MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Sometimes, it takes a voice players aren't accustomed to hearing to deliver an impactful speech. In the case of Tremaine Edmunds, it's a voice his Buffalo Bills teammates rarely hear.
That went a long way toward allowing the second-year middle linebacker to instantly grab everyone's attention when he decided to speak during a team meeting Saturday night at the club's South Florida hotel. As a co-captain, Edmunds is in a natural position of leadership. For the most part, he has led by example. However, after last week's dreadful showing in a loss against the Cleveland Browns, he felt he had to do something more to prod a rebound effort.
On Saturday night, Edmunds found the right words and emotional delivery to help provide a spark that touched off a 37-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
"Oh, it's huge," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "Sometimes, hearing it from your superiors, hearing it from coaches, it doesn't hold as much weight. But hearing it from your peers, hearing it from somebody you look up to, someone you hang out with every day in the locker room, it's like, 'OK, we do have to bring it.' In order for us to be a championship team, a playoff team, a team who wants to go past the first round, we have to bring it."
The Bills brought it in almost every phase to improve their record to 7-3 and remain in control of the first AFC wild-card playoff position. Their totals for points, yards (424) and sacks (seven) were season highs. Josh Allen produced 302 yards – 256 through the air, along with three touchdowns, and 56 on the ground, with another score. John Brown had his best game since joining the Bills as a free agent last March, catching nine passes for 137 yards and two TDs.
The Dolphins, now 2-8, were held to 23 rushing yards, 145 fewer than the Bills.
Last Wednesday, coach Sean McDermott told his team to "play fearless." But it was the surprising speech from the 21-year-old Edmunds that seemed to have the largest impact on how the Bills performed Sunday.
"Me being a leader, I just wanted to take my leadership a step forward, just talk to the team," Edmunds said. "A lot of guys, they look at me as a laid-back guy. I am. But it's always been in me. I just wanted to express it to my teammates. They responded well, and I can't think them enough."
Fellow linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who at 36 years old is viewed as a mentor by Edmunds and many others on the roster, was proud of how his younger teammate took matters into his own hands.
The loss at Cleveland created a palpable sense of tension around One Bills Drive. Even with Western New York in the grip of subfreezing temperatures, players, coaches and administrators could feel the heat building up on the outside about whether the Bills truly merited the playoff-contending status their record indicated.
Alexander said the essence of Edmunds' speech was about the importance of taking the next step.
"We're a good team, but we need to be a dominant team and just really taking that next step in our maturation process as a football team," Alexander said. "So not just winning games, but trying to be dominant, especially when teams that we face that we're supposed to beat, don't make it a close game. Go out there, handle our business, execute and let's get out of there. We don't have to make every game a nail-biter."
The Bills largely controlled their latest win from the start by scoring on each of their first four possessions. Three produced field goals, but their explosiveness showed on Allen's first scoring throw to Brown, from 40 yards, early in the second quarter, to make it 13-0.
Special teams made for some uneasy moments, when the Dolphins followed their first touchdown with a successful onside kick before Miami gave the ball right back with a fumble on the next play and when Jakeem Grant returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown to cut the margin to 23-14 at halftime.
But the defense continually smothered the Dolphins' running game, one of the NFL's worst, and never allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to find his groove.
Meanwhile, the Bills' offense showed good balance as Allen and the rest of the players on his side of the ball shook off the malaise of a 14-point output a week ago. Working from the coaches' booth for the first time this season, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll mixed a running game with a variety of short and deep throws, while huddling and going with a quicker pace.
"This was big to show that our offense is explosive and that, if we take care of the ball and we execute well, then we can put some points up," fullback Patrick DiMarco said.
Nothing is a given through the final six games, including next Sunday when the Bills take on the Denver Broncos, who are 3-7, at New Era Field. The Broncos held a 20-0 lead before losing, 27-23, on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, who are 8-3.
"These next six games are crucial," DiMarco said. "This is an opportunity to get in the show, and that's all you can really ask for is get in the playoffs and see where it takes you from there. You look at the recent history and it's the hotter teams towards the end of the year that really get going and continue to build on that."
On Sunday, the Bills built on motivation from an unexpected source: Edmunds.
"I think it was great to kind of light the fire under young guys like that," Hughes said. "When you've got a player who's your leader, who's your captain, who's putting his foot down, letting us know that, 'Enough is enough, it's time for us to start playing Bills football,' that's what we like to hear. And we showed up for him today."