Mired in their longest slide of the season, perhaps the last thing the Buffalo Bills need is to be without one of their top players while trying to end their recent struggles against the Miami Dolphins.
Minus running back Fred Jackson, the Bills look to snap a three-game skid Thursday night against the visiting Dolphins, who will try to avoid a third straight defeat.
Buffalo (3-6) has at least been competitive in the midst of its longest losing streak since a seven-game slide Nov. 6-Dec. 18. The Bills fell 35-34 at home to Tennessee on Oct. 21 and 21-9 at Houston on Nov. 14. On Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted in the end zone with 28 seconds left in a 37-31 defeat at New England.
"We are not good enough yet to not play extremely well and win," said coach Chan Gailey, whose team has lost five of six. "We've got to play extremely well to win. We're not there yet."
That could be tough to remedy without Jackson, who ran for 80 yards with two touchdowns and caught four passes for 35 before suffering a concussion late in the fourth quarter Sunday. Jackson, who has 481 total yards and four TDs, has missed two other games due to a sprained right knee.
"As an offense, we're definitely going to miss him because he brings so much to our team,'' said running back C.J. Spiller, who will step into a more prominent role after totaling 131 yards last weekend. "But this is familiar territory for me.''
Spiller, who has a team-leading 632 rushing yards and a league-high 7.3 yards per carry, capably filled in last year when Jackson missed the final six games with a broken leg. Spiller gained 91 yards with a TD and had nine receptions for 76 yards with a score in a 30-23 home loss to Miami on Dec. 18.
The third-year pro, however, has never carried more than 19 times in a game.
"I'm not worried about how many times I touch it. I'm just pretty much, from here on out, just worried about wins,'' Spiller said.
Though Spiller is capable, the Bills would like to have their 1-2 backfield punch that has accounted for 1,410 yards from scrimmage - nearly half of the team's 3,228 yards - as they try to avoid a third straight home defeat. Buffalo ranks sixth in the NFL with 143.1 rushing yards a game.
Miami (4-5) outscored the Bills 65-31 while winning both meetings in 2011, and has taken six of eight against its AFC East foe. The Dolphins have won two in a row and three of four at Buffalo, though they'll be trying to bounce back from their most lopsided home defeat since 1968, 37-3 to Tennessee on Sunday.
"When you play like that, we need to make some corrections,'' said coach Joe Philbin, whose team has not scored a touchdown in six quarters. "We need to make improvements, even though we're in a semi-time crunch.''
Though the Dolphins won't have to worry about Jackson, they are still in for a major test after allowing an average of 135.3 rushing yards in the last four games. They yielded 61.4 in the first five.
Reggie Bush is expected to regain his role as the Dolphins' feature back after carrying four times for 21 yards Sunday and spending most of the game on the sidelines after a first-quarter fumble.
"I've got to do a better job protecting the ball," Bush said. "I've been in this league long enough to where I know protecting the ball is the most important thing as a running back."
Bush averaged 92.3 rushing yards in the first four games, but 37.2 in the last five. However, he ran for a career-high 203 yards at Buffalo last season.
Miami rookie Ryan Tannehill also hopes to rebound after throwing three interceptions against the Titans. He has thrown one of his five TDs in the last three games and ranks 29th with a 73.2 passer rating.
The Dolphins should have a good chance to get back on track against a Buffalo team that ranks 31st with 410.0 yards allowed per game and last at 31.7 points a contest.