Tonawanda News

Bills

November 19, 2011

Surging Dolphins welcome fading Bills

MIAMI — Not long ago, Karlos Dansby was considered part of the problem for the Miami Dolphins, a too-buoyant anchor for an underachieving defense on a winless team.

And yet when Dansby recently proclaimed himself the NFL’s best linebacker, he won praise rather than ridicule for the bold assertion.

“You’ve got to have confidence,” teammate Brandon Marshall said. “Karlos Dansby saying he’s the best — he is. You look at a guy who flies around the field. He’s getting interceptions, sacks — that’s a Pro Bowl guy.”

The Dolphins’ confidence is on the rise, just like their win total. After losing their first seven games, the Dolphins (2-7) have a shot at their first three-game winning streak since 2008 when they play host to Buffalo (5-4) on Sunday.

The Bills, by contrast, are headed south in more ways than one. They ranked among the NFL’s most surprising teams by starting 4-1, but their season is at a crossroads after losses in three of the past four games. They were outscored 71-18 in defeats the past two weeks.

“You hope you have enough character on your team that you fight through tough times,” coach Chan Gailey said.

The Dolphins did just that in the season’s first two months, even as disheartened fans speculated on the chances of a coaching change or a shot at Andrew Luck in next year’s draft.

The breakthrough came with a blowout victory at Kansas City, followed by a win over Washington last week — the Dolphins’ first home triumph in nearly a year. They’re playing so much better that coach Tony Sparano used the word “better” 15 times during one of his daily news conferences this week.

Miami remains buried in the AFC East, where the other three teams have winning records, but the Dolphins refuse to give up on playoff hopes.

“It’s impossible until you do it,” Marshall said. “I’ve been hearing a lot the talk that we’re playing the spoiler mode. But we still have a shot. Now it’s a long shot, but we still have a shot.”

Miami’s most dramatic improvement has been by a defense regarded as the team’s strength heading into the season. In the first four games, the Dolphins gave up 415 yards per game and 6.4 per play. In the past five games, they’ve allowed 319 yards per game and 4.9 per play.

They’ve held the past two opponents without a touchdown.

“We’re doing a tremendous job of running to the football,” Sparano said. “There are a lot of folks getting to the ball on a lot of plays, and I think that’s been a big factor in us getting guys on the ground at a higher rate.”

One of those folks is Dansby, who has 41 tackles in the past four games. Against the Redskins he had two tackles for a loss, two passes defended, a quarterback hurry and a pivotal fourth-quarter interception.

“He’s an active player,” Gailey said. “He’s got a great grasp of the game. He plays with your mind a little bit moving around the way he does. He’s making plays in the open field and he’s making plays at the line of scrimmage. Every time you turn on the film, he shows up.”

Dansby said he hadn’t heard from any other linebackers around the league quarreling with his self-evaluation.

“They watch film just like I do,” he said. “I feel like I’m the best.”

Dansby’s unit will face a Buffalo offense that has bogged down of late. The Bills averaged 30.1 points in the season’s first seven games, but in the past two weeks they’ve totaled two TDs, and one came during garbage time.

“I think it’s just a phase, and it’ll pass,” receiver Stevie Johnson said. “We know what we’re doing wrong.”

One thing the Bills are doing wrong is committing turnovers. They had four, including a fumble by NFL rushing leader Fred Jackson, in last week’s 44-7 defeat at Dallas, their most lopsided loss since 2007.

Ryan Fitzpatrick endured his worst game of the year barely two weeks after signing a $59 million, six-year contract. In the past five games he has 10 turnovers, mistakes that buckled a defense ranked fourth-worst in the NFL.

Injuries have left the offensive line in flux, and even with Jackson, the Bills haven’t scored a rushing touchdown in the past three games. Defenses are crowding the line of scrimmage and limiting yards after the catch by receivers, a big part of the Bills’ success early in the season.

“Coming into the year, nobody expected anything out of us,” Fitzpatrick said. “We won some games and then the expectations came. Well, nobody expects anything out of us again. The way we’ve played, there’s not much expectation out there. So we’ve got to play loose. We’ve got no pressure on us.”

It’s never too late to salvage a season, as the Dolphins can attest.

AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this report.

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