GAME DATE: 09/17/06
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: The Dolphins hold a 49-35-1 all-time series lead and ended a three-game losing streak to the Bills in last December's 24-23 comeback victory. The Dolphins overcame a 20-point second-half deficit behind the play of WR Chris Chambers. He caught a franchise-record 15 passes for 238 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown.
2006 RANKINGS: Bills: offense 27th (17th rush, 24th pass); defense 19th (29th rush, 8th pass). Dolphins: offense 19th (30th rush, 9th pass); defense 25th (26th rush, 19th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins are holding out hope that CB Travis Daniels can return to help the secondary, which suffered through devastating coverage meltdowns in Pittsburgh. Bills QB J.P. Losman looked much improved in the season opener, but the offensive line will have the difficult task of watching DE/OLB Jason Taylor, who rushes the passer from different angles in Miami's scheme. Offensively, the Dolphins need more consistent play out of QB Daunte Culpepper, who struggled once Miami fell behind in the opener, and RB Ronnie Brown, who had two touchdowns but failed to move the chains behind an offensive line that didn't provide much of a push. However, the Bills' run defense is much more penetrable, which should make for shorter passing situations for Culpepper.
FAST FACTS: Bills: Losman is 1-8 as a starter. ... Five rookies saw playing time on defense in the season opener. ... RB Willis McGahee's 2,455 rushing yards ranks 10th in franchise history. Dolphins: Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was Buffalo's head coach from 2004-05. ... WR Chris Chambers needs one touchdown reception to become franchise's fourth player with 40.
PERSONNEL NEWS: Bills:
-- LB Takeo Spikes missed his second day of practice on Thursday, leaving his status in doubt for Sunday's game at Miami. Spikes suffered what he described as a minor hamstring pull against the Patriots and he continues to express confidence in playing against the Dolphins.
-- LB Keith Ellison, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Oregon State, would likely get the call to start Sunday's game at Miami if veteran Takeo Spikes (hamstring) can't go. Ellison played most of the game last week at New England and registered eight tackles. He's listed at just 228 pounds but the Bills love his tenacity and instincts. Ellison would play the weak side with Angelo Crowell moving to the strong side, if Spikes is out.
-- WR Lee Evans will look to reproduce last year's record-setting day at Miami against a Dolphins secondary that could be missing starting CB Travis Daniels (ankle). Evans caught three TD passes in the first quarter against Miami last December, the most ever by a Bills' receiver in one quarter.
-- CB Travis Daniels, who has missed all four exhibition games and the season opener with a sprained right ankle, is clearly moving around better in practice but he's still listed as questionable for Sunday.
-- DT Dan Wilkinson, who has been spelling starting nose tackle Keith Traylor, particularly in running situations, has missed practice all week because of personal issues. It's likely that DT Jeff Zgonina, who was on the inactive list against the Steelers - thus snapping a 74 consecutive game streak - will be activated Sunday and serve as Traylor's backup.
-- RB Lee Suggs, who was signed on Sept. 4, three days before the season opener, is expected to spell starting RB Ronnie Brown Sunday, especially against the Bills' porous run defense which allowed 183 rushing yards to the Patriots last week.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Bills envisioned a 1-2 punch at safety when they drafted Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson last February. The plan was to have them start - just not this soon.
With veteran free agent Matt Bowen still hobbled by a bone bruise suffered in the preseason and venerable 15-year pro Troy Vincent being placed on injured reserve this week with a hamstring injury, Whitner and Simpson will make their NFL debut as a tandem against Miami on Sunday. It's far ahead of what coach Dick Jauron planned, but he's not complaining.
"The plan was not to have that happen as soon as it's happening, but here we are faced with that situation, so here we go," Jauron said. "Obviously, we like both of them, we drafted both of them, we think they're going to be really good players. But there will be some learning and it will take some time, but they'll be out there performing."
Whitner and Simpson performed extensively in last week's 19-17 loss at New England to Tom Brady. The pair will certainly be inviting for Dolphins veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper to test. But while Whitner and Simpson do lack experience, they are overflowing in talent and speed, more than enough to run with Miami's good receiving corps.
One would think that a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback like Daunte Culpepper would not still be hindered by poor footwork. But after not playing in a regular-season game for more than 10 months, Culpepper admitted that the reason he completed only 48.6 percent of his throws - his lowest percent since Nov. 10, 2002 - in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, had more to do with his feet than his surgically repaired right knee.
"You've got to put your feet in good position to throw correctly and be accurate," said Culpepper, whose career completion percentage is 64.4. "Sometimes I felt like I was rushing a little bit for whatever reason. That was really the first time I got a chance to play at that speed for a full game (since the injury)."
Culpepper, who had a dismal 49.6 passer rating compared to Steelers fill-in quarterback Charlie Batch's 126.5, bounced a few passes, and when the Steelers finally took the lead 21-17 with 6:11 remaining, he proceeded to throw consecutive interceptions on the next two series, including the game-clinching 42-yard touchdown pick by Joey Porter.
"Sometimes, you have to avoid bad plays to make good ones," Dolphins coach Nick Saban said. "I think when you read and you're disciplined, you will do that. He's made tremendous progress in that area.
"He's going to get more and more comfortable. That was his first game back. I know that he's going to improve from his first game to the second. We're certain of that."