MIAMI – Rex Ryan’s defense didn’t the turn the ball over much at all in New York last season. The Jets’ 13 takeaways ranked dead last in the NFL.
Any pressure-heavy scheme should create chaos. And there certainly was chaos at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.
A trio of interceptions jump-started the Buffalo Bills’ 41-14 rout over the Miami Dolphins – a good sign for a defense knocked to the canvas by New England’s Tom Brady one week prior. Preston Brown’s two picks and Ronald Darby’s takeaway had the lethargic home fans booing by halftime.
“We were ready all week,” Brown said. “We prepared a lot better.”
The brains of Ryan’s defense got the party started.
With the Dolphins in Buffalo territory – and the game still at a manageable 14-0 – Ryan Tannehill side-armed a slant to Jarvis Landry and the typically reliable receiver had the ball bounce off his chest and into Brown’s hands. The turnover led to three points.
Then, this game, Ryan timed up blitzes.
Safety Bacarri Rambo shot through the line like a cannon from 10 yards deep, untouched, to drill Tannehill. And the quarterback’s feeble pass to the flat was picked off by Brown at the line of scrimmage. Brown took it 44 yards to the end zone, lifted a “Shhh … ” finger to his lips and, just like that, the Bills were ahead 24-0.
Ryan was hesitant to pressure Brady. Against a spread, quick-hitting offense that uses three-step drops exclusively, the Bills manufactured pressure. Tannehill was hit eight times by eight different players. And, unlike Brady, he was flustered.
The next drive, Ryan smelled blood in the water.
On fourth and 4, he sent Jerry Hughes (6 foot 2, 254 pounds) and Nickell Robey (5 foot 8, 165 pounds) from the blind side to pressure Tannehill and the quarterback admitted afterward he was “fooled.” Both were untouched. Rambo disguised his coverage deep and Darby picked off the errant pass.
“When quarterbacks are getting the ball out quick,” Hughes said, “you’ve got to stay on them all four quarters and then just be relentless. What we learned last week is that we have to play a complete four-quarter ballgame. We were able to put that together this week. For us being young, we still have a long way to go but we’re chopping wood.”
Of course, the Bills could have had even more picks.
On third and goal in the fourth quarter, Tannehill gift-wrapped a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown to Hughes and the ball ricocheted off his hands.
Said Hughes, “I looked down the field too soon. I’m on the JUGS machine now. … That was bad.”
The win did come at a cost. Buffalo’s No. 1 wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and guard John Miller (groin) both suffered injuries in the first half and did not return.
Ryan sounded worried about Watkins’ injury lingering.
“He couldn’t press off it at the end to obviously play,” Ryan said. “Those are things that just, man, I loved coming here because I knew he was on the team but golly let’s get him healthy and get him to where he can be Sammy Watkins.”
This day, anyway, the injuries didn’t slow Buffalo down at all.
Veteran Kraig Urbik stepped in at guard and Percy Harvin became a go-to guy for Tyrod Taylor. Harvin’s goal from Day One has been to become a complete receiver. This day, he was. Harvin toyed with cornerback Brice McCain all evening.
On one third and 10, Harvin ran a slant, caught Taylor’s pinpoint pass and then froze McCain in his tracks with a juke for 24 yards. The first drive of the second half, he was on the receiving end of third-and-12 and third-and-7 connections. In finishing with seven catches for 66 yards, Harvin found a rhythm with Taylor.
“He was in complete control of the game,” Harvin said of Taylor. “He got us all lined up. He read his matchups very well and he went to the matchup that he liked. We knew it was going to be one on one all game and you see pretty much all the receivers and tight ends had catches today.”
Charles Clay and Richie Incognito downplayed their returns to Miami during the week, but Sunday certainly meant something extra to both players. Because both made their former team pay.
A focal point immediately for gains of 9, 24 and a 25-yard touchdown on the first drive, the tight end Clay was a matchup problem on crossing routes through the first half. A former high school running back, he juked two defenders at the end of the score, too.
“To get a chance to go against them and then to come out on top is a great feeling,” Clay said. “At the same time, it’s just one win, so you can’t get too high on yourself.”
Incognito, meanwhile, had the crucial block on Karlos Williams’ 41-yard touchdown run and the Bills didn’t allow a sack after giving up eight last week.
The guard said he took time to speak with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, calling their conversation “great.” Getting a win here was, of course, special too.
“It left a bad taste in my mouth,” Incognito said. “To come down and see the guys, compete against them, but also get a win is a great feeling.”