed inside the 20 yard line – Moorman put 30 punts-inside-the-20 just twice in his career and Schmidt has two games left on the schedule.

As of right now, Buffalo's special teams are top ranked in multiple categories: third in kick coverage (19.9 yards), fourth in punt coverage (6.3 yards), sixth in opponent field goal percentage (79.3), eighth in punt return average (10.4 yards) and ninth in field goal percentage (88.9 percent).

According to Dixon, this was the idea all along.

"[Special teams] is a thing where we set our goal in the beginning of the year and we said we want to be the best in the league," Dixon said. "That's all we're doing. We have a lot of great players on our special teams. We know that's one of the biggest phases in the game. That puts points on the board. We're just trying to keep it going"

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