Drew Bledsoe was finally able to hand a gameball to Coach Mike Mularkey as the Bills pulled off their first win of the year 20-13 to make the Dolphins the last winless team in the league. It wasn't easy though as the Bills had to come from behind in the second half and use the running of Willis McGahee to run out the clock in the final minutes.
McGahee got the start for an injured Travis Henry who was active but never got off the bench. McGahee struggled for most of the first half but his big frame wore down the Miami defense down the stretch and he was able to get a lot of good, tough yards after the hit to run the clock out into the wind in the final quarter. McGahee finished with 111 yards rushing on 26 carries. 77 of those yards in the decisive second half.
The game was as advertised in the first half as it was a defensive struggle in windy conditions usually reserved for November games in Orchard Park, but brought out early for our friends from Southern Florida. The Bills took the early lead as the Dolphins were going into the strong winds gusting up to 35 mph in the first quarter. Jay Fiedler hurried the ball under pressure on a screen pass and Takeo Spikes picked it off and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown giving the Bills a 7-0 lead.
Miami had the wind at their backs in the second quarter and drove to a 47 yard field goal by recently signed Matt Bryant. Rian Lindell missed a nearly impossible 43 yard shot into the wind and the Dolphins responded two series later with their only touchdown of the game. A 24 yard reception by Derrius Thompson with :52 left to go before halftime, giving the Dolphins a 10-7 halftime lead. That let the boo birds out as the players headed to the locker room.
The Bills decided to take the ball in the third quarter instead of the wind at the backs in the fourth quarter. The move paid off as the Bills moved the ball on back to back possessions with the wind in the third quarter. A 43 yard Lindell field goal tied it up on the opening possession of the second half. A three and out by Miami led to a poor punt and great field position by the Bills at the Dolphins 37. 4 plays later the Bills were in the end zone as Drew Bledsoe hit Mark Campbell for a 5 yard touchdown reception. This was setup by a 30 yard bobble, catch, and run by Eric Moulds.
Miami didn't give up, trailing by a touchdown they started on a methodical, ball control, time consuming drive into the wind and were setup first and goal at the Bills 1 on an Izell Reese pass interference call. The Bills defense stiffened and held Miami to a field goal to make the score 17-13.
That was a pivotal point of the game for a Bills defense that seemed to be looking to prove that they could hold a lead. They played very well in spurts in this game but gave up huge chunks of yardage to former Bill Sammy Morris who was running with a mission in this game. He had 81 yards in the first half but the Bills held him to just 10 yards after halftime. From the one he lost a yard and then Fiedler was sacked twice in a row. He was put down five times in all in this game as the Bills put pressure on Fiedler with the blitz at times and from the front four on other occasions as Aaron Schobel and Ron Edwards combined for 4 1/2 sacks.
The Bills offense that was held scoreless in the first half put together their best half of football in a long time after the intermission. They responded to Miami's time consuming drive into the wind with one of their own. Unfortunately it had the same result. The Bills moved the ball 72 yards in 14 plays running 7:00 off the clock into the wind but a first and goal at the one resulted in a chip shot field goal. McGahee lost a yard on two carries down by the goal line as the team still looks for their elusive first rushing touchdown.
The field goal left the game in the hands of the defense and they responded down the stretch for the first time this year. A three and out gave the Bills the ball back at their own 6 yard line thanks to a 67 yard wind aided punt. The offense then also responded as they drove 90 yards to the Miami four yard line running out the clock. McGahee had 45 yards on that drive including a 31 yard run that put the game away. Also on that drive was a big 23 yard pass to Moulds.
So the Bills have their first win of the year and something to grow on. There are a lot of positives in this win, albeit against the last winless team in the league but fans will take it. The offense was very impressive in the second half gaining 242 yards after halftime. The defense stiffened at the right time and were in no danger of giving this game away. The question now remains, does this launch the Bills into something better for the rest of the year? Or does the pitiful opponent just give the Bills a one week reprieve from a miserable season. I think this is the sign of better things to come. A tough matchup in Baltimore is next for the Bills.
Here are our exclusive gameballs and goats from the win against the Dolphins: