Share this article

print logo

Promising Bills seasons have gone south in Miami

Column as I see 'em, Week Six:

After Sunday's win over the Niners, I told safety Aaron Williams the Bills didn't seem like the type of team to look past any opponent. And he could remind them that things haven't always gone so well when they went to Miami on a roll.

"Uhhhhm, really?" Williams said, seeming incredulous. "The last time we went to Miami, we didn't win?"

Yes, the Bills did win big in Miami last season in Week Three. Until this past Sunday, it was the last time I said they looked like a viable playoff contender. But if you look back over the 16-year playoff drought, you'll find that some promising seasons have often gone off the rails when they made their annual trip to the Sunshine State.

Four times in this millennium, the Bills have traveled to Miami with a winning record. They've lost every time. A quick recap of those forgettable visits:

In 2014, they were 5-4, looking to reach 6-4 for the first time since 2000 in a nationally televised Thursday night battle. The Dolphins drilled them, 22-9, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill had his only truly effective showing in eight games against the Bills.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton (18) is sacked by Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (90) in the fourth quarter of the Bills' 2014 loss in Miami. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton (18) is sacked by Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell (90) in the fourth quarter of the Bills' 2014 loss in Miami. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)

In 2011, the Bills were 5-4 when they hit Miami. Granted, they were already reeling after a 5-2 start, but the Dolphins ended any serious notions of a playoff run in a 35-8 romp. Matt Moore, who is still Tannehill's backup, threw for three TDs that day.

In 2008, the Bills were 5-1, their best six-game start in the last 20 years. Trent Edwards, who had outplayed Philip Rivers the week before, was in the conversation for league MVP. He was soundly outplayed by Chad Pennington in a 25-16 loss. They finished 7-9.

In 2002, they traveled south for a Sunday nighter at 2-0, having stunned the Pats, 31-0, two weeks earlier in the opener. The Dolphins won, 17-7. Early in the game, Travis Henry threw an option pass near the Miami goal-line. It was picked off. They went 6-10.

Patrick Surtain comes down with an interception of Travis Henry's trick-play pass in the second quarter of the Bills' 2002 loss in Miami. (James P McCoy/Buffalo News)

Patrick Surtain comes down with an interception of Travis Henry's trick-play pass in the second quarter of the Bills' 2002 loss in Miami. (James P McCoy/Buffalo News)

They're crushing me on Twitter for dredging up this stuff. But it's a simple note of caution. These Bills seem different. Dark history needn't hold them back, any more than it should prevent the Cubs and Indians from reaching the World Series.

"We're on a four-game win streak," Williams said. "We're very confident. We know this is a good Miami team, but we're going in with a momentum boost of being really confident. We'll just go get our rest and be ready for Miami."

By the way, Rex Ryan hasn't lost in Miami since 2011.

* * *

As a bunch of writers were winding down at the Big Tree late Sunday night, someone asked, "OK, so who's the best quarterback in the NFL right now?"

A couple of us instantly replied, "Tom Brady." There was support for Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson. No one mentioned the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, a two-time MVP and former Super Bowl MVP who is the top-rated QB ever.

A year ago at this time, Rodgers would have been the probable choice. He was still at the peak of his game. From 2011-14, he had thrown 139 touchdown passes and only 25 interceptions. But over the last year, his performance has fallen off precipitously, leaving critics to wonder if Rodgers' time as an elite NFL passer is over.

Bob McGinn, the respected veteran columnist at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, took Rodgers apart Sunday in a long and well-researched column that shed light on Rodgers' sharp statistical drop and his alarming physical decline as a passer.

Over a 16-game stretch of 2015-16, Rodgers had a passer rating of 83.6 entering Sunday's game against Dallas. This after a five-year stretch where his rating was between 105.5 and 115.5. His completion percentage, which never fell below 65 percent in any of those five seasons, has dipped to a pedestrian 60.2, 25th in the NFL.

Rodgers' yards per pass attempt, which was at least 8.2 in each of the previous five seasons, is down to 26th at 6.5 yards, just behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and ahead of Tyrod Taylor.

Through the first five weeks, the Packers were last in the NFL in average gain on first down, a key offensive measure. They were 31st a year ago. This qualifies as a trend.

McGinn called Rodgers indecisive, too quick to leave the pocket, inaccurate, and awkward in his footwork and passing mechanics. Other than that, Rodgers is fine. It didn't get much better against the Cowboys, when Rodgers turned the ball over twice in Dallas territory and the offense got booed off the field in a home loss.

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy snapped at a reporter who questioned him about the offense last week. But there are clearly issues with the Packers' offense, and it starts with Rodgers, a superstar who may have hit the wall at 32.

* * *

A few weeks ago, LeSean McCoy said we'd look up soon and the Bills would be back in the top five in NFL team rushing. The next week, they moved up to third after gaining 193 at the Rams. Now, after going for 312 yards against the Niners on Sunday, they're back atop the league in rushing after six weeks with 998 yards on 178 carries.

They're on pace for 2,661 yards. A year ago, the Bills led the league with 2,432 rushing yards and were first in average per rush at 4.8. This year, they're averaging a robust 5.6 yards a carry. No NFL team has averaged 5.6 yards a rush for a full season since the 1963 Browns set the league record of 5.74 yards a carry.

The Cleveland team had a pretty fair back named Jim Brown, who had a career-high 1,863 yards that season -- in 14 games -- and averaged 6.4 yards a run.

* * *

This week's featured fantasy player in "Is He Owned?" is Hunter Henry, the rookie tight end for the Chargers. Henry has 19 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has one TD catch in each of his last three games.

Some fantasy owners felt Henry's production would drop when Antonio Gates got healthy, but the 6-6, 249-pounder from Arkansas has been getting targeted a lot just the same. Gates, 36, a future Hall of Famer, has been a mentor to Henry and tends to draw attention away from the kid when they're on the field together.

Henry, who won the Mackey Award for the nation's top tight end last season at Arkansas, was the 35th overall pick in last April's draft. I checked four ESPN leagues Monday and he was still available in three of them.

* * *

Miami's Jay Ajayi, who had a career high of 48 yards coming into the day, rushed for 204 yards against the Steelers on Sunday. Ajayi became the third Dolphin to rush for 200 yards in a game in the Super Bowl era. The other two did it against the Bills.

Reggie Bush ran for 203 yards in Miami's 30-23 win at the Ralph in on Dec. 18, 2011.  Ricky Williams also did it in Buffalo, gaining 228 yards in a 38-21 loss on Dec. 1,  2002. Williams also rushed for 200 against the Bears the following week.

* * *

You don't think the Pats' Tom Brady is still the best quarterback in the game at 39? In his two games back from the DeflateGate suspension, Brady has passed for 782 yards. He's on pace to throw for 4,692 yards -- in 12 games.

* * *

In 2012 at San Francisco, the Niners rushed for 310 yards in a 45-3 victory over the Bills. On Sunday, the Bills returned the favor, rushing for 312 yards in a 45-16 win. Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus both played for the Bills in the 2012 game.

* * *

Through six weeks, there's no unbeaten team in the AFC and only one team (New England) with only one defeat. The Bills are among 10 teams in the conference with two or three losses. Last season, the Patriots, Broncos and Bengals were all 6-0.

There are no comments - be the first to comment