MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Even with the boos, Dan Carpenter’s easiest play was his most important.
The final five plays that followed Sunday were much more harrowing.
Carpenter, back in the stadium where he kicked for five seasons, made a 31-yard field goal to give Buffalo a 23-21 lead over Miami with 33 seconds to go.
“There really wasn’t much thought process,” Carpenter said. “Just kick it through those yellow things out there.”
Then came the kickoff. And the tackle. Yes, Carpenter had to make a tackle, and that’s never good.
Then came four downs in which the Dolphins had a chance to get into field-goal range and win.
“I put our team in a really tough spot,” Carpenter said.
Bills coach Doug Marrone noted they wanted a deep kickoff after the field goal, but Carpenter got under his kick too much. The ball came down at the 2-yard line.
Dolphins return man Marcus Thigpen said he was “shocked” to field the ball: “I thought he was going to squib it or kick it out of the end zone. When I saw I had the opportunity, I was definitely excited about that.”
Thigpen broke up the right sideline and into the open. With that, Carpenter’s disappointment over the bad kickoff couldn’t linger. He suddenly was on the spot. He had to stop Thigpen from scoring.
“Just get him on the ground any way you can,” Carpenter said. “I didn’t want the game to end that way.”
He took a swipe at Thigpen’s legs and got a piece. Thigpen was staggered but remained on his feet. Buffalo’s pursuit caught up and forced Thigpen out of bounds at Miami’s 46-yard line.
“I didn’t tackle him,” Carpenter said. “Credit to Thiggy for sure. When I hit him, I thought for sure he was going down. But he somehow stayed up.”
Said Marrone: “I probably lost a couple years of my life out there on that play.”
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw four passes. The last three were deep balls, including a fourth-down heave into the end zone intended for Brandon Gibson as time expired. The ball fell to the ground, incomplete.
“I’m a cheerleader at that point, unfortunately,” Carpenter said. “I was extremely disappointed with my kickoff that gave them great field position. Our defense came up big and got off the field.”
Carpenter went to a Pro Bowl with the Dolphins. He’s fifth in Dolphins history with 535 points. He holds the club record with a career 81.9 field-goal percentage. His 60-yard field goal in 2010 is the longest in team history.
Carpenter claimed Sunday’s game felt no different than any other. Marrone corroborated that sentiment based on how Carpenter carried himself throughout the day.
“When I left here,” said Carpenter, who was also cut by the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets this summer before sticking with the Bills, “I just wanted to play football. There’s a lot of good kickers in the league, and it’s hard to get on a team and stay on a team.
“I’m thankful for the Bills giving me the opportunity, and I’m just trying to make the best of my situation.”
Carpenter made all three of his attempts Sunday, and was booed on each one.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect,” Carpenter said of the fan response. “I didn’t know how the reception would be. On the first field goal, I got my answer.”
Back in Week Two, Carpenter missed his first field-goal attempt with the Bills. He has converted 15 straight, three away from Rian Lindell’s team record set in 2007.
Carpenter’s Dolphins replacement, rookie Caleb Sturgis, was wide right on his lone attempt, a 51-yarder in the second quarter.
Bills quarterback Thad Lewis also had a successful homecoming. The Hialeah Miami Lakes High grad won for the first time as an NFL starter.
“It was awesome,” Lewis said. “I had an opportunity to help this team win, and we came together as a team and got a team victory, and it feels sweet.”
Lewis didn’t throw for a touchdown, but he completed 21 of his 32 passes for 202 yards. He had an interception and was sacked four times. He ran five times for 13 yards.
“He played a decent game,” Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said. “We wanted to shut down the running game and make him beat us, and unfortunately he made some good plays on us.”
Lewis played in Sun Life Stadium only once before. He became Duke’s all-time leading passer here in a loss to the University of Miami in 2009.
Lewis said he needed to purchase only 16 tickets for friends and family Sunday, but his coaches and teammates could tell he was extra excited to play at home.
“I kept telling him to calm down and relax,” Marrone said. “He was all fired up. He looked a little more fired up than he was last week.
“So, immediately, my antennas go up and I say, ‘Hey, just because you came home doesn’t mean you get to go off on the deep end on me.’ ”
Football Outsiders assistant editor Scott Kacsmar noted the Bills are just the sixth team in NFL history to score and allow at least 20 points in each of their first seven games.
The others were the 1967 New York Giants, the 1985 Cincinnati Bengals, 2000 St. Louis Rams, 2000 San Francisco 49ers and 2002 New Orleans Saints.
The Bills and Denver Broncos are the only teams this season to score at least 20 points in every game.
Buffalo’s pass-rushers were shut out for most of the game before Mario Williams picked up a pair of crucial sacks in the final seven minutes of the game.
Williams has a team-leading 10 sacks, most by a Bill through seven games since sacks became official NFL stats in 1982. Bruce Smith had nine sacks through seven games in 1997.
The Bills have registered 23 sacks this year, the fifth time in club history they have had at least that many through the first seven games.
The Bills awarded a game ball to owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr., who turned 95 on Thursday.