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Nelson's catch sets tone in run D's best game

David Nelson was about as covered as the song "Yesterday."

The Buffalo Bills' receiver ran a post pattern into the middle of the end zone in the second quarter, and Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby was standing directly in front of him.

That did not stop Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick from throwing his best pass of the day, a bullet straight over Dansby's head and into Nelson's hands.

It was only the first score of Sunday's game, but it set the tone for the day.

The Bills' young receivers came to play. They shined all afternoon in helping Buffalo to a 17-14 victory over the Dolphins.

It was the fourth win in the last six games for the Bills (4-10), and it officially eliminated the Dolphins (7-7) from the playoffs.

The Bills' passing game was dealt a big blow last week when Lee Evans went down with a serious ankle sprain. That meant the Bills' receiving corps would be led by a former seventh-round pick (Stevie Johnson) and three rookies who were not even drafted (Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt).

No pedigree? No problem for the Bills.

"The young guys, those young receivers, man, they made some great plays out there today," beamed Fitzpatrick after the game. "I said I'm going to give them a chance. I'm not afraid to throw to any of them, because I know if we get matchups we're going to come down with it most of the time. They made some good plays."

Nelson's was the finest, an 18-yard touchdown strike. Nelson, the 6-foot-5 University of Florida product, was in the slot on the right in a four-receiver set. Fitzpatrick intentionally threw the ball high, and Nelson hung on despite taking a big blow in the back from Miami cornerback Sean Smith.

"Couldn't believe he threw it, couldn't believe he caught it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "It was one of those where the guy [Dansby] wasn't looking, and he sees the guy with his back turned, and he knows he can throw it in there. [Nelson] is a big target in the middle of the field there, and he made a big play for the touchdown."

"I have a ton of trust in him," Fitzpatrick said. "He's a great player. He's a great threat, especially down there in the red zone. If you put it in the right spot, put it up high, it's tough to guard him. It was David one on one with the linebacker and I trusted him to make a play and he did."

Also making a play was Jones, whose 29-yard catch late in the first half flipped field position and, if not for a foot that just went out of bounds, nearly became an 80-yarder.

The Bills' passing offense was pretty good against a Miami defense that ranked fifth in yards allowed, sixth against the pass.

Fitzpatrick hit 16 of 26 throws for 223 yards and had a passer rating of 98.7. That was a big improvement over the season opener, when Trent Edwards threw for 139 yards and the Bills lost, 15-10.

There was a lot of pressure on Fitzpatrick because the Bills' running game struggled against a Miami defense ranked third in yards-per-carry allowed. Bills backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined to run 24 times for just 51 yards, a 2.1-yard average.

The Bills took control of the game with an 11-play, 86-yard drive to a touchdown in the third quarter. It gave Buffalo a 17-7 lead.

The big play was a 24-yard sideline catch by Roosevelt, the Buffalo native and star from the University at Buffalo. It came on a third-and-3 play from the Bills' 21. Fitzpatrick's throw was ideal, to the outside shoulder of the receiver. But Miami's Vontae Davis had good coverage. Roosevelt made a fine reaction to the ball in the air and made a leaping grab.

"The fade that Naaman caught down the sideline on Davis, what a great play," Fitzpatrick said. "That's a hard thing to do, to throw that and be on the same page with your receiver. And we're talking about a guy that hasn't really played. For him to react and know where I'm putting the ball, it's just a great play."

It was the second NFL catch for Roosevelt, who caught 268 passes in college. His first catch came on Fitzpatrick's first throw of the day, and it went for 11 yards on third and 10.

Johnson capped the drive with a 15-yard TD catch with 6:14 left in the quarter. That one was pretty, too. Johnson was lined up on the far left. Nelson was in the left slot. Both ran post patterns.

"It's a one-on-one coverage with Stevie," Fitzpatrick said. "The first post [by Nelson] took out the safety and clears it for Stevie one on one with the corner. With that guy, he's so special, so talented, just give him a chance."

Johnson said he had to run the slant more across the field than up, straighter into the end zone. Miami's Smith had good coverage, but Johnson showed strong hands in plucking the ball out of the air.

"We've been working on that the whole season," Johnson said. "We knew how they were gonna play. All I had to do was come flat. It was Sean Smith. He still kind of made a play on it, but I stayed flat like Fitz told me to and we connected."

Johnson had six catches for 69 yards. The Bills' four receivers combined for 12 catches for 194 yards. Nelson has 31 catches on the season, a team record for an undrafted wideout.

The Bills also got a 29-yard field goal from Rian Lindell.

The 17 points held up because the Buffalo defense played one of its best games of the season.

The Bills held Miami to 65 rushing yards on 19 attempts, a 3.4-yard average. Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams was a terror again in the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Miami quarterback Chad Henne completed 33 of 45 passes for 276 yards, but it was a dink-and-dunk attack for the Dolphins. The longest completion to a receiver was just 16 yards. The Bills got three sacks, an interception from George Wilson and a fumble recovery.

"We had a good understanding of what they were going to try to do to us," said linebacker Paul Posluszny. "I think our D-line did a good job up front, and it made it easy for everyone else."

A crowd of 65,511 at Sun Life Stadium saw Miami fall to 1-6 at home. Miami is 6-1 on the road. No NFL team ever has posted those home and road records in the same season.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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