Shutouts aren't easy to get in the NFL. It takes good execution and guys making timely big plays to pull it off. The Buffalo Bills got plenty of both Sunday, and the result was a 21-0 blanking of the Miami Dolphins.
Fourth-down stops on the Dolphins' first two possessions set the tone for a dominant day by the Bills' defense. Several players had a hand in smothering Miami's offense.
Here's a look at four Dolphins drives and what Buffalo did to stop them:
Fourth-and-4 from the Bills' 31: WR Wes Welker is wide right with WR Marty Booker inside of him in the slot. CB Kiwaukee Thomas is lined up in front of Booker, while CB Terrence McGee plays about 8 yards off Welker. Taking the shotgun snap, QB Joey Harrington fakes a pitch to RB Travis Minor, spins around and throws a quick pass to Welker. Booker is supposed to block McGee and RT Vernon Carey has to pull outside and get Thomas. If both blocks are executed, it's an easy first down. But Booker whiffs on McGee, who just misses Welker, and Carey can't reach Thomas, who steps into the running lane and makes a solid open-field tackle to limit Welker to a 2-yard gain.
Fourth-and-1 from the Bills' 24: The Dolphins have a two-tight-end formation with FB Darian Barnes and Sammy Morris in the backfield. Morris takes the handoff and heads to the right. Carey and RG L.J. Shelton get a good initial push and Morris appears to have a crease between Carey, who is blocking LB Takeo Spikes, and TE Randy McMichael, who is locked on to DE Chris Kelsay. But the hole closes quickly when DE Aaron Schobel and DT Kyle Williams get inside penetration, Spikes slips past Carey and LBs London Fletcher and Keith Ellison attack the line of scrimmage, knocking Shelton backward. Morris runs into this wall of humanity and is stuffed for no gain.
First-and-10 from the Bills' 44: After recovering a fumble, the Dolphins come out with two tight ends and a single back. The Bills have only one safety (Ko Simpson) deep because Donte Whitner has moved toward the line and focused on TE McMichael, who is lined up beside the left tackle. TE Justin Peele motions across the formation to the right side and positions himself just outside of WR Chris Chambers. OLB Ellison adjusts to the motion and moves in front of Chambers. CB Nate Clements slides over on Peele, though Clements is 9 yards off the line of scrimmage. On the snap, Peele and Chambers run vertical routes. Ellison bumps Chambers slightly and then lets him continue downfield. Clements drops back in a zone look with an eye on Peele and Chambers. Harrington spots Chambers running free down the seam, but Clements reads the play. He comes off of Peele, races over and steps in front of Chambers to make the interception at the 25.
First-and-goal at the Bills' 1: The Dolphins have Chambers and McMichael on the left side and WRs Welker and Derek Hagan on the right. LT Damon McIntosh picks up Whitner on the blitz, but RB Morris steps forward and fails to recognize that DE Ryan Denney is rushing untouched from the outside. QB Cleo Lemon takes the shotgun snap and throws toward Chambers, who is open in the end zone. But the 6-foot-7 Denney leaps to knock down the pass, ending the game and preserving the shutout.
Ellison, a rookie, is showing that he was a steal as a sixth-round draft pick. He was all over the field Sunday, making tackles near the line of scrimmage and displaying impressive range in pass coverage.
Taylor had a sack and a forced fumble, but for the most part LT Jason Peters prevented the Dolphins' All-Pro from being disruptive.
The Bills try to keep their playoff hopes alive when former Bills RB Travis Henry and rookie QB Vince Young lead the hot Tennessee Titans (7-7) into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
The Pro Bowl teams will be announced later today. Fans, players and coaches each account for one-third of the voting. Here are the Bills' leading contenders to make the AFC squad:
Punter Brian Moorman: The Bills' lone representative last year, Moorman finished second in fan voting behind Oakland's Shane Lechler. Lechler leads the AFC in gross yardage (47.8 per punt), but Moorman is tied for first in the NFL in the more important net punting category (39.5-yard average).
Middle linebacker London Fletcher: He has the numbers (141 tackles, three interceptions and two defensive TDs), but Miami's Zach Thomas (21 tackles against Buffalo on Sunday) and Baltimore's Ray Lewis have more name recognition. We'll see if the players and coaches base their vote on production or popularity.
Defensive end Aaron Schobel: He didn't finish in the top five in fan voting even though he leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks. Miami's Jason Taylor (12.5 sacks, league-best nine forced fumbles) is a lock for one of the three spots. Schobel's case could be helped by Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney having a down year, though he still finished fifth in fan voting.
Cornerback Nate Clements: With Denver's Champ Bailey (NFL-high eight interceptions) a shoo-in, Clements has to beat out Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis (7 INTs), Baltimore's Chris McAlister (5 INTs), New England's Asante Samuel (8 INTs), Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha (7 INTs) and K.C.'s Ty Law (3 INTs) for one of the two remaining spots.
Wide receiver Lee Evans: Despite career highs in yards and catches, Evans will have a tough time making it at this crowded position. Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison, the leading fan vote-getter at wideout, and Cincinnati's Chad Johnson figure to make it while Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne, Houston's Andre Johnson (NFL-high 97 catches) and Laveranues Coles of the New York Jets have put up equal or better numbers than Evans.