NFL Preview - Miami (4-5) at Buffalo (3-6)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - All losses aren't created equally.
Look no further than the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins to prove that thesis.
The longtime AFC East rivals are both coming off setbacks as they get ready for an important matchup in Western New York which will kick off Week 11 of the NFL season.
The Bills, however, gave division-leading New England all it could ask for in Foxboro last Sunday while the Dolphins laid an egg at home against the Tennessee Titans.
Each club is now in dire straits with Miami two games behind the first place Pats in the East while the Bills are three back. The loser this week can likely forget any hopes of pushing New England down the line.
Buffalo came up just short against the Patriots when Devin McCourty intercepted a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass in the end zone with just 28 seconds left as the Patriots held on for a 37-31 victory.
Fitzpatrick, who completed 27-of-40 throws for 337 yards and two touchdowns on the day, led a late-game drive to the Patriots' 15 before forcing the ball directly to McCourty as the Bills dropped their third in a row and remained winless in division play.
"After all the talk that I gave about finishing, we couldn't finish," said Buffalo coach Chan Gailey. "Had the opportunity and could not finish. There were a lot of ups and downs, good and bad in that ballgame, but that's the bottom line. We had the chance to finish and we didn't."
Fred Jackson ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, but lost a crucial fumble with 9:35 to play in the game and to make matters even worse, suffered a concussion making him unavailable for Thursday night.
Miami, meanwhile, had a very good chance to keep pace with New England against a Titans team which was coming off an embarrassing loss against Chicago in Nashville.
Instead Tennessee welcomed back second-year quarterback Jake Locker and demolished the Dolphins 37-3.
Locker had been sidelined with a separated left shoulder since Week 4 and didn't put up overwhelming numbers in his return, throwing for 122 yards with a pair of touchdowns on just 9-of-21 efficiency, but the Titans moved the ball effectively and took advantage of four Miami turnovers -- three coming on interceptions -- to halt a two-game skid.
It was by far the worst setback of the season for Miami, which has generally been very competitive this season. The Dolphins' prior three losses had all come by just three points -- two in overtime -- after the club opened the season with a 30-10 drubbing at the hands of Houston. It was also the team's worst home loss since a 48-3 shellacking by Kansas City on Sept. 28, 1968.
Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 23-of-39 passes for 217 yards with three interceptions -- his first picks since Week 4 in an overtime loss at Arizona -- and was replaced by Matt Moore late in the fourth quarter.
Reggie Bush managed just 21 yards on the ground and was benched for the majority of the first half after a first-quarter fumble.
"When you play like that, we need to make some corrections," said coach Joe Philbin. "We need to make improvements, even though we're in a semi-time crunch."
Miami leads its all-time series with the Bills 55-36-1 and has taken six of the last eight, including both meetings in 2011.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Bills generally base their offense around their running game, which is sixth in the NFL with 143.1 rushing yards per contest. Jackson, who has run for 298 yards and three touchdowns this season while adding 26 catches out of the backfield for another 183 yards and one score is a pivotal part of that production.
Although C.J. Spiller, who has 632 rushing yards and four touchdowns to go along with 28 receptions for 297 yards and a score and averages a league-high 7.3 yards per carry, is more than capable and is actually far more explosive than Jackson, the Clemson product has never carried the ball more than 19 times in his NFL career so he's not an Adrian Peterson- or Marshawn Lynch-type back who can carry the load.
"We've got to stay square and we've got to close off those running lanes," Philbin said when asked how to stop Spiller. "Where the defense has him corralled so to speak and he is elusive number one, so you have to break down, you have to have balance, you've got to be decisive when you got to tackle this guy and you've got to wrap him up. If you miss him, he's got the speed to go the distance, so it's a challenge, no question about it."
Buffalo's offense is all about the 1-2 punch in a backfield so the real replacement for Jackson will have to be veteran Tashard Choice, who came up big in a Week 3 victory in Cleveland when both Jackson and Spiller were sidelined.
"We are fortunate that we have two players and when one goes down, we have a dynamic player that can go in there and play the whole ball game." Gailey said. "Even (with that), there will be times (Tashard) Choice in will be in there. That is part of it. You have got to keep them fresh. They get tired. They exert a lot of energy running the football."
The Dolphins have been very good defensively for most of the year but have slowed a bit in recent weeks thanks to a down tick in their run defense. Miami was as stout as they come against the run early, allowing just 61.4 yards on the ground during their first five games. Gap control has been a problem over the last four contests, however, and the Dolphins have been allowing 135.3 rushing yards since their impressive start.
"They are playing really good defense," Gailey said of the Dolphins. I think they are fifth in rush defense and (sixth in) third-down defense. That helps you a lot when you can do those two things it really helps your football team. So the defense has played well and they have not turned it over much on offense. That has allowed them to stay in games and win a few."
Miami has not scored a touchdown in six quarters but Tannehill, who needs just 232 passing yards to surpass Dan Marino for the most by a rookie in Dolphins history, and his teammates should have a real good chance to get back on track against a moribund Bills defense which is dead last in the NFL, allowing 31.7 points a game, and 31st in yardage allowed at 410.0 ypg.
"He has done a very good job," Gailey said when asked about Tannehill. "They are doing a good job of setting it up where they are protecting him to let him throw the ball down the field. He is getting the ball out of his hands quick. He is protecting the ball well. He had a tough week last week, but overall he has done a good job of protecting the ball. He has played extremely well for a rookie."
It's usually all about decision-making for rookie quarterbacks and after a month of solid choices, Tannehill regressed mightily against Tennessee.
The Bills don't have the kind of defense to press Tannehill but the short week coupled with a South Florida team playing in Buffalo during November could be an issue.
"They say it's a great environment," Tannehill said of placing in Western New York. "The fans love their football, they love Buffalo. It's going to be cold, so it's going to be fun."
In a virtual must win matchup for both clubs expect the Bills to capture their first AFC East triumph of the season probably on a late Rian Lindell field goal.
"All of your focus is on this week and this game," Gailey said. "You do not think about anything else. You think about this week and this game. If you do anything other than that, if you start thinking about scenarios and all of that kind of stuff, you can drive yourself crazy."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 23, Dolphins 20
11/15 12:56:34 ET