Through the first two games of the season, the Buffalo Bills have looked like an elite team.
Buffalo looks to further solidify its standing as one of the league’s best when it faces the Miami Dolphins in an AFC East matchup.
The Bills were in a rebuilding mode in 2001 and finished 3-13 in their first season under coach Greg Williams. The acquisition of quarterback Drew Bledsoe helped them win eight games in 2002.
A vastly improved defense, coupled with an explosive offense, appears to have made Buffalo a leading playoff contender this season.
After opening with an impressive 31-0 rout of New England at home, the Bills had little trouble wining at Jacksonville 38-17 on Sunday.
Bledsoe passed for 314 yards and two touchdowns and Travis Henry ran for three scores, helping Buffalo improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2000. The Bills last 3-0 start came in 1991, when they advanced to Super Bowl XXVI.
“I think we have potential. Even though we’re 2-0, there’s a lot of corrections in here,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “As a team, we have to stay humble, stay hungry and go get it.”
With excellent protection for the second straight week, Bledsoe surpassed the 300-yard mark for the 34th time in his 11-year career despite leaving after three quarters. He finished with an outstanding 144.2 passer rating.
Henry was limited to 26 yards rushing on Sunday after gaining 89 in the opener, but even that couldn’t stop Buffalo from another big offensive performance.
“If teams are going to commit to stopping the run, then we can throw the ball,” Bledsoe said. “I have confidence in the guys I’m throwing to.”
It comes as no surprise the Bills are among the league’s highest-scoring teams this season with 69 points in two games, since they averaged nearly 24 points per game in 2002. It is Buffalo’s defense that figured to be the key to their season, and after two games that unit ranks eighth in the NFL.
Bledsoe believes the team’s improved defense also helps the offense perform better.
“Last year, you’re like, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to stop these guys, so we’ve got to put up as many points as we can,”’ he said. “This year, we’re able to utilize the whole playbook, and because of that teams have to play us more honestly.”
Reaching the 30-point mark for the third straight week doesn’t seem as likely Sunday against Miami, one of the league’s better defensive teams. The Dolphins rebounded from a shocking season-opening home loss to Houston with a 21-10 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.
Unlike in the season opener when Ricky Williams carried just 17 times, the Dolphins went to the 2002 NFL rushing leader early and often against New York. Williams finished with 34 carries for 125 yards and a TD as Miami held possession of the ball for nearly 36 minutes.
“I like to win. That’s the bottom line,” Williams said. “If I get 40 carries and we win, that’s fine. If I get 40 carries and we lose, then obviously that wasn’t enough.”
The loss to the second-year Texans had many questioning the heart of the Dolphins, who collapsed toward the end of last season and failed to make the playoffs.
“These guys stepped up today and it started Monday in the preparation after last week’s game,” Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. “We never really find out what’s inside us as individuals until we’re squeezed. Our football team responded.”
Now the Dolphins can gain a share of the AFC East lead with a victory Sunday at home, where they had won 17 straight in August and September before losing to Houston.
Both Henry and Williams have enjoyed success against the opposing team in their careers.
Henry has rushed for 380 yards and two TDs in three games against the Dolphins while Williams has run for 418 yards in three games against the Bills.
The home team has won 10 of the past 14 games in this series.
STANDINGS: Bills - 1st place, AFC East. Dolphins - 2nd place (tied), AFC East.
BILLS LEADERS: Offense - Bledsoe, 544 passing yards and 3 passing TDs; Henry, 115 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs; Eric Moulds, 11 receptions and 214 receiving yards; Moulds, Dave Moore and Bobby Shaw, 1 receiving TD. Defense - Antoine Winfield, 12 tackles; five tied with 1 sack; Takeo Spikes, 2 interceptions.
DOLPHINS LEADERS: Offense - Jay Fiedler, 417 passing yards and 4 passing TDs; Williams, 194 rushing yards; Fiedler and Williams, 1 rushing TD; Chris Chambers, 11 receptions, 209 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs. Defense - Zach Thomas, 11 tackles; Jay Williams, 1/2 sack; Patrick Surtain, 1 interception.
BILLS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 75 yards per game (T-25th in NFL); Passing Offense - 271.5 ypg (4th); Total Offense - 346.5 ypg (9th). Rushing Defense - 100 ypg (18th); Passing Defense - 163 ypg (8th); Total Defense - 263 ypg (8th).
DOLPHINS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 136.5 yards per game (9th); Passing Offense - 202 ypg (T-17th); Total Offense - 338.5 ypg (10th). Rushing Defense - 74 ypg (T-6th); Passing Defense - 316 ypg (32nd); Total Defense - 390 ypg (30th).
LAST MEETING: Dec. 1, 2002; Bills, 38-21. At Orchard Park, N.Y., Bledsoe passed for three touchdowns and ran for one as the Bills overcame a franchise-record 228 rushing yards from Williams.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Bills - QB Bledsoe has passed for 4,696 yards against Miami—his most against any opponent. … WR Moulds has TDs in seven of his past 10 games against Miami. … Buffalo forced nine turnovers in two games against the Dolphins last season. Dolphins - Miami has scored at least 33 points in each of QB Fiedler’s last three starts against Buffalo. … Miami is 16-5 in Sunday night games. … DE Jason Taylor has 7 1/2 sacks in his last six games against Buffalo.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bills - 1-0-0 on the road; Dolphins - 0-1-0 at home.
INJURIES: Bills - QUESTIONABLE: RB Sammy Morris (leg). PROBABLE: WR Sam Aiken (hamstring). Dolphins - OUT: QB Brian Griese (toe). DOUBTFUL: T Mark Dixon (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: S Brock Marion (quadriceps); S Shawn Wooden (hamstring). PROBABLE: C Tim Ruddy (knee); DE Taylor (ankle); LB Thomas (ribs).