Three Keys: Bills' fate on the line

Buffalo's offensive line must gel fast to have any shot of pulling the upset Sunday against Miami. Injuries have absolutely ravaged the front five all season. Jonathan Scott (left) and company have their hands full. This and more inside...

Protect Fitzpatrick

It's 12:05 a.m. Whatever curfew Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano have down in South Beach, something tells me Joey Porter is still awake. Twitching in excitement.

Because in hours he faces the Buffalo Bills' battered, beaten, maligned offensive line. If Buffalo has any chance of scoring points Sunday, the line needs to somehow contain Porter and co.

No doubt, the story heading into this AFC East tilt is the tape job the Bills have been forced to do on the offensive line. A unit already in flux heading into the season has spiraled out of control. Gone for the season are Eric Wood, Seth McKinney and tackle Brad Butler. Gone for the present is Demetrius Bell. Against arguably the best team pass rush in the league, the Bills are reaching in all directions to field a front five. Ryan Fitzpatrick showed improvement last week at Jacksonville, throwing the ball vertically to Terrell Owens. But he may not have time to do so Sunday.

Jonathan Scott will start at left tackle, Andy Levitre at left guard, Geoff Hangartner at center, street pickup Kendall Simmons at right guard and Kirk Chambers at right tackle. Players are moving to different spots on a weekly basis.

So somewhere, Porter foams at the mouth. It's been a down year for the outside linebacker. He only has 4.5 sacks. But he's finally healthy and as a defense, the Dolphins rank third in sacks per pass attempt. Buffalo is 27th in sacks allowed.

How long the Bills can hold the dam? A lot hinges on the new face. Days after signing with Buffalo, Simmons will start. Mainly because Buffalo has no choice. The former Pittsburgh Steeler has a history of injuries himself, blowing out his Achilles tendon in 2008. He spent the first 10 weeks of this season with New England before being cut on Nov. 6. Don't expect a mauler. There's a reason Simmons has hovered in obscurity of late.

Fitzpatrick's saving grace will be his quick release. He gets the ball out in a hurry. He'll need to Sunday. Nobody knows what to expect from this week's installment up front.

Contain Williams

A few years ago — banished in Toronto — who would have ever thought Ricky Williams would be here?

Well here he is, at 32 years of age, resurrecting his career. After plenty of drug problems, Williams' career has come full circle. The Bills' equally banged-up defense did well last week, holding Maurice Jones-Drew to less than three yards per carry. Williams is a bruiser. He won't dance and sidestep like MJD. He'll line up in the Wildcat, telegraph his hole and run directly at the Bills. Smashmouth Football 101.

Last week, Williams became the oldest Miami player to ever rush for 100 yards in consecutive games. His three touchdowns doomed Carolina, 24-17.

"He's not 32, I don't care what he says," rookie receiver Brian Hartline told the AP. "He definitely doesn't look 32 out there, and he definitely has a lot of gas left in his wheels."

Against the Jaguars, the Bills experimented with new alignments up front. Perry Fewell will need to pull more exotic schemes out of his sleeve this week. Corey Mace was elevated to the 53-man roster with John McCargo (calf) out. Marcus Stroud is questionable. If Stroud can go, look for Buffalo to fare decent against Williams. Last week was a step forward.

Discipline, discipline, discipline

Penalties by Jonathan Scott and Shawn Nelson each negated game-breaking touchdowns for the Bills. Fewell is ushering in a wave of discipline. Heck, the Bills are even practicing outdoors these days.

But to truly move away from the Dick Jauron era, the team needs to quit committing such backbreaking miscues.

Maybe the culture is too engrained. Maybe these flaws are too deep to fix at this point. But Fewell is a high-energy coach that won't put up with as much as Jauron did. This season may be lost, but he needs to nip these problems in the butt. Punish the culprits immediately. Set a standard. Gradually, the Bills need to return to accountability.

Starting Sunday at The Ralph.

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Bills 20

Buffalo shows fight but can't bottle up Williams forever. Look for Fitzpatrick to hit Terrell Owens or Lee Evans deep a couple times. Miami is vulnerable back there. But overall, the Bills have far too many injuries to compete at this point. Two more wins this season would be generous.

thdunne@gmail.com

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