You allow 200 rushing yards once, and you might get away with calling it a bad day.
Do it twice, and it feels a little more like a trend.
For the Buffalo Bills' defense, the beginning of the double dose of humiliation/frustration began on Oct. 23 at Hard Rock Stadium. That was when Jay Ajayi ran for 214 yards and a touchdown in the Dolphins' 28-25 victory.
"It was real tough to watch, but you’ve got to give that kid credit," Bills coach Rex Ryan said Tuesday. "I mean, he took it to us. (Their) whole team did."
The nightmare repeated itself on Dec. 11 as the Bills allowed Le'Veon Bell to rack up 236 rushing yards in their 27-20 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Bills arguably felt worse about what happened against Ajayi because it helped their AFC East rival erase an 11-point lead late in the third quarter.
It also proved to be a turning point of both teams' seasons. The Bills, who were 4-2, proceeded to go on a three-game losing streak and would drop five of seven. The Dolphins, who were 2-4, would go on a five-game winning streak and win seven of eight.
Now, the 7-7 Bills find themselves on the verge of playoff elimination and the 9-5 Dolphins find themselves in the thick of the hunt for a wild-card spot when the teams meet Saturday at New Era Field.
The Bills might not able to do much to change their postseason fate, even with a victory, but their defense can do something to make amends for all that went wrong against Ajayi.
"One game is too many when you're giving up 200 rushing yards," defensive lineman Leger Douzable said. "But we know what we have to do. In both of those games, it was the same determining factor -- it was missed tackles. Versus Ajayi, we had three or four guys missing tackles on one play. And you can't do that, because the next thing you know he's in the secondary and he's off to the races."
"It starts with me and (fellow inside linebacker) Zach (Brown) coming downhill, making those guards feel our presence," linebacker Preston Brown said. "And now we'll have (defensive tackle) Marcell (Dareus). We didn't have Marcell the first time (he was sidelined with a hamstring injury). And when (Bell) got 200, we didn't have (defensive lineman) Kyle (Williams). When we have those two guys in there, it makes a difference, but no excuses. We have to go out there and make it happen."
The Bills have placed heavy emphasis on swarming to the ball in practice to help ensure they aren't relying on one defender to bring the running back to the ground.
They're also revisiting the defensive game plans they prepared for the Dolphins and Steelers.
When the Bills watched video the Dolphins' game against Pittsburgh the week before they faced Miami, they noticed Ajayi was having considerable success on stretch plays, largely because of the Steelers' inability to set the edge. The Bills were determined to set the edge and force Ajayi to run inside.
The strategy backfired, because, for one thing, the Bills' outside linebackers didn't do a good job of setting the edge. For another, Ajayi cut back on stretch runs sooner than he did the week before, and Brown and other defenders did more over-pursuing than staying in their proper gaps. For still another, the Bills consistently missed tackles.
"We wanted to have a big emphasis on setting the edge, and we had a little more success stopping him," Douzable said. "But then in the second half, he would press the edge and then cut it all the way back. So the thing is, you've just got to be gap sound. If you have a gap, you've got to be in your gap, whether it's setting the edge or you're in that B gap on the back side, and the guard and tackle are trying to cut you out (by blocking low), you've got to make sure you stay in there.
"We know we're going to get a lot of cut blocks from their offensive line this week and we know they're going to try to run sideways and try to get us to run sideways with them, so it's been a big emphasis of owning and manning your gap this week."
Ryan is confident he and the rest of the defensive coaches have learned from their failure to adjust to the Dolphins' halftime adjustments on offense.
He and some of his players also suggested that Ryan and his brother, Rob, the Bills' assistant head coach/defense, have cooked up a scheme that will help prevent the Bills from being trampled on the ground this time.
"Well, we think that we’ll be much more effective this game," Ryan said. "Let’s just put it that way. Hey, I know what happened. ... They’re going to get our best effort. There’s no doubt about that, and our preparation started (Tuesday). We feel good about our plan, and we know it’s going to be a very physical game. We’ll see if we’re up for it."
"They were more physical, they did everything against us that they wanted to, so we've got to go out there and show we're not the same team we were earlier in the season," Preston Brown said. "And go out there and show that we can stop the running back, because we didn't the last time. It's going to be a good test for us defensively and it's going to be fun."