ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — It might be time to consider calling off the search party for Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills’ long-lost defense.
For one week at least, the high-priced, much-maligned unit wasn’t missing in action.
Williams – Buffalo’s $100 million defensive end – had one of the team’s three sacks, and safety Jairus Byrd recovered a fumble and had an interception in a much-needed, long-awaited stifling performance that produced a 19-14 win over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” Williams said. “It was definitely a must win. With the way things turned out earlier in the season, we had to come out and play like it’s the playoffs.”
A defense that entered the game ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed and dead last in giving up an average 31.67 points, limited the Dolphins to 184 yards and 16 first downs. Buffalo held Reggie Bush to a mere 20 yards – or 183 fewer than the Dolphins running back in his previous trip to Orchard Park last December.
Just as important, the defense closed it out by forcing turnovers on Miami’s final two drives.
Byrd intercepted rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s pass with a diving catch at Buffalo’s 35 with 1:54 left. And Bryan Scott followed a little over a minute later, jumping in front of Tannehill’s pass intended for Davone Bess at midfield.
“Seeing the predicament we’re in, it was a must win,” Byrd said. “We dug this hole for ourselves.”
And here was the first step in attempting to dig out of it.
The Bills (4-6) snapped a three-game skid and won for only the second time in seven games to stay on the fringe of the AFC playoff hunt. Buffalo also ended several other inglorious skids, by beating a division rival for the first time in nine meetings, and snapping an 11-game prime-time drought that dated to 2001.
Leodis McKelvin opened the scoring 90 seconds in by returning a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in a game the Bills never trailed.
That made up for an offense that lacked finish. Rian Lindell hit four field goals, including a 42-yarder, as Buffalo failed to score an offensive touchdown despite four trips inside the Miami 20.
The outlook is suddenly much different for the Dolphins (4-6), who have lost three straight and whatever momentum and hope they had generated after getting off to a better-than-expected start.
“Couldn’t run the ball, and we couldn’t throw the ball either,” Bush said. “We just have to do a better job as a team, and find a way to better game-plan, better way to execute, offense and defense, and all phases of the game.”
Tannehill continues to show signs of regressing. A week after throwing three interceptions in a 37-3 loss against Tennessee, he added two more against a Bills defense that hadn’t forced a turnover in three previous games.
“It’s really frustrating, especially with the success earlier in the year,” Tannehill said. “Being in situations where we’re going three-and-out or six-and-out, it’s frustrating. We have to be able to find a rhythm and get things going early on.”
The player drafted eighth overall out of Texas A&M finished 14 of 28 for 141 yards with 2-yard touchdown to Bess.
Marcus Thigpen accounted for the other score, a 96-yard kickoff return that cut the lead to 10-7 in the first quarter.
It wasn’t all Tannehill’s fault.
The Dolphins’ usually sturdy defense gave up 120 yards rushing, including 91 to C.J. Spiller, who took over the bulk of the rushing duties in place of Fred Jackson (concussion). After allowing 307 yards rushing in its first five games, Miami has given up 661 in its past five.
Cornerback Nolan Carroll had a particularly dreadful outing. He was penalized four times for 56 yards, including a 31-yard pass-interference penalty while defending Bills wideout T.J. Graham.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick finished 17 of 27 for 168 yards. Spiller also had three catches for 39 yards, while Stevie Johnson had six catches for 79 yards.
Fitzpatrick gave much of the credit to how well the defense played.
“The defense has been working so hard,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s been a lot of criticism on them, but tonight was a dominating performance and something we can build on.”
NOTES: The 184 yards allowed were a season-low for Buffalo, and the fewest the defense has allowed since limiting Washington to 178 in a 23-0 win Oct. 30, 2011. … Miami had 50 yards and two first downs in the first half. … Thigpen and McKelvin scored 8:05 apart in the first quarter. The last time there was a punt return touchdown by one team and a kickoff return touchdown by the opposing team in the same quarter was December 1999 in a game between Washington and Detroit, according to STATS LLC. Washington’s James Thrash had a 95-yard kickoff return and Detroit’s Desmond Howard had a 68-yard punt return in the second quarter.