A little more than a month ago, the Buffalo Bills were 2-5 and playoff hopes seemed impractical. Sunday's 31-13 victory over the New York Jets has the Bills still mathematically alive in the AFC wild-card hunt.
This Sunday's game against the rival Miami Dolphins, also 6-7, all of a sudden becomes a critical matchup.
"We're believers, we've always been believers," said Bills coach Dick Jauron, whose team has won four of its last six games. "You really have to believe in your people, and as I've said all along, this is a high character group. If I don't believe they can win, I don't know why they should."
After Miami, the Bills will host Tennessee, also 6-7, on Christmas Eve before the regular season finale at Baltimore (10-3) on New Year's Eve.
Cornerback Terrence McGee (ankle), safety Donte Whitner (hamstring) and linebacker John DiGiorgio (ankle) who missed Sunday's game, will be re-evaluated before a decision is made on their status later this week. All were listed as questionable.
"They'll be in for treatment, but we probably won't do a whole lot with them on the field until Wednesday," Jauron said.
Three players, linebacker Takeo Spikes (ankle), running back Willis McGahee (upset stomach) and long snapper Mike Schneck left the Jets game but were able to return.
"They'll be sore today," Jauron said. "But they should be all right."
Jauron credited his staff for getting the backups prepared to play. He also praised the players for stepping up.
With McGee and Whitner out, Kiwaukee Thomas, usually the nickel back, started at cornerback and Jim Leonhard opened at strong safety. Rookie Ashton Youboty, who been inactive for all but one of the previous 12 games, saw his first game action as the nickel back.
"If a player is on your roster, he'd better be ready to play," Jauron said. "That's his responsibility to get himself mentally ready. It's easy if you're not playing a lot to let it slip just a little bit and when you do, that's when your number is called. When your number is called, you better be ready."
Leonhard finished with six tackles and Youboty three. Thomas also finished with six tackles and a pass breakup.
"A lot of people you never heard of probably got out of the league quickly by not being ready," Jauron said. "The guys that filled in did a nice job."
Sunday marked the third time ever the Bills scored on a touchdown run and pass of 50-plus yards each. The first was on Nov. 8, 1964 on Cookie Gilchrist's 67-yard run and Glenn Bass' 80-yard reception from Daryle Lamonica against the Jets. The other was Dec. 5, 1965 at Houston on Wray Carlton's 80-yard run and Bo Roberson's 74-yard reception from Lamonica.
It also was the third time the Bills scored three TDs on plays of 50-plus yards. The others were Nov. 1, 1970 at Boston on O.J. Simpson's 58-yard run, Greg Jones' 52-yard kickoff return and Edgar Chandler's 59-yard interception return. On Sept. 24, 1989, the plays were Jim Kelly passes of 73 yards to Don Beebe and 78 to Andre Reed and a 76-yard return of a blocked field goal by Mark Kelso.
For the second consecutive game, the Bills were penalized only twice, for 10 yards. Since they were flagged eight times for 50 yards against Green Bay in Week Nine, Buffalo hasn't been penalized more than five times in a game.
"It's a product of them getting better, getting more familiar," Jauron said. "At the same time understanding that every game is different. You don't ever want it to happen, but you can get hit with a rash of penalties."
Wide receiver Lee Evans is the first NFL player to score three touchdown pass plays of 75 yards or more in a season since Cleveland's Webster Slaughter in 1989. . . . Approximately 6,800 tickets for Sunday's game remain and can be purchased at the Ralph Wilson Stadium box office or by calling 877-BB-TICKS.