Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- The Buffalo Bills have been waiting for what happened on Sunday for the entirety of the 2013 regular season. We've seen glimpses, flashes and brief moments of brilliance in spots, but the one part of the team has always lacked the overall consistency.
The defense reigned supreme at Ralph Wilson Stadium, frustrating the Miami Dolphins and putting their playoff desires on hold for the time being.
While the Bills weren't playing for any postseason implications of their own, they accomplished a trio of goals with the Week 16 victory. They swept a division rival, they guaranteed at least a .500 record within the AFC East and they won consecutive games for the first time under head coach Doug Marrone.
How did they get there? Let's review:
Defense finally dominates for four quarters
- Since the Buffalo Bills have gotten the band back together on defense with close to full health, they've shown signs that they can be an overwhelming unit for opposing teams to deal with but haven't put a complete effort together on one specific Sunday. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his players could cross that milestone off the checklist after frustrating the Miami Dolphins all game long. The defense was surprisingly spectacular against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the majority of the game, but that was prefaced by Bobby Rainey's 80-yard touchdown run on just the second play from scrimmage. The Bills have always had the play or few plays that showed they still had work to do. No such play existed against this Sunday with the Bills that ended up costing them dearly. The Dolphins managed just 135 yards passing, 14 yards rushing and a total net yardage of 103 after the seven sacks were subtracted from the total. Full marks go to Pettine and the players on the defense, because they were a step ahead of Miami all game long.
- Undrafted rookie Nickell Robey garnered high praise from the coaching staff following the team's spring workouts about a month ahead of his first training camp. With a consistent effort in 2013, Robey made his presence felt throughout and the trust placed in him by the coaching staff was on display on Sunday. The defense continued to call blitzes for the nickel cornerback as the game continued and it resulted in a two-sack day. Robey has everything a team would want out of a cornerback: the physicality, toughness, instincts, ball skills and blitzing ability. The one thing he lacked was his height, but Robey has quickly proved that he more than makes up for his lack of a victory in genetics from football standards. As far as undrafted rookies go, the Bills got a steal in Nickell Robey.
Make no mistake… Fred Jackson is the lead back.
- Fred Jackson reached a milestone within the organization that only two men have done before him -- and they both happened to be the best running backs in franchise history. Jackson became the third player in Buffalo's history to gain 5,000 rushing yards for the organization, joining the likes of O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas. Jackson has been the calming presence for the offense and did it once again on Sunday against Miami. Constantly churning out more yardage than most running backs would, Jackson rushed for 111 yards on 19 carries and got the game's only touchdown to boot. Heading into the season, the Bills thought that C.J. Spiller would be the man that leads the rushing efforts, and for that matter, the offense. What they found out -- and it might even have caught them off-guard -- that the best running back on their roster was the elder-statesman.
Woods, Dareus both miss time for violating different rules
- Preaching accountability around the building, head coach Doug Marrone couldn't have been a happy camper both before and during the game with a couple of his young players. Wide receiver Robert Woods made an egregious error in judgement that is more than just a stereotypical "rookie mistake." Sometimes playing with a bit of a fiery edge to him, Woods attempted to upper cut a Dolphins defender that was already in the pile up after a play. It's an inexcusable mistake and one that cannot be repeated. Woods not only took a 15-yard penalty, but was ejected from the game completely for his immaturity, leaving Buffalo with only three healthy players at receiver for the remainder of the game. He likely will have a conversation with Marrone about the moment. Coming into the contest, the team elected to bench defensive lineman Marcell Dareus for the first quarter for violating a team rule, and you can read the specifics of that here. The Bills have good, young players in place, but it's on them to keep them on track from making these types of errors throughout a season when the games will actually count for something
Kyle "The Nature Boy" Williams
- The Bills have been led all season long on defense by Kyle Williams, who has rated as the team's top player throughout the campaign. Like he has most weeks, Williams once again stood out for extraordinary play against an offensive line that was begging to be beaten. The defensive lineman had two sacks against Miami, bringing his total up to 10.5 and also almost doubling his previous season high. His quickness of the snap and overall ability to disengage with interior linemen is just a thing of beauty, and whenever the Bills defense have been at their best it's with him starting the efforts. And yes, his Ric Flair sack dance was noticeable.
McKelvin breathes a sigh of relief
- Besides four underneath throws to Mike Wallace that went for 38 yards, cornerback Leodis McKelvin once again showed well for the Bills. The high-priced receiver was targeted a team-high 11 times and could only connect with a Miami quarterback on four of them. McKelvin followed him all game long and continued to present his burgeoning confidence that started near the halfway point of the season with the defense almost at full health. The cornerback was also able to cross something quite important to him off his checklist for the season. Leading up to the Miami game, McKelvin joked that he didn't want to be the only defensive back on the Bills to not have an interception in 2013. He got his wish after coming down with a pop fly late in the game. He is now the seventh defensive back on the Bills to force a turnover in that way.
Spiller no longer providing thrills
- C.J. Spiller has home run potential when he gets into some space and starts running with confidence. That side of Spiller, though, is decreasing and paving the way for the regressing tendencies he showed earlier in his career. While Jackson has shown the Bills' coaching staff that he is the back that they trust the most, Spiller has merely shown to Buffalo that he is only a second option at running back for the way that they are using him. He consistently tries to go wide on his runs when the play dictates for him to go up the field. Marrone wouldn't even look at Spiller after he ran out of bounds on third down at the end of the first half with the Dolphins out of timeouts. It could have been a costly mental lapse, but also could have been easily avoided had he just followed the blocks up field rather than looking for a big play. Spiller will likely be a free agent after the 2014 season, and you have to wonder what plans the Bills have for him after next year -- if any. With Jackson's age and his contract running out after 2014 as well, perhaps running back is a bigger need for Buffalo than anyone has talked about before.
Bills' MVP: Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine - In the humble opinion of your author, all the reasons that Mike Pettine will one day be considered for a head coaching position in the NFL was on display at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
Bills' LVP: WR Robert Woods - Getting ejected from a game when your team has it well in hand is simply inexcusable. Actually, getting ejected from a game at any point is inexcusable.
Draft Order Update: Through 15 games, the Bills hold the 11th overall pick. The only way this will change is if both Philadelphia and San Francisco win their games. If they do, the Bills and Giants will be in a tie for 10th overall. With Oakland's loss, the best draft pick the Bills can end up with is 8th overall. If Atlanta loses to San Francisco on Monday, the best draft pick the Bills can end up will be 9th overall.
Up Next: Sunday, December 29 at New England
- The Bills had nothing to gain in terms of their own playoff hopes, but they established that head coach Doug Marrone hasn't lost the locker room to the perception that some players on teams effectively employ the "run for the bus" strategy. The Bills are still playing hard, and they're playing for pride. While the draft order implications took a hit, Marrone and the Bills will look at this win as a vital one to establish themselves as a viable team in the AFC East moving forward. Heck, Miami lost to the Bills twice and EJ Manuel didn't take a snap in either of those games. If the Bills can finish off the season with a three-game winning streak and a win at Gillette Stadium (which has never happened before), they'll be carrying a hefty amount of momentum going into the off-season. Even if they don't win in Week 17, they still secured their first non-losing division record since 2007. Perhaps even better for the Bills, the defense finally started to realize their potential.