AFC East: Dolphins All About The "D"

The Dolphins are too late for the postseason, but their defense has shown why they can play spoiler to playoff-bound teams.

Defense continues to step up for Dolphins

   Miami's defense has turned into a forceful unit in the second half of the season, and Sunday's 30-23 win over Buffalo produced a new impressive and unique stat.

   The Dolphins prevented Buffalo from converting a single third down for the second game this season.

   The Bills were 0-for-11 on third-down conversions. Parlay Sunday's struggles with the 0-for-12 performance the Dolphins held the Bills to in last months' 35-8 loss and it's an astonishing feat. In two wins against an AFC East division rival the Dolphins held Buffalo to 0-for-23 on third downs.

   "I've never heard of that before," interim coach Todd Bowles said. "We've been lucky a little bit. They helped us out."

   Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 3-of-10 on third-down passes, throwing for 44 yards with one interception.

   "We got pressure up front and forced the quarterback to get off his spots," linebacker Karlos Danby said. "He made errant throws and some guys had to cut their routes short because we were covering them well. His timing got thrown off."

   Over the last five games, the Dolphins defense has allowed 8-of-58 third-down conversions (13.8 percent).

   The Dolphins hope to take their third-down stinginess into this weekend's game against the New England Patriots, which lit the Dolphins up for 622 yards and five touchdowns in the season opener.

   In that game, Tom Brady carved the Dolphins up, converting 8-of-13 third downs. But the Dolphins believe they're a totally difference defense than the one New England saw 14 weeks ago.

   The Dolphins struggled putting pressure on Brady last time, sacking him just once. Miami also couldn't get the Patriots off the field. Anything close to a third-down performance like the one the Dolphins had against the Bills could go a long way.

   LINEUP WATCH: For the first time in his four NFL seasons, Jake Long missed a game because of an injury. Long, the Dolphins' Pro Bowl left tackle and the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008, was replaced in the lineup by second-year guard John Jerry, who started his 12th NFL game. Long ended his streak of playing in 62 consecutive games, which includes a playoff game, because he didn't feel like his back was healthy enough during warm-ups.

   "He wasn't feeling that great on the plane ride," interim Dolphins coach Todd Bowles said. "We just had to wait and see if anything would kick in and he'd start feeling better."

   With temperatures in the 30s and light snow flurries falling before kickoff, Long's back stiffened up and the Dolphins decided to sit him.

   Jerry, who had never played left tackle at any level, fared well in Long's absence outside of a pair of third-quarter penalties on consecutive plays - one for holding, another for a false start.

   UNDER THE RADAR: Against Buffalo, defensive end Jared Odrick started his seventh game of the season and contributed his sixth sack. Odrick, the team's 2010 first-round pick, leads the defensive linemen in sacks despite playing fewer than 30 snaps a game. It's possible he'll be elevated into a starting role if the Dolphins let Kendall Langford leave as a free agent this offseason. Langford hasn't contributed a sack this season.

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