The word of the week in Buffalo is resiliency.
"There's a lot of resiliency around here," said linebacker Keith Ellison following the Bills' ugly 13-10 win over Miami. "We have a lot of high character guys in this locker room, and you put us up against any odds and we'll come through."
A team that began the season 1-4, suffered two inexplicable last-play losses at home in games they never trailed until after the clock struck zero, and has seen 10 players sent to injured reserve for the season, is now 5-4, in the wild-card playoff chase. Next up: A game against arguably the best team in a generation, unbeaten New England, Sunday night in one of the biggest regular-season games the Bills have played this millennium.
"It is an amazing story," said Bills general manager and Pro Football Hall of Famer Marv Levy, whose team hasn't made it to the playoffs since the 1999 season and, counting this year, has only contended for a postseason berth -- and that was marginally -- in four of the eight seasons since.
Levy watched his team win its fourth straight game on a day when not a lot went right. Still, the Bills were able to overcome a shoddy performance on offense, much of the blame laid at the feet of quarterback J.P. Losman, as they gained just 214 yards, possessed the ball a mere 23 minutes, and scored only one touchdown.
"This wasn't a pretty win, but we've had some losses where the other team could walk off and say it wasn't a pretty win," said Levy, referring to Denver's and Dallas' last-second comebacks that, if not successful, would have the Bills at 7-2 right now and leading the wild-card pack. "I'm proud of the resiliency they've shown."
Buffalo's season turned at the bye week. The team was 1-4 and coach Dick Jauron gathered the troops and told them to focus on an 11-game season, and, as strong safety Donte Whitner recalled, "He told us to win them all." So far, the Bills are 4-0 on that quest.
"I am impressed," Whitner said. "With everything we dealt with early in the season, it was tough, especially when you're 1-4 because the locker room could have easily divided. We stuck together. We were down eight points late in that game and we came back and won, so that's a tribute to the coaching staff and the guys in this locker room. Now we're 5-4, and we have an opportunity to go out and play the Patriots on Sunday night."
That would have been a daunting task for the Bills a month ago. It certainly was back on Sept. 23, when the Patriots administered a 38-7 whipping in Foxborough. Levy knows his team will need to play an almost perfect game to win, but he's not dismissing Buffalo's chances, slim as they are.
"In the NFL, anybody is capable, when they meet on game day, of beating anybody else in the league," Levy said. "There's no question, they're as good a team as I've seen since the Steelers of the '70s. Sure, it's going to take a great performance on our part, and it should excite our players. I don't think they'll be wary about it, they'll be excited about it. The fact that it's the premier game on Sunday, that's exciting, and it's quite a story this team is engaged in."
|Buffalo Bills player Kiwaukee Thomas grimaces as he is carried off the field during the football game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday, Nov. 11, 2007 in Miami. The Bills won 13-10.(AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)|
Jauron Stands Behind Losman
Coach Dick Jauron said it never occurred to him to yank struggling QB J.P. Losman in the third quarter and go with rookie Trent Edwards. Losman misfired on his first five passes, threw a poor-decision interception in the Miami end zone, and finished with just 157 yards, but Jauron stuck with him, and he produced 11 fourth-quarter points to win the game.
"The game was kind of a struggle the whole time. He made some plays for us," Jauron said.
Losman said it was a frustrating day because the Dolphins did a nice job mixing up their coverages, but the key was to stay patient, which he tried to do.
"For us to come back like that at the end of the game when we hadn't been able to the move the ball, we were able to come through at the end, and that was a positive," said Losman, who became the first Bills QB since Jim Kelly in 1990 to lead Buffalo to back-to-back fourth-quarter rally victories.
Parrish Still Dangerous... As a Returner?
Roscoe Parrish has been mostly unproductive as a receiver in the passing game. He was blanked in Miami and has only 23 catches for 197 yards. But his punt returning played another key role in a Buffalo victory. Parrish ripped off a 40-yarder late in the fourth quarter, taking the ball from the 10 to the 50, and it set up the Bills for their winning field-goal drive.
"Roscoe's punt return was huge," Losman said. "Everybody blocking there on special teams, that gave us a short field to work with, and it paid off big for us."
Parrish leads the league with a 19.4-yard average, and he reminded everyone, "There are three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams. Special teams are always a key because it gives you the momentum on offense and defense. It changes the game."
-- The Bills scored a two-point conversion Sunday for the first time since 2001. Back then, Eric Moulds scored against New England in a 21-11 loss. The conversion Sunday against Miami, by Marshawn Lynch, was critical, as it tied the game with about 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The last time the Bills rushed for a successful two-point conversion was in 2000, when Shawn Bryson scored. The Bills have made 22 two-point conversions in their history, but the bulk of those came in the AFL between 1960-69.
-- Buffalo's pass rush was not very effective in Miami, but DE Chris Kelsay made the Bills' only sack count as he tackled Cleo Lemon for a safety early in the third quarter. "When it happened, it felt like it was in slow motion," Kelsay said. "The quarterback was standing there, and luckily he didn't scramble out or get the ball off." It was the 30th safety in Bills history and the team's first since London Fletcher recorded one in 2005, also at Dolphin Stadium, against Gus Frerotte.
--QB J.P. Losman did not have a sharp game, as he completed just 12 of 23 passes for 157 yards. He also threw a bad interception in the end zone.
--WR Josh Reed had a quiet day, as he caught three passes for 40 yards.
--CB Terrence McGee had a solid game with seven tackles and two pass breakups, but he was only able to return one kickoff for 21 yards.
--DE Chris Kelsay recorded Buffalo's first safety in two years with a third-quarter tackle of Cleo Lemon.
--LB John DiGiorgio didn't practice during the week, but he started the game and finished with seven tackles.