The Bills sacked Culpepper seven times—five in the first 15 snaps—plus blocked a punt and survived a paltry passing effort in beating Miami 16-6 on Sunday, sending the Dolphins to 0-2 for only the second time in the last 37 seasons.
Culpepper completed 23 of 32 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown, but his regular-season home opener with the Dolphins was far from memorable. He and the offense were booed as they ran off the field at intermission and throughout the second half, as a team widely mentioned as a Super Bowl contender needed a TD grab by Chris Chambers with 1:54 left just to avoid a shutout.
“Our defense really played big today,” Bills coach Dick Jauron said. “Pressure when we needed it. Got him down when we needed to. That’s not easy. Contained the run, too.”
“It’s a game that shows that stats don’t matter,” Losman said. “Our defense was able to stick it to them all day.”
Ronnie Brown had 70 yards on 15 carries and added a team-best six catches for 52 yards for Miami, which is 0-2 for the sixth time in team history. None of the previous five teams finished better than 6-10.
“We’d like to think we’re better than this,” Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said. “But we’re not.”
With two-time All-Pro linebacker Takeo Spikes sidelined by a strained hamstring and two would-be starting safeties—Troy Vincent, now on injured reserve, and Matt Bowen—also out, Buffalo’s defense figured to be facing a big test against a Miami offense that promised improvement from its Week 1 loss in Pittsburgh.
The Bills passed, and this year, didn’t waste a big lead in South Florida. Last season, Buffalo led 23-3 in the fourth quarter before the Dolphins—led by a 15-catch, 238-yard effort by Chambers—rallied for a 24-23 win. Chambers was held largely in check this time, managing four catches for 55 yards.
Buffalo defensive end Ryan Denney had three sacks in the first 17 minutes, setting the tone for a frustrating day for Culpepper and Miami’s offense.
“It was a combination of confusing them as well as the pressure we put on them,” said Denney, who also forced a fumble. “If there’s pressure in your face, you can’t run your offense, you can’t wait for your receivers to get open.”
Miami managed only two real scoring chances until the game’s final moments. One went awry when Olindo Mare missed a 55-yard field goal try early in the second quarter. The other ended shortly before halftime, when the Dolphins drove to the Buffalo 14 but Culpepper tried to force a pass to Randy McMichael on the right side of the end zone.
Problem was, two Buffalo defenders were in his way—including Angelo Crowell, who intercepted the pass and sent the Bills into halftime with a 3-0 lead.
“Starting 0-2, we’re in an adverse time as a team,” Culpepper said. “We’ve got to step up and stop doing the things we’re doing that put us in the position we’re in.”
By then, the crowd of 72,797 had seen enough and started booing. They resumed after a three-and-out following three successive running plays in the third quarter when the Dolphins were down 13-0, booed after a false-start flag in the final period—and some even began chanting for backup Joey Harrington to take over.
“I’d like to see our crowd be supportive,” Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. “No one likes to get booed. I don’t think players like to get booed. I think it helps the other team feel confidence.”
Buffalo went up 10-0 after its opening drive of the second half, buoyed by a 50-yard pass interference flag against the Dolphins’ Will Allen. Losman tried to throw a deep ball to Lee Evans, who was in the clear—until Allen hauled him down at the Miami 4.
One play later, Losman tossed a pass to Reed for the game’s first touchdown.
“We made up our minds we were coming in to get a win,” McGahee said. “And we did.”
Bills punter Brian Moorman had six punts in the game; five were downed inside the Miami 20 and four inside the Miami 10. … Miami lost 60 yards in the seven sacks against Culpepper. … Evans, who had three TD catches in Miami last season, had only two grabs for 19 yards.