Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins ‘out-crazy’ the Buffalo Bills to stay on the road to playoffs

Miami Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas (31) takes down Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) in the first quarter as the Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016.
Miami Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas (31) takes down Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) in the first quarter as the Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016.

Before this game began the Dolphins worked themselves up into something of a personal, private, 53-man frenzy.

The team’s go-to receiver was worked up and posting on Instagram. The running backs were in the end zone, listening to Damien Williams imploring them to make the Bills feel pain by day’s end. A defensive end was fired up and posting on Twitter. Players were talking among themselves about disliking the Buffalo Bills and punching first.

And, oh yes, coach Adam Gase was telling his team to “out-crazy” the Bills.

“There’s a dislike for that team,” safety Michael Thomas admitted afterward, “but there’s respect too because we understand where they come from. I’m just glad we battled and found a way to win.”

The Dolphins found a way to win after 65 points were scored, 1,083 yards were gained and an overtime was played. The Dolphins found a victory as that Andrew Franks kick traveled 27 modest yards through the uprights.

Dolphins 34.

Bills 31.

Did I mention there was a sideline melee? Yes, there was one of those, too, and the highlight was Buffalo linebacker Jerry Hughes thrusting his face mask into Miami special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi’s nose.

Peace on earth and good will toward man? Not so much.

And after all that — after the Dolphins guaranteed themselves their first double-digit-win season since 2008 got their first win in Buffalo since 2011 and continued their playoff chase that could end with a postseason berth as early as Christmas Day — everyone went mum.

Not mum as in silent.

Mum as in coy.

Landry declined to talk after the game, although beforehand he answered the Bills’ perceived threat of revenge for his October hit on safety Aaron Williams. That long-ago hit knocked Williams out for the season, and last week there was vague talk out of the Bills locker room about folks needing to keep their “head on a swivel.”

“I’m not hiding,” Landry answered in an Instagram post. “If you want some, come get some.”

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Interestingly, Landry didn’t have much of a game. He caught only three passes for 29 yards. But this game wasn’t supposed to be about him, anyway.

Games like this — rooted somewhere back in football’s stone age — are about being tough and running the football in cold, biting conditions. And both teams did that exactly as scripted.

Jay Ajayi rushed for 206 yards on 32 grunt-inducing carries. It was his 57-yard run in the overtime that set the Dolphins up for their winning kick. It was also his initial 2-yard score that gave the Dolphins their early lead. He also got help from backfield mate Kenyan Drake, who had a 45-yard touchdown run.

About that: Last week the Dolphins eased into their game with the New York Jets. The purpose of Gase imploring his team to be more crazy than the Bills was to get his players interested in this game from the jump. And they were. It worked.

The Dolphins led 14-0 with 13:34 left in the second quarter after the Ajayi and Drake touchdown runs. It looked like a blowout in the making at that point.

Except the Dolphins rarely play in blowouts. Sunday was the 11th game this team played that was decided by one score. The Dolphins are now 9-2 in those games, including two overtime wins. So, yes, toughness and resiliency are a characteristic of this team in close games.

But to get to a one-score game the Miami defense had to remember it is undermanned. Playing with a banged-up linebacker corps and against perhaps the best running back in the NFL in LeSean McCoy, the Dolphins basically had to hang on by a thread to stay in the game.

On a day Ajayi eclipsed 200 rushing yards, the Bills countered with 272 rushing yards.

(By the way, former Bills running back O.J. Simpson had two 200-yard games against New England in 1973 and Jamal Lewis did it in 2003 against Cleveland. Ajayi had two 200-yard games against the Bills this season, becoming the third NFL player to accomplish the feat.)

So the Bills fought back. Not shocking.

They’ve played six games where the difference between winning and losing has been one score. They’re 2-4 in those games.

“We had a lead, they kept fighting back,” guard Jermon Bushrod said. “They’re not going to give up. That’s just the mentality of their coach, their team and then when you come up here and play them in Buffalo, it was electric out there. It was fun. We knew we weren’t going to back down.”

Speaking of backing down ...

The Dolphins defense backed up. A lot.

The Bills had 30 first downs and were a very good 44 percent on third-down opportunities. McCoy averaged 5.3 yards per carry, former Dolphin Mike Gillislee averaged 8.3 yards per carry, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor gained 60 yards on 12 carries.

It was as if the Dolphins defense was helpless at times, especially when Buffalo had three touchdowns and a field goal its first four possessions of the second half.

But in overtime the Miami defense held.

The Bills missed a field goal from 48 yards out. And they were forced to punt on their second possession. Andre Branch had five tackles, three of which were for losses, and a quarterback hit on the day. He had a good game.

And that was expected because before the game he posted a picture of himself holding down Buffalo guard Richie Incognito from the first meeting this season. You’ll recall those two got into a bit of an exchange in that game. So Branch posted the picture and wrote:

“Killer instinct we can tell what’s pretend”

I asked Branch about that after the game, and he maintained he was merely paying homage to a Nipsey Hussle rap song. Gotcha, Andre. Had nothing to do with Incognito or the Bills.

That picture of Branch basically pinning Incognito just happened to pop up in the tweet.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Branch said. “Whatever we had to do to win the game, that’s what we did. We made one more play than they did.”

Look, the Dolphins made one more play against a team they despise. And although it was interesting that they tried to mask their feelings afterward, it didn’t change what happened on the field.

The Dolphins came to Buffalo ... and beat the Bills running the football, beat the Bills in a one-score game, beat the Bills despite sideline standoffs.

The Dolphins out-crazied the Bills.

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