With the holiday season upon us, the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills played a game on Thursday night that played on the "Season of Giving" concept. For 58 minutes, each team tried to give the game to the other, until Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a pass that Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd grabbed for an incredible interception with two minutes left in the game. In what was eventually a 19-14 win for Buffalo, the Dolphins got a second chance they didn't deserve, but Tannehill blew that one as well when he threw a pick to linebacker Bryan Scott to seal the game for the 4-6 Bills.
The Dolphins, losers of their last three games, fell to the same mark.
The game actually started off fairly explosively, when Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin returned Miami's first punt of the evening 79 yards for a touchdown with 1:11 elapsed in the first quarter.
Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen returned the favor with a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown with about five minutes left in the first quarter, and that seemed appropriate, because the special teams were just about the only aspects of the game that were consistently ... well, special.
Bills kicker Rian Lindell connected on four field goals, and the Bills failed to score an offensive touchdown despite the efforts of running back C.J. Spiller. With backfield mate Fred Jackson out with a concussion, it seemed to be on Spiller to make Buffalo's offense go.
"I answered the critics tonight," Spiller told the NFL Network crew after the game. "I told them that I could tote it [the football] 20-plus times ... don't matter to me. We knew [Miami] had a tough defense, and we're not going to take that away from those guys. But I challenged my offense line. I said, 'Let's get on them early, and at the end, they'll get tired.' That's what happened. At first, they were getting us, but in the second half, I was able to get what I wanted."
Spiller had 22 carries, a career high, but Bills head coach Chan Gailey's use -- or lack thereof -- of his most talented back in key situations had a lot of people scratching their heads. Even when Spiller was twisting the Dolphins' usually stout run defense in knots, Gailey would take Spiller out in favor of Tashard Choice. Choice was able to do little in comparison, and as a result, the Bills sputtered over and over in the red zone.
Spiller had 91 rushing yards on those 22 carries, and 39 receiving yards on three catches, but he could have done even more. Gailey's trend to keeping Spiller out in key moments has been happening over the last few games, and it's something that a lot of people have noticed.
However, Gailey's questionable tactics didn't backfire, because Miami's offense was even worse. The Dolphins came into this game without an offensive touchdown in six straight quarters, and they didn't end that streak until Tannehill connected with receiver Davone Bess on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 8:42 left in the game. The Dolphins had more penalty yards (54) than total offensive yards (50) in the first half, and they made the usually leaky Bills defense look positively legendary most of the evening.
"You got to give credit to them. They did a good job up front," Tannehill said after the game. "They weren't bringing safeties down. They did a good job of shedding blocks and making tackles. There were a few times I turned around and there was really just nowhere to run. And that's with no safeties being in there. So, you have to credit their front seven for doing a good job of making it difficult to run."
Running back Reggie Bush, benched in last Sunday's 37-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, gained just 20 rushing yards on 10 carries against Buffalo. Tannehill, who has looked increasingly perplexed on the field after a surprisingly good start to his rookie campaign, completed 14 of 28 passes for 141 yards, one touchdown, and those two last-minute interceptions.
Spiller aside, the Bills' offense wasn't much better. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 17 of 27 passes for 168 yards. He didn't throw a pick, but he was also buttressed by a very safe passing attack that had him throwing screen after screen no matter the situation. That lack of firepower didn't really matter, because the Dolphins defense couldn't stay out of their own way -- particularly cornerback Nolan Carroll, who was flagged four different times by the officials.
It was an ugly win for the Bills, but they'll take it. As for the Dolphins, their narrow chances at a playoff berth are over, and the last six games of the season will be spent assessing the damage of the last month, and reviewing what it will take to continue their rebuilding project.