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Defense carries Bills to rare prime-time win

The SportsXchange

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Familiarity hasn't merely bred contempt for the Buffalo Bills. It has bred many losses in a row to the team's AFC East rivals.

On Thursday night, though, the Bills finally took care of business against a division opponent. They defeated the Miami Dolphins 19-14 in front of a packed house at Ralph Wilson Stadium and a national television audience.

Not only did the win snap Buffalo's three-game losing streak, but it also halted an eight-game Bills losing streak in the AFC East. Buffalo recorded its first prime-time victory in 11 years.

The Bills, who improved to 4-6, kept their slim playoff hopes alive. Miami lost its third straight to drop to 4-6.

"We're fighting for our lives the rest of the way," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "This was the first in a series of must-win games if we want to get to the postseason. Like I said on Monday, all it takes is a spark to start a fire. Hopefully, this is the spark we need to ignite things."

In its previous three division games this season, Buffalo was torched for an average of 46 points. However, the Bills' much-hyped and much-maligned defense finally played up to preseason expectations Thursday, holding the Dolphins to 60 yards rushing and 184 yards overall.

The Bills' defenders came up big in the final two minutes, as safety Jairus Byrd and linebacker Bryan Scott stymied potential game-winning drives with interceptions.

"We had guys come up big at crucial parts of the game," Williams said. "We finally put a complete game together defensively. We showed what we are capable of doing. We have to build on this."

Buffalo relied on Leodis McKelvin's 79-yard punt return and four Rian Lindell field goals for all of its scoring. The rest of the offense was provided by running back C.J. Spiller, who finished with 92 yards on 22 carries and 39 additional yards on three receptions.

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 17 of 28 passes for 168 yards.

The 19 points proved to be enough, thanks to Buffalo's defense.

The Bills limited the Dolphins to six punts, three turnovers, a missed field goal and a touchdown in 11 possessions. Miami's only scores came on a 96-yard kickoff return by Marcus Thigpen late in the first quarter and a 2-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Davone Bess midway through the fourth quarter.

Miami running back Reggie Bush was held to 20 yards on 10 carries. Tannehill completed 14 of 28 for 141 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Mario Williams, the Bills' $100 million defensive end, had a sack and also dropped Bush for a 5-yard loss on a running play.

"It was not a good offensive performance," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "We were 0-for-7 at one point on third down. We had no rhythm. We had nothing going on. We weren't throwing the ball well. We weren't running it well. They did a great job on defense, and we didn't execute well on offense."

McKelvin put the Bills up 7-0 less than two minutes into the game on his punt-return score. It was his second return for a touchdown this season, and the first punt return for a score by a Bill against Miami since Butch Byrd went 72 yards against the Dolphins on Sept. 18, 1966.

Buffalo went up 10-0 with just over five minutes left in the first quarter on a 32-yard Lindell field goal. The scoring drive was set up by Byrd's fumble recovery at the Bills' 48-yard line after cornerback Stephon Gilmore stripped wide receiver Brian Hartline.

The Dolphins cut the deficit to three on the ensuing kickoff when Thigpen took back the return for a touchdown. In the season opener, Thigpen returned a punt 72 yards for a score.

The Bills increased their lead to 19-7 when Lindell connected from 34, 42 and 19 yards on Buffalo's next three possessions.

Miami cut the gap to 19-14 midway through the final quarter on Tannehill's touchdown pass.

The Dolphins had two opportunities late in the game to go ahead, but Buffalo made consecutive interceptions for its first AFC East win of the year.

"They are always two-fers," Bills coach Chan Gailey said of the value of a division victory. "It is what we call them. They are two for one. Not only does it give you a win, it gives someone else in the division a loss. (The Dolphins) are not one of the division leaders, but at the same time, they were ahead of us, so it helps. Right now, you are just trying to climb and find a way to get the opportunity to play in late January. That is what we are trying to get the opportunity to do."

NOTES: Dolphins third-year cornerback Nolan Carroll was flagged for two pass-interference penalty and one holding infraction in the first half, accounting for 51 penalty yards. ... The Bills' previous prime-time win was a 13-10 victory vs. Jacksonville on Oct. 18, 2001.
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