Dol­phins bet­ter, Bills worse since last time they met

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By STEVEN WINE AP Sports Writer

MI­AMI (AP) >> The Mi­ami Dol­phins have been gain­ing ground the past few weeks on the Buf­falo Bills, mud­dling the race be­tween peren­nial AFC East also-rans.

Mi­ami fell to 0-6 when it lost in Week 7 at Buf­falo, which was 5-1 and off to its best start in 11 years.

But the Bills (6-3) have since lost two of three, quash­ing any il­lu­sions they were on the verge of chal­leng­ing New Eng­land’s supremacy in the di­vi­sion. The Dol­phins (2-7), mean­while, have qui­eted talk they’re his­tor­i­cally hor­ri­ble by win­ning their past two games.

“The out­side world, the me­dia, maybe thought this wasn’t pos­si­ble,” Mi­ami de­fen­sive tackle Chris­tian Wilkins said. “We got two more wins than the rest of the world thought we were go­ing to have this year, so that’s pretty cool.”

The Dol­phins did ap­pear des­tined for a win­less sea­son after they gave up 22 points in the fourth quar­ter and lost at Buf­falo 31-21 on Oct. 20. The teams meet again Sun­day. “We’re dif­fer­ent than we were when we played Buf­falo last time,” Mi­ami coach Brian Flores said. “And so are they.”

TREND­ING FOR­WARD

Much of the Dol­phins’ im­prove­ment has come on de­fense. A month into the sea­son, they ranked last in the league in points and yards al­lowed. In Weeks 6 through 9, they ranked 15th in scor­ing de­fense and 14th in yards al­lowed.

“When we played them, they were we felt a bet­ter team than what their record in­di­cated,” Bills coach Sean McDer­mott said. “And that has been proven. They’re play­ing hard and they’re dis­ci­plined. They don’t beat them­selves.”

The Dol­phins’ win­ning streak has hurt their chances of land­ing the No. 1 draft pick in April, to the dis­tress of their fans and the amuse­ment of their play­ers.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing nar­ra­tive that ob­vi­ously has been fol­low­ing our team the whole year,” quar­ter­back Ryan Fitz­patrick said. “It has been nice to get two wins and to kill the nar­ra­tive a lit­tle bit.”

TREND­ING BACK­WARD

The Bills’ of­fense has stag­nated lately. They rank 25th in points and have to­taled 29 in their past two de­feats.

“We’ve got to score more points to en­able our­selves to win games and to be a threat down the stretch,” McDer­mott said.

Only two teams have al­lowed fewer points, but the

Bills’ run de­fense has be­come leaky lately. In their three games since the win over Mi­ami, the Bills have al­lowed 492 yards rush­ing.

Be­cause of soft run de­fense, op­pos­ing of­fenses haven’t been forced into risky pass plays, and Buf­falo’s de­fense doesn’t have a take­away in the past three games.

“We have to do a bet­ter job in the run game, which will hope­fully in­crease the num­ber of shots peo­ple want to take,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Les­lie Fra­zier said.

Mi­ami man­aged a sea­son-high 109 yards rush­ing against Buf­falo last month but is av­er­ag­ing a league-low 3.1 yards per at­tempt.

MAK­ING DO

After los­ing the three best de­fen­sive backs on their Week 1 ros­ter to a trade and in­juries, the Dol­phins have been win­ning with a patch­work sec­ondary.

Un­drafted rookie Nik Need­ham and waiver ac­qui­si­tion Steven Parker each had his first ca­reer in­ter­cep­tion last week, and Eric Rowe has been forced to switch from cor­ner­back to safety.

“In this league, that’s what you an­tic­i­pate — stuff like that,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Pa­trick Gra­ham said. “If you’re not think­ing ahead and try­ing to an­tic­i­pate those sit­u­a­tions in a phys­i­cal league, you’re go­ing to be be­hind, be­cause it’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

BALL HAWK

Cor­ner­back Tre’Davi­ous White made a div­ing in­ter­cep­tion at the Bills 2-yard line to spark their come­back against Mi­ami last month. Fitz­patrick said that play will fac­tor into his prepa­ra­tion in the re­match.

“Maybe not throw­ing an out route near the goal line this time, that’s a pretty good les­son that I prob­a­bly learned 100 times in my ca­reer,” Fitz­patrick said. “But learned it again the hard way in our first game.”

White also forced a fum­ble in the sec­ond half of that game.

“He does jump out on film,” Fitz­patrick said.

RIS­ING ROOKIE

One big rea­son for the Dol­phins’ im­prove­ment on de­fense is the 315-pound Wilkins, Mi­ami’s firstround draft choice this year.

“He has re­ally started to pick it up the last few games,” Flores said. “He’s very tal­ented. He’s got size, he’s got ath­leti­cism, he plays with a re­ally good mo­tor, and I think he’s start­ing to come into his own.”

Wilkins leads de­fen­sive line­men in the 2019 draft class with 32 tack­les and ranks sev­enth among all tack­les.

WILFREDO LEE - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mi­ami Dol­phins de­fen­sive back Chris Lam­mons, left, hugs head coach Brian Flores, cen­ter, after an NFL foot­ball game against New York Jets, Sun­day, Nov. 3, 2019, in Mi­ami Gar­dens, Fla.

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