Dick Jauron wasn't smiling when he arrived in the postgame interview room late Sunday afternoon. The Bills' head coach seemed a trifle sheepish about his team's 13-10 victory over the winless Dolphins. The first thing Jauron said was that he didn't believe in ugly wins.
There was no need to apologize. Ugly? You should have been in the locker room afterward. Coy Wire was quoting the Bible and talking about the competitive character of his young teammates. George Wilson was talking about how much the players love one another. Marv Levy was reciting one of his favorite aphorisms about morale being built by victory in battle.
OK, so you're not likely to see this game on any of the NFL's highlight reels, unless they do a special on memorable quarterback sneaks or critical gains by obscure tight ends named Gaines. J.P. Losman's performance, which ran the gamut from horrid to adequate, will do nothing to resolve the little quarterback controversy in our town.
But don't tell the Bills about ugly, not after all they've suffered through this season. If you walked into Kevin Everett's hospital room and asked his opinion, I'll bet he'd call it the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. Ask the Saints about ugly. They actually lost to a winless team Sunday -- the Rams.
"There's no ugly wins in the NFL," said safety Donte Whitner. "I don't care if you win by one point or 40, because wins are so hard to come by in this league. Early in the season, we lost some games like that. You have to stay in there until there's four zeroes on the clock. We were down eight points and won that game."
Things seemed grim when the Bills fell behind, 10-2, at the end of the third quarter. The Dolphins had just put together an 18-play, 80-yard TD drive to chew up the final 9:45 of the period. At that point, Miami led the time of possession, 31:23-13:37.
Losman and the offense had been wretched. They went three-and-out on their first four possessions of the day. Losman underthrew Lee Evans in the end zone and was intercepted on the fourth play of their fifth possession. The Bills seemed ready to wilt amid the Florida heat and the general embarrassment.
But they held together and found a way to win in the final 15 minutes. The offense, desperately needing to give the defense a breather, answered with its only TD drive of the day. Losman, who didn't complete a pass over 21 yards, kept the drive alive with a fourth-down sneak that was good by, oh, about the length of his fingernail.
Marshawn Lynch willed his way to the two-point conversion. The defense, which continues to deny opponents any sort of downfield passing game, held. Roscoe Parrish took a wobbly punt back 40 yards. Losman made a couple of alert underneath throws to get the offense in position for Rian Lindell to boot the winning field goal.
Again, it wasn't an artistic success. But good teams find ways to win when they don't play their best. They don't fold in difficult circumstances. Part of learning to win is learning to expect adversity. Then, given enough experience, you also expect to rise above it. Wire says this young team is learning fast.
"In the past, you would feel that negative energy creeping in," Wire said, "that invader of the mind. Guys wouldn't rise up to the fight. After the game, I talked to Terrence [McGee] and some of the other guys. They said, 'Coy, we used to lose games like that.' "
Last week, Wire said the Bills wouldn't be looking ahead to New England. At times Sunday, it seemed that way. But the players insisted it wasn't the case. Jauron said they're not capable of dominating any opponent. They have to find ways to win the close ones. They've done it four times in a row. They're 5-4. So what if their five victims have a combined record of 9-36? They're in the playoff hunt.
"Honestly, going into this game, we thought this was going to be the toughest game of the season," Wire said. "I think we're worthy of winning close ones like this now, because of the character of this team. Guys are putting in the extra work, so in these critical situations we have guys who stand up to the challenge as opposed to withering away."
Michael Gaines, forced into a bigger role when Robert Royal went out with a concussion, made two big receptions. Losman played miserably for much of the day. This was a step back in his desperate bid to prove himself as the long-term answer at QB. But he made some big throws under pressure in the final quarter. Losman might not be a franchise quarterback, but he's a competitor who won't back down from a challenge.
Marshawn Lynch sprained his ankle powering his way to a crucial first down, just before the winning field goal. As the clock wound down, he was dancing behind the Bills' bench on his bad ankle, waving his arms, a Buffalo rookie exulting in his first win over Miami.
"The guys in this locker room love one another," said Wilson, the free safety. "This is a special group of guys -- who refuse to lose, who love to come to work, who love to prepare, and who have a great time playing this game. Even though our backs were against the wall, we were still having a great time out there. We were lifting each other through the heat, saying 'Don't worry about the last play, make the next one.' And in the end, it paid off for us."