BBD Staff Writer: John Maher
The Buffalo Bills hosted their AFC East rival, the Miami Dolphins, Sunday in their final home game of the 2013 season. The first game the Bills played after officially being eliminated from playoff contention in Week 15, their only tangible incentive in winning was the chance to spoil the Dolphins’ playoffs hopes.
With starting quarterback E.J. Manuel, top wide receiver Stevie Johnson and safety Aaron Williams all declared out for the game by Friday, Buffalo’s chances of winning seemed uncertain at best, even though the Bills narrowly pulled out a win in Week 7 against the Dolphins.
Regardless, backup quarterback Thad Lewis led the Bills out on a rainy day at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and the best word to describe the Bills’ play was dominance.
Pure and utter dominance.
The Bills improved to 6-9 on the season by posting their first shutout since the 2011 season. The Buffalo defense was in control for the entire game, and the Bills rolled to a 19-o victory over the Dolphins, who fell to 8-7 on the season.
Bills cornerback Nickell Robey has proven all season why he deserves to be on the field despite being an undrafted rookie. Week 16 was no different.
Whenever the Bills decided to use Robey as a blitzing pass-rusher, he consistently brought pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Robey posted two sacks and hurried Tannehill on multiple other occasions.
A series late in the first half exemplified Robey’s day. He tackled Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas for a loss on second down, then sacked Tannehill on the ensuing third down, leading directly to a punt.
Robey was one of the best players on the field Sunday. His individual effort helped the defense post its first shutout of the year.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams continued his career season against the Dolphins. He recorded two sacks on the day and otherwise appeared in utter control of the Dolphins’ offensive line. He often had an immediate jump off the snap and consistently overpowered his opponent. Williams is Buffalo’s defensive captain, and he has proven his worth throughout the season.
Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was at his best Sunday. His unit had a season-best seven sacks, including five on third downs. Those sacks raised the Bills’ league-leading total to 56 sacks, in a game where the Bills passed the franchise record of 50 set back in 1964. The Bills still have one game left to add to that number.
A major asset of Pettine’s defensive scheme is that it allows everyone to succeed on an individual basis, all while developing as a unit, and Sunday showed that.
On the defensive line, multiple players who posted sacks Sunday are having career sack numbers: Kyle Williams has 10.5, defensive end Jerry Hughes has 10 and defensive end Mario Williams has 13, one away from tying his career-best total. The Bills are the first NFL team to have a trio of players with double-digit sacks since the 2000 New Orleans Saints, according to the Bills’ official Twitter account.
The Dolphins offense was dominated by Pettine’s unit Sunday. They only had six first downs and were 2-of-14 on third down. They were held to 14 rushing yards, 103 total net yards and were forced to punt on 10 of their 13 drives.
The lone bright spot for the Dolphins offense was a 50-yard pass by backup quarterback Matt Moore to wide receiver Brian Hartline in the fourth quarter. Even that drive ended quickly, however, as Bills safety Jim Leonhard intercepted Moore on the next play.
Age is just a number for Bills running back Fred Jackson. Though 32 years old, Jackson had his best day of the season Sunday, rushing for 111 yards on 19 attempts and scoring the game’s only touchdown on a 9-yard run.
During the game, Jackson hit 5,000 rushing yards for his career with the Bills. This achievement places Jackson in an elite class of Bills running backs: the only two to have previously reached that mark are O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas.
Making Jackson’s performance Sunday even more impressive is that he played the game with broken ribs, according to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News. Jackson did not appeared to be hindered as he arguably played his best game of the year.
Leodis McKelvin: Cornerback
Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin had another excellent game to continue a terrific season. McKelvin covered Tannehill’s favorite target, wide receiver Mike Wallace, for most of the game. Though McKelvin was thrown at eight times while in coverage of Wallace according to Pro Football Focus, he held Wallace to just three receptions for 31 yards on those eight targets.
McKelvin played a key role in maintaining Buffalo’s shutout. The Dolphins might have tried to score a last-minute field goal on the final drive to nullify the shutout, but McKelvin ended that opportunity when he intercepted Moore with 1:45 left in the game, allowing the Bills to close out the game in the victory formation.
Bills kicker Dan Carpenter made all seven of his field goal attempts in two game against his former team this season. Carpenter had the game-winning score with a late field goal in Week 7, and he continued to be at his best on Sunday, kicking four field goals and an extra point good for a team-leading 13 points.
While it would have been nice to see some of those Buffalo field-goal drives end with touchdowns (three of Carpenter’s kicks came from inside Miami’s 10-yard line), it was also nice to see Carpenter have another good day against the team that released him in the preseason.
Bills rookie wide receiver Robert Woods started Sunday with what looked like the beginning of a career game. He finished a deep catch with a run to a 57-yard gain, the longest play on the day, on Buffalo’s second drive of the game. With two more receptions, Woods totaled 70 receiving yards in the first half and looked well on his way to earning his first 100-yard receiving game.
Early in the third quarter, however, Woods was ejected from the game for throwing a punch in an altercation with Dolphins safety Reshad Jones. In what appeared to be a routine block by Woods, emotions quickly rose and he attempted to punch Jones in the face, which called for immediate disqualification.
Considering fellow rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury, Woods put his team in a bad spot by being ejected, as his ejection left the Bills with just three wide receivers: T.J. Graham, Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley.
Woods needs to remain level-headed in his future to prevent situations like this happening again. He has proven he can be a key component to the Bills offense, but not if he is ejected for unnecessary mistakes.
Similar to Woods in his extracurricular activities, Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was benched for the first quarter of the game, a benching that was for violating a team rule according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News. Bills coach Doug Marrone did not specify what the violation was; speculation was that it was for Dareus being habitually late to team affairs, but that was not confirmed by the Bills coaching staff.
As with Woods to the offense, Dareus plays a vital role for the Bills defense. Regardless of what rule he broke, Dareus cannot be missing time for off-field reasons, as he is unable to make an impact for the team if he is on the sidelines.
Leodis McKelvin – The Punt Returner
Dolphins punter Brandon Fields was called on fourth down 10 times on Sunday, and McKelvin had a chance to return four of those kicks. Between those four returns, McKelvin netted zero yards and fumbled twice.
Lucky for McKelvin, the Bills recovered both balls, but on a day where McKelvin could have made some huge plays for the Bills special teams, he ended up almost costing his team possessions.
McKelvin should focus on playing well as a cornerback, for it might be in the team’s best interest to find a new punt returner.
The Bills’ last shutout in 2011 came against a weak Washington Redskins offense led by quarterback John Beck. This Dolphins team was a much stronger opponent, coming off of a huge win against the New England Patriots in Week 15. Though the Bills had no hopes of making the playoffs, the Dolphins still have a chance to play in January heading into Week 17.
But the Bills defense shut them down. All season long, the Bills defense had shown spurts of dominance but had yet to pull together four full quarters of solid play. That changed on Sunday. While the Bills remain out of postseason play for a 14th consecutive season, their dominant win showed they have something to build off for the 2014 season.
Tags: Dan Carpenter, First Downs and Flags, Fred Jackson, Game Reviews, Kyle Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Marcell Dareus, Miami Dolphins, Mike Pettine, Nickell Robey, Postgame Takeaways, Robert Woods, Week 16