First Downs and Flags: A Look Back at the Bills’ Last-Minute Win Against the Dolphins

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson bounced back from an early injury to make some key plays Sunday. (Photo: Steve Mitchell — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: John Maher

Coming off of an overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 13, the Buffalo Bills reversed the headlines and won Sunday on a 31-yard Dan Carpenter field goal with just 33 seconds remaining against the Miami Dolphins.

The overall game favored the Dolphins, who scored three offensive touchdowns to the Bills’ one, but Buffalo took advantage of Miami’s mistakes by forcing three turnovers.  The Bills offense struggled mightily this week, but the defense led Buffalo to a 23-21 road upset in Miami.

It was not the prettiest game for the Bills, but a win is a win, and there were some players who played well — and some who didn’t — worth acknowledging this week in “First Downs and Flags.”

First Downs

Mario Williams

With the exception of Buffalo’s Week 2 win against the Carolina Panthers, when Super Mario had 4.5 sacks, he had his most influential game of the season Sunday.

Williams had two sacks during Miami’s final three drives, including a strip sack with less than three minutes remaining in the game which was recovered by Kyle Williams and ultimately set up Carpenter’s game-winning field goal.

Williams is currently tied for second in the NFL this season with 10 sacks through seven games, and he has 19 sacks in his last 17 games.

Fred Jackson 

After injuring his left knee early in the first quarter, running back Fred Jackson went to the sidelines, but the leader refused a cart to take him into the locker room and came back in on the Bills’ next offensive drive, which he capped with a 3-yard touchdown run.

Jackson had a relatively small game statistically this past week, gaining just 36 yards on 11 rushing attempts, but his clutch 10-yard carry on third down of the Bills’ final offensive possession allowed the Bills to run more time off the clock and moved Dan Carpenter to a much closer field goal from what would have been a 45-yard attempt had Jackson gained no yards in that 3rd-and-4 situation.

Nickell Robey

Slot cornerback Nickell Robey had one of the Bills’ two touchdowns in Sunday’s game when he intercepted Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s first pass attempt of the game and scored a 19-yard interception return touchdown.  He had to leave due to a shoulder injury in the third quarter, but still finished the game with three passes defensed. Not too bad for an undrafted rookie.

Dan Carpenter

Carpenter made 3-of-3 field goal attempts Sunday from distances of 39, 20, and 31 yards, with his last being the game-winning field goal.

Carpenter was cut in the offseason by the Dolphins and was cut after brief stints with both the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets this preseason, but landed a job with the Bills to fill in for Dustin Hopkins, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve and did not play at all this season due to a groin injury. He has missed 15-of-16 field goal attempts this season; his only miss was on a 42-yard field goal attempt versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 2.

After giving the Bills a late lead with his final field goal Sunday, Carpenter also made a potentially game-saving tackle when he hit Marcus Thigpen on the final kickoff return and stopped a return that had already reached the Miami 46-yard line, allowing the defense to come up with the necessary stops in the final 23 seconds to preserve the Bills’ victory.

Flags

Buffalo Bills quarterback Thad Lewis looked more like a backup Sunday as he continued to struggle avoiding sacks. (Photo: Robert Mayer — USA Today Sports)

Thad Lewis

Lewis played more like a backup quarterback this week, which has thankfully quelled any arguments that he should start over EJ Manuel upon Manuel’s return.

Lewis did not have a terrible game, but he took a step backward after last week’s three-touchdown affair (two passing, one rushing) against the Bengals. He again took far too much time in the pocket and was sacked four times. He also threw the ball short of the first down marker on the majority of his third-down passing attempts, making it difficult for Bills receivers to pick up first downs.

C.J. Spiller

Sunday was another ineffective game for running back C.J. Spiller. He had a total of seven net yards from scrimmage and was hardly a factor on a week where he was needed in the run game with Lewis at quarterback.

Frank Summers, the Bills’ fullback, had more rushing yards than Spiller this week.  Spiller does not look like he is 100 percent healthy, and he said Wednesday he felt like he was “not exploding” as a runner out of the backfield. Until he is, Spiller will likely continue to remain unproductive.

The Bills may be better off waiting to play Spiller until he is back at full capacity instead of prolonging his injuries every week.

Special Teams Coverage

Buffalo’s special teams coverage has been a huge disappointment this season. The punt coverage unit, which helped cost the Bills opportunities to win their two previous games versus the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, was relatively solid this week; every Miami possession off of a punt started on its half of the field, and Dolphins punt returner Marcus Thigpen gained just 11 yards on four returns.

The Bills’ final kickoff, however, looked to be intentionally short, especially considering Dan Carpenter had been consistently kicking the ball into the back of the end zone for most of the game. For whatever reason, this call must have come from the coaching staff and most likely from special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. That kickoff was fielded at the 2-yard line by Thigpen, and the Bills allowed him to return the kickoff 44 yards, which gave the Dolphins great field position and could have cost the Bills the game had Carpenter not been in position to tackle Thigpen.

Summary

The Dolphins cost themselves this game. The decision to drop Ryan Tannehill back to pass in the final minutes, when their primary focus should have been to take as much time off the clock as possible, allowed for Mario Williams’ strip sack, Kyle Williams’ recovery and subsequently, Dan Carpenter’s go-ahead field goal. The Dolphins very easily could have ran the ball, forced the Bills to use their timeouts and pinned their backs against the wall, as one or two first downs on that drive for the Dolphins could have put the game out of reach for the Bills.

Regardless of the outcome, what matters for the Bills is that they did pull out a victory. They are 3-4 and looking to improve back to .500 next week, but have their work cut out for them as they travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans to face a Saints team coming off a tough loss to the New England Patriots and a bye week.

Tags: Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Dan Carpenter, Danny Crossman, First Downs and Flags, Fred Jackson, Game Reviews, Mario Williams, Miami Dolphins, Nickell Robey, Postgame Takeaways, Thad Lewis, Week 7

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