Ralph C. Wilson Jr. has been keeping a low profile this season, but the owner of the Buffalo Bills made a rare appearance in the locker room to congratulate his team after Sunday's 17-14 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Wilson was dismayed over the Bills' 0-8 start, but his spirits have been raised by the team winning four of its last six. He felt so good that he took time to speak with reporters for the first time since very early in the season.
"It's always good to win a game, and I tell you what, what is hard for me to figure out is how we can win these games when we started out with no players," Wilson said with a hearty laugh. "Our drafts in the last 10 years have been terrible. So I mean, these guys, before each play you read the scorecard to see who's in there. That's what amazes me. We pick up a guy in the middle of the week and he starts on Sunday.
"That one guy, [rookie receiver Naaman] Roosevelt, he's a free agent he went to UB. That's what amazes me. Chan [Gailey, the Bills' head coach] has done a great job and the players have played hard."
Indeed, the Bills are kind of a rag-tag unit of unheralded overachievers. While they don't have the same amount of talent as some of their opponents, the Bills have gone helmet-to-helmet with most of the best teams on their schedule, as evidenced by their five losses by five or fewer points.
The Bills have been competitive and their steady improvement has Wilson encouraged that better days are ahead.
"Oh, yeah. It's amazing," he said. "This team amazes me. I guess it's because they play hard. A lot of them were overlooked in the draft. A lot of them were cut by other teams that didn't have enough patience with them. All of those things play into it. So we should be much, much better next year."
The Bills knew they had to pass a lot on Sunday, which meant they had to keep Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake off quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's back.
Mission accomplished. Wake, who entered the game with an NFL-high 14 sacks, didn't have one Sunday. He recorded one quarterback pressure and two total tackles.
Running back Fred Jackson played an integral part in the protection plan by chipping Wake just enough to slow his pass rush. But the offensive line also held up its end to protect Fitzpatrick, who needed time to throw because the running game was shut down.
"We had a tough time running the ball today, but up front the protection was good today," said Fitzpatrick, who was sacked twice. "I don't know if Wake had any sacks or not, but they did a great job all day keeping me clean. You can't say enough about those guys up front just in terms of the patchwork and guys getting plugged into spots."
Right tackle Mansfield Wrotto said the key to slowing Wake was preparation.
"The entire week we just worked on the fundamentals, getting back to the basics like how to pass set, getting our hands up," said Wrotto, who lined up opposite Wake most of the day. "Obviously we needed to pass the ball today. Cameron Wake is a very good player. He's a hard worker and you can tell that just by how he plays on Sundays. But we fought our butts off today and gave Fitz more time."
David Nelson loves playing in Sun Life Stadium.
As a junior at the University of Florida in 2008, he caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to clinch the BCS national championship for the Gators.
In his first game back at Sun Life Stadium, Nelson found the end zone again as his 18-yard touchdown reception gave the Bills a lead they never relinquished.
"Yeah, I have some great memories in this place," Nelson said. "I texted some of my old teammates and some of my old coaches at Florida and I told them what I was going through. I kind of got some tears in my eyes pulling up, same route we took in the national championship game. Orange and blue everywhere and just kind of going back to that moment and putting myself in the position I was in.
"When I first walked out of the tunnel where I caught the touchdown it was right there and I just kind of walked over to the 4-yard line and kind of re-did the play in my mind and walked through the whole thing. It gave me chills. It was just an unbelievable feeling. It was a special memory I'll always cherish."
With his touchdown Sunday, Nelson became the third Bills rookie with a touchdown catch in three consecutive games since Lee Evans' five-game streak in 2004. Elbert Dubenion did it in three straight games in 1960.
Nelson's 31 catches this season are the most by a Bills rookie since Evans finished with 46 in 2004.
Fitzpatrick and receiver Stevie Johnson made some team history by connecting on a touchdown for the 10th time this season. The only other quarterback-receiver combination that had 10 touchdowns was Drew Bledsoe and Eric Moulds in 2002.
The Bills inactives were running back Jehuu Caulcrick, center Geoff Hangartner, defensive tackle Kellen Heard, guard Colin Brown, offensive tackle Erik Pears, tight end Mike Caussin and defensive end John McCargo.