Buffalo and Miami seek better endings when the AFC East rivals meet on Sunday at Dolphin Stadium.
The Dolphins nearly spoiled the opening-night party for the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 7, taking a 17-14 lead into the final period after two touchdown runs by Ronnie Brown. The lead evaporated with 6:11 remaining, however, when Pittsburgh’s Charlie Batch completed an 87-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
“In everything you do, you have to be able to overcome adversity,” Miami coach Nick Saban said after his team’s 28-17 defeat. “That’s what we didn’t do late in this game, and that’s what we have to learn to do. If you can’t manage what’s hard, it’s always going to be hard.”
New Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper, acquired from Minnesota in March for a second-round draft choice, had a mediocre debut despite throwing for 262 yards. He completed less than half of his attempts, failed to throw a touchdown pass and had two interceptions in the fourth quarter—the second of which was returned for a touchdown to allow the Steelers to put the game away with 2:59 remaining.
“In this league, you can’t turn the ball over in the fourth quarter,” Culpepper said. “I’m better than that. We’re better than that.”
The defeat was a disappointing start for a Dolphins team which entered 2006 with high expectations after it finished last season—Saban’s first—with an NFL-best six straight victories and then traded for Culpepper.
Miami’s offensive line struggled against Pittsburgh, as Brown managed only 30 yards on 15 carries and Culpepper got sacked three times.
“The yards he got were all tough yards,” Saban said of Brown. “We need to get a hat on a hat and do a better job of creating some space and finishing blocks.”
Squandering late leads is nothing new for the Bills, who have led in the second half of five of their last eight losses. Last Sunday at New England, Buffalo took a 10-point lead into the locker room and still led by a field goal after three quarters, but got shut out in the second half and lost 19-17.
“You can tell why they have won three of the last five Super Bowls,” Buffalo defensive end Aaron Schobel said of the Patriots. “They know how to finish games.”
Running back Willis McGahee gained 70 yards on 20 carries, but five of his 10 second-half carries went for no gain or a loss. He was stopped for no gain on a pivotal fourth-and-1 at the New England 7-yard line in the third quarter.
McGahee may be energized by a return to Miami, the city where he was born and played college ball for the University of Miami. In four career games against the Dolphins, he has rushed for 369 yards—his most versus any opponent.
Bills quarterback J.P. Losman had an effective opener, completing 15 of 23 passes for a career-high 65.2 percentage. He threw for only 60 yards in the second half, however, and was sacked in the end zone by Ty Warren for a safety with 8:33 remaining, providing New England’s winning margin.
The Patriots outgained Buffalo 319-240 overall, and 183-99 on the ground.
“There were good signs,” new Bills coach Dick Jauron said of his offense, which ranked 28th in the NFL last season under Mike Mularkey. “In no way are we saying we’re even close to where we need to be, but we’re going in the right direction.”
Buffalo lost two defensive starters, linebacker Takeo Spikes and safety Troy Vincent, to hamstring injuries last Sunday.
The team learned Tuesday that Vincent, a 15-year veteran who intercepted four passes last year, will miss the rest of the season. Spikes was deactivated for this game due to a pulled hamstring.
The Bills, trying to avoid their second 0-2 start in three years, have dropped five of their last six September games.
In the most recent matchup between these teams, Miami scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to defeat Buffalo 24-23 on Dec. 4 at Dolphin Stadium. Chris Chambers caught 15 passes for 238 yards—both career highs—including the winning 4-yard TD with 6 seconds remaining. Bills wideout Lee Evans had a career-high three TD receptions, all in the first quarter.
Buffalo had won the previous three meetings.