MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – They got pushed around. Plain and simple.
Rex Ryan's so-called Buffalo Bills Bullies were bullied on both sides of the line in Sunday's 28-25 loss against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
The defensive front was knocked off the ball from the very beginning as Jay Ajayi went on a 200-plus-yard rushing tear for the second week in a row to suddenly make LeSean McCoy's two weeks of ground excellence seem a lot less magical.
The offensive line that was making those power runs look so routine against the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers couldn't put a dent in the Dolphins' D-line, which only underscored McCoy's ineffectiveness while dealing with a hamstring injury he suffered last Wednesday.
"We got out-physicaled on both sides of the ball, which is rare for us," said coach Rex Ryan, whose team fell to 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the AFC East and 1-3 in the conference. "But it happened."
It happened in such stunning fashion for a team that had grabbed the attention of the entire NFL, that was viewed as one of the hottest clubs in the league after four consecutive wins and put near the top of many power rankings and lists of likely playoff qualifiers.
When the Bills built a 17-6 lead with 5:51 left in the third quarter, it looked like the respect was about to reach heights the franchise hadn't experienced in a long time. But then, reverting to the form that has defined 16 years of futility, the Bills gave up two touchdowns in a span of 1:32 in the fourth quarter.
One of the real bullies of the divisional neighborhood delivered a knockout blow that Ryan and his players never saw coming.
“Obviously, we got out-played, we got out-coached, we got out-everything’d," the coach said, looking and sounding about as numb as at any point since arriving in Buffalo. "They were a more physical team today, there’s no doubt about that. They controlled the game and that’s why they won the game.”
"They definitely went out and punched us in the mouth," linebacker Preston Brown said. "And we didn't do anything about it. No running back's supposed to do that to our defense."
Being physical had become a large part of the Bills' identity, especially on offense. They entered the game as the top rushing team in the league, mainly because of how well the line was opening holes for McCoy to make extraordinary runs when he had two healthy legs.
On Sunday, the Dolphins often had the line going backwards on runs as well as in pass protection.
"Yeah, it's surprising," center Eric Wood said. "We thought we'd come down here and be more effective offensively, but credit them. They played better than us."
McCoy, who ran for 290 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games, finished with 11 yards on eight carries before his left hamstring flared up and caused him to leave the game late in the third quarter.
Tyrod Taylor added 35 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown, and Mike Gillislee contributed 20 more to a 67-yard effort. For the last two weeks, that would be McCoy just warming up in the first quarter.
But the Bills had no ground attack to speak of Sunday. They also couldn't get a whole lot going through the air, as Taylor was sacked four times and frequently running for his life. When he did have time, he misfired badly on some throws and didn't see open receivers on others.
"We were losing matchups in the run game, and that hurts," Wood said. "And we weren't making plays in the pass game. And that's everybody. That involves the protection, guys getting open and making throws. So an off day offensively, but really had them on the ropes at 17-6 and it hurts to lose that one."
"We couldn't find rhythm," guard Richie Incognito said. "It starts with us up front. We just didn't have a good day. We had an off day as an offensive line. ... We're a physical bunch. No explanation for it. You've got to show up and bring it every Sunday."
Incognito didn't fully accept the premise that all of the Dolphins' defensive success was the result of their being more physical than the Bills. He cited scheme for having a role in the outcome.
"There was a lot of line movement," Incognito said. "We anticipated some of it, but not to the degree that they were ready to do it today, and it just kind of kept us off-balance."
Ajayi's 214 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries kept the Bills' defense on its heels the entire day. Not only did he have gaping holes at the line through which to run, but there also were wide-open cutback lanes. Inside linebackers Zach and Preston Brown went from being regarded as arguably the NFL's best pair of inside linebackers to virtually non-existent.
Ryan admitted he and the defensive coaching staff "were trying everything," even going with their base defense when the Dolphins used three wide receivers rather than having smaller defenders on the field. "We were up for suggestions, I promise you," he said.
"Last week, they did a lot of stretch, going around the corner on Pittsburgh, and this week they just kept stretch, stretch, stretch, cut back," Preston Brown said. "That's what they were doing all game, cutting it back off those blocks. And he did a good job finding holes and I've got to do a better job of finding that hole and meeting him there."
"We missed a bunch of tackles," added lineman Corbin Bryant. "We weren't honed in our technique as much as we should have been. But it's just one game. We've got to get back to the drawing board and just make sure we fix it. We started out 0-2, won four straight, we lose one. Those things are going to happen, but who says we aren't going to go back and get on another roll?"