First quarter: Nickell city
Nickell Robey has a knack for getting into the end zone.
The Buffalo Bills’ rookie cornerback returned three interceptions for touchdowns in his college career at the University of Southern California. He had one each season and seven pickoffs overall for the Trojans.
Robey never will forget his first NFL interception. He jumped in front of a short Ryan Tannehill pass and returned it 19 yards for a TD to put the Bills ahead, 7-0. Robey did a somersault into the end zone, similar to the way fellow Trojan Reggie Bush did in college. Was he thinking about Bush on the celebration?
“It was a little something like that,” Robey said. “I never did it in college because we would get penalized for it.”
Key plays: The Bills took a 14-0 lead on a 3-yard run by Fred Jackson with 5:47 left. An 18-yard pass to tight end Lee Smith started the drive. … Brian Moorman’s first punt was 54 yards and a great 5.34-second hang time. … Miami had a 74-yard punt wiped out by an illegal-touching penalty. Miami had to re-kick. Instead of starting on its own 16, Buffalo started on Miami’s 44.
Second guess: Miami had two weeks to script the first 15 plays but failed to get a first down on its first three possessions.
Second quarter: Speed to burn
Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace showed off the speed that earned him a $60 million contract in beating the Bills for a big second-quarter play.
Wallace got behind Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore for a 46-yard catch down the right sideline with 1 minute left in the quarter. It put Miami on the Buffalo 29. Three plays later Ryan Tannehill hit Brandon Gibson on a 13-yard touchdown pass to pull Miami within 17-14.
Wallace, who starred for Pittsburgh his first four seasons, was Miami’s biggest free-agent acquisition in the offseason. He has 4.28-second speed in the 40-yard dash. His career yards-per-catch average of 16.7 ranks sixth best among active receivers.
Key plays: Miami scored on a 7-yard pass from Tannehill to tight end Charles Clay with 10:59 left in the quarter. ... The Bills got a 39-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter to take a 17-7 lead. ... Miami had a great chance for another score after it intercepted a Thad Lewis pass and took possession at the Buffalo 31. (Lewis’ arm was hit on the throw.) But rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 51-yard field-goal try.
Second guess: Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso got himself caught in traffic a little too close to the line of scrimmage on a run up the middle by Lamar Miller, who broke it for a 31-yard gain. It set up the Clay touchdown.
Third quarter: Sure-handed Brandon
The Buffalo Bills went with youth at wide receiver this season. The Miami Dolphins went with veteran free agents.
After paying big money to get Mike Wallace, Miami signed Brandon Gibson from St. Louis for a good-but-not-huge contract. He got $9.7 million over three years.
Gibson capped Miami’s opening second-half drive with a 4-yard TD catch from Tannehill. Gibson killed the Bills last year, catching the winning TD pass with 48 seconds in a 14-12 Rams win.
Gibson has 29 catches for 322 yards this year.
Key plays: Thad Lewis hit Stevie Johnson with a 17-yard pass on a third-and-11 play to keep a long Bills drive alive. Lewis got his helmet knocked off by Jelani Jenkins on the play, and the Bills got another 15 yards for a roughing-the-passer penalty.
Good hands: Stevie Johnson showed good hands three plays before the 17-yard play by hanging onto a hard throw in a tight space for a 7-yard gain to convert a third down.
Miami kickers: When they weren’t making turnovers, the Dolphins made the Bills march on long fields thanks to their strong-legged kickers. Caleb Sturgis was 4 for 4 on touchbacks on kickoffs. Punter Brandon Fields, who led the NFL in gross average last year, had a net average of 44.7 yards.
Fourth quarter: Jackson in action
Mario Williams gave the Buffalo Bills’ offense an opportunity, and Fred Jackson allowed the Bills to take advantage of it in the fourth quarter.
Jackson made a tough, 10-yard run on a third-and-4 play with 2:37 left to give the Bills a first down at the Miami 18. Four plays later, Dan Carpenter kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the Bills a 23-21 advantage.
If Jackson had been stopped, Carpenter would have needed to kick a 44- or 45-yard field goal. And Miami would have gotten the ball back with about 2:20 to go needing a field goal to win. Jackson was stopped 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage but bounced off a tackler and got 7 more.
“That’s just a four-minute play we had in for today, knowing they’re going to stack the box,” said center Eric Wood. “We put the tight end and the fullback to the same side, which eliminates two of the outside players and we double team to the next one over.”
Key plays: Williams stripped Ryan Tannehill of the ball with 2:48 left and the Bills recovered at the Miami 34 to set up the winning kick.
No second guess: Some will knock Miami coach Joe Philbin for throwing with 2:57 left, giving the Bills the opportunity for a turnover. But the Dolphins were protecting a one-point lead. They could not simply run three times into the line and punt in that situation.