Surprise was the dominant reaction in the Miami Dolphins' locker room Sunday afternoon.
Several Dolphins said they did not expect the Buffalo Bills to use a no-huddle offense to such a great extent in their 24-14 victory at Rich Stadium. Virtually every Dolphin said he could not believe how the Bills' running game was able to dominate their heralded defense.
The Bills rushed for 206 yards and averaged 4.4 yards a carry against the NFL's third-ranked defense. Miami had been yielding 107 rushing yards a game before Sunday.
"We just didn't win the battles up front," said Miami coach Don Shula.
"We knew they were going to go out and try to pound us," said boisterous Dolphins defensive back Tim McKyer. "Unfortunately, that's what they did. They played on another level, and that's indicative of the kind of team they have. We got beat by a better football team today."
Miami's defense, while vastly improved over last year, had shown signs of cracking of late. Sunday's game was the third time in four weeks "The Pound Machine" had yielded more than 200 yards rushing. And since the Dolphins' schedule started getting tougher five weeks ago, Miami has yielded an average of 210 yards rushing a game.
"The fact they were able to keep us off balance with the three wide receivers and run with it against our base defense just gave them the opportunity to hold the ball," Shula said.
"We didn't expect them to come out with that no-huddle all day," said defensive end Brian Sochia. "We couldn't go with our 46 package (four linemen, six defensive backs)."
McKyer, beaten on a touchdown pass to James Lofton and a 43-yard completion to Don Beebe, said he also was expecting a more conservative Buffalo approach.
"Without a doubt, we thought they might go with it a series or two," he said. "They kept us off balance. There was confusion in the huddle."
John Offerdahl, Miami's Pro Bowl linebacker, credited Thurman Thomas with hard running. Thomas gained 154 yards on 30 carries.
"He hit the small holes pretty hard. It wasn't huge holes," Offerdahl said. "I'm not going to say we're the best run defense in the league . . . but we've come a long way this year and we're going to keep building.
"They did a good job, especially when we knew it (the run) was coming. They checked off a lot, and a good running team will wear on you."
Defensive end Jeff Cross, another Pro Bowler, said the Bills are as physical a team as he has faced.
"They're not a complex team. They play power football," he said. "I'd put them in a class with the Raiders and Washington."
Cross, Miami's sack leader with 10 1/2 takedowns, was shut out by Bills left tackle Will Wolford and was credited with one tackle.
"I'm crushed, absolutely crushed," Cross said. "I never in my worst dreams thought I'd play as bad as I did today."
Numerous Dolphins said they expect to be back at Rich Stadium, either in the second round of the AFC playoffs or in the AFC title game.
"Right now, the series is 1-1 with the rubber game to come," said linebacker Cliff Odom.