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Jerry Sullivan: Bills, Taylor stay alive against Miami

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Afterwards, there was a lot of talk about taking one game at a time. It's the requisite rallying cry in the NFL. If there's any team that has learned not to overreact to a single game, it's the Bills.

But the old cliche rings especially true for Tyrod Taylor, whose season has been a weekly miniseries over the past month or so. He had his job taken away, then given back after Nathan Peterman's meltdown in LA. He hurt his knee against New England, toughed it out for three quarters, then sat out while Peterman and Joe Webb won in the snow.

On Sunday, Taylor was healthy again and back for Miami. Even if hobbled, you figured he would show up for the Dolphins. If Tyrod could play against the Dolphins every week, he'd be an established franchise quarterback making $25 million a year.

There's something about Miami that brings out the best in Taylor. Entering Sunday's showdown at New Era, he was averaging 251 yards passing in four career starts against the Dolphins — more than 50 yards better than against the rest of the NFL — with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Sure enough, with the Bills desperately needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Taylor played his finest game in more than a month. He threw for 224 yards and a touchdown, ran for another and kept plays alive with his legs as the Bills knocked off the Dolphins, 24-16 in the home finale at New Era Field.

Taylor was the best player on the field in the first half, completing 12 of 18 passes for 165 yards and leading three TD drives of 75-plus yards. It was the first time Taylor led the Bills to three first-half touchdowns since the Houston game at home in December, 2015.

On Wednesday, coach Sean McDermott wouldn't declare a starting quarterback for the Dolphins. Presumably, Taylor was still recovering from his patellar injury. But he showed no signs of any lingering knee pain while darting around New Era on Sunday.

"A couple of times out there (he felt pain)," Taylor said. "But I think adrenaline, when you mix that into the equation, you're able to go out there and play. I was able to play on it the game I got hurt for three quarters, but it got aggravated again,.

"I didn't really take too many shots today," he said. "I was able to protect my knees and didn't take any direct hits to it."

It's hard to hit what you can't catch. Taylor was sacked twice, but he moved well and completed passes to nine different receivers. On the opening TD drive — the first this season on their opening possession — he escaped a sack, sprinted to his right and found LeSean McCoy for a first down on third-and-6.

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The Dolphins marched to a couple of field goals to cut the deficit to 7-6 early in the second quarter, but the Bills answered with a 75-yard TD drive of their own. Taylor zipped a 21-yard pass to tight end Charles Clay to get the ball into Miami territory. He finished the drive by floating a perfect 16-yard pass to McCoy near the right corner of the end zone.

That drive was a big turning point in the game. It seized the momentum back from the Dolphins, who never really recovered.

"It was, it was," said coach Sean McDermott. "I thought our run-pass play selection was phenomenal. They had a little momentum there and we took it back. That was good to see. I thought our offense had a good rhythm to it, especially in the first half."

The Bills got the ball back after a punt and drove 80 yards for a third TD, with Taylor accounting for 75 yards — 4 of 5 for 63 yards passing and 12 on two runs, including a 9-yard sprint around left end to make it 21-6 with 40 seconds left in the half.

So the Bills are 8-6, and in a three-way tie with the Ravens and Titans for the fifth and sixth playoff spots in a muddled AFC. They still have a lot of work to do, starting with a Christmas Eve game at the Patriots and closing with a New Year's Eve rematch in Miami.

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But they've come farther than most skeptics imagined in late August. On Sunday, they actually looked like a playoff team, outplaying Miami in all three phases. The Bills finished 6-2 at home for the first time since 1999, which is the last time they qualified for the playoffs.

"I heard that," said defensive end Ryan Davis, who sacked Jay Cutler with the Dolphins at the Buffalo 8 in the first quarter. "That's one drought we kind of ended. Let's work on the other one!"

Four weeks ago, after the debacle against the Chargers, they looked like one of the worst teams in the league. The defense had allowed 135 points in three weeks and the quarterback situation was a shambles. You wondered if Taylor, who had seemingly lost the confidence of his head coach, had played his final game in a Bills uniform.

Taylor is still probably done after this season. But here is, trying to lead the Bills to an improbable playoff berth in the first season of a new regime. McDermott's decision to yank his job away and play Peterman looks more dubious in retrospect, with the Bills counting on him to get them into the dance in the final two weeks.

If the Bills make it, it could make the call on Taylor's future more difficult. Would getting there be good enough, maybe in a 9-7 tiebreaker? Would they need to win a playoff game? You wonder if they turned to Nathan Peterman for that very reason, so Taylor wouldn't have a playoff run on his resume.

Whatever the case, they're alive in a conference where no team, save for the Pats and Steelers, seems measurably better than any other. How do you figure the AFC? The Bills looked horrible for three weeks, giving up 135 points, then won three out of four, giving up only 56 points.

How could the Chiefs lose four in a row, including consecutive losses to the Giants, Bills and Jets, then come alive to beat the Raiders and Chargers in convincing fashion? How did the Dolphins handle the Pats and play like dogs in Buffalo six days later? What does it say about the AFC when the Titans lose back-to-back games to Arizona and the Niners?

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Bills fans can be thankful there are so many average teams in the AFC. It sounds crazy, but this win gives them confidence that anything is possible in a wildly unpredictable conference. If the Pats could lose to this Miami team, you can't even rule out a win in New England.

"This time of year, you want to be playing at a high level," Taylor said. "Playing meaningful football in December is definitely big for us. It's important for me. I try to take those opportunities and make the best of them. Today, we took a great opportunity to take a step in the right direction."

They might not need to win in New England to make the playoffs. The New York Times computer determined after Sunday's games that the Bills have a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs if they finish 9-7.

So there's a decent chance they could lose in Foxborough next week and still break the 17-year playoff drought by winning the season finale in Miami two weeks from now.

Yes, it's one week at a time territory now. But if you'll allow me to look ahead, just imagine Taylor going into the final week, with the playoffs and his future hanging in the balance. Could he ask for a better opponent than Miami?

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