MIAMI – Two drives, two touchdowns.
If you want the essence of what the Buffalo Bills did in their 41-14 victory against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, there it was in those opening possessions. Quickly, methodically, and surgically the Bills had a 14-0 lead before fans had barely settled into their seats at Sun Life Stadium.
The Dolphins never knew what hit them. But now they, like the rest of the NFL, know that this Rex Ryan team can be taken seriously when it wants to be.
The clown show that preceded and contributed to last week’s loss against the New England Patriots, with all of the pregame yapping followed by those emotionally charged penalties and blunders, was quickly put aside. The Bills still might be looking up at the Pats, but they fixed themselves in a hurry with a no-nonsense, business-like performance that eased some of the sting from the 40-32 debacle.
“We were just ready to get back out there,” linebacker Preston Brown said. “This game couldn’t get here fast enough. We prepared a lot better, we got our mindset right.”
The defense that couldn’t get a sniff of Tom Brady made Ryan Tannehill’s life miserable for most of the game. The Dolphins tried using the empty-backfield, spread-type offense the Patriots employed so successfully, but this time the Bills countered with the aggressive and exotic blitzing they never did last week. Flustered by pass-rushers coming at him from all directions, Tannehill threw three interceptions, including two to Brown, who returned one 43 yards for a touchdown to give the Bills a 24-0 lead late in the second quarter.
The offense that started fast against the Patriots, but then sputtered badly, started fast again Sunday and kept rolling. Tyrod Taylor was sensational in the first road start of his NFL career, leading consecutive marches of 77 and 81 yards, the first ending with his 25-yard scoring throw to Charles Clay and the second with his 10-yard TD pass to LeSean McCoy. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 136.7.
“It was definitely big for us,” Taylor said of the Bills putting the Dolphins in an early hole in their stadium. “To overcome the challenges of the first road game, trying to take the crowd out of it. Mostly, though, just going out there and executing the game plan we worked so hard on all week.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman devised a brilliant plan that included a mixture of short, intermediate and long throws for which the Dolphins’ defense was woefully unprepared. He called no long drop-back passes on the first drive to, as Ryan said, “see if they could get in Ndamukong Suh’s head a little bit and the outside rushers.” Roman created coverage mismatches everywhere. He moved Taylor around, allowing him to still be highly effective from the pocket despite the Dolphins’ strategy of keeping him contained and daring him to beat them with his arm.
“Just keeping the Dolphins on their heels,” Robert Woods said. “We caused a lot of confusion. You get the defense talking” to each other “and snap it while they’re talking.”
“Such a creative mind,” Clay, a former Dolphin, said of Roman. “Whatever he says, we believe.”
Center Eric Wood is in his seventh season with the Bills. He and long snapper Garrison Sanborn have been on the team the same amount of time, experiencing much more failure than success.
It’s only three games, but they sense that something might very well be changing in that regard. And it’s the quick starts that the offense has had the past two weeks that is giving them that feeling.
“Garrison came up to me after the game and said those opening drives in the last two games were the most impressive he’s seen, especially back-to-back,” Wood said. “So that was fun.”
Mauling an opponent is always enjoyable, especially an AFC East rival. The Bills have the sort of defense that can do that on a fairly regular basis.
With Taylor and Clay and other new weapons, they just might have the offense to do it as well.
“Very impressed,” Wood said of Taylor. “He’s always been calm and cool and we’ve always said that since training camp. And to come in here and do that in his first road start is impressive.”
Even more so when you consider what happened last week. After a solid showing in the season-opening win against Indianapolis, Taylor looked confused and uncomfortable for much of the New England game. He was sacked eight times, and blamed a few of those on his indecision in the pocket. He also threw three interceptions.
But Taylor also was the spark plug in a rally that allowed the Bills to make the finish uncomfortable for the Patriots.
“Of course, the game didn’t go like the way we wanted it to go,” he said. “But towards the end of that game, you could see the fight that this team has in it. And we continued to keep fighting last week and just stayed hungry throughout the week as far as practicing, learning from the mistakes we had last week and just tried to come out and be better at those things this week.”
There was no tough talk during the week. Just hard work. You get the feeling the Bills might have learned a lesson after all.