The season is heading in opposite directions for the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, which has brought them closer together in the AFC East standings.
The Bills (4-7) have won two games in a row to stoke enthusiasm about their long-term outlook with rookie quarterback Josh Allen, while the Dolphins (5-6) have lost two straight and six of eight to sour their season.
Both teams will likely be playoff spectators, as usual, but there will be a stark contrast in moods when the longtime rivals square off Sunday.
Here are things to know about the 109th game between the Bills and Dolphins, and the first of two meetings in December:
The Bills have a shot at only their second three-game winning streak since September 2011. They’ve gained more than 300 yards in each of the past two games after failing to do so in the first six. And they finished strong last week, scoring twice in the fourth quarter to beat Jacksonville 24-21.
That made the Bills 2-1 in one-score games. They beat Tennessee 13-12 in Week 5.
“One of the things that you always want to check off year to year, especially when you first get into the transition of taking over, is that you develop the mindset to win close games,” second-year Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “You saw the Tennessee game, you saw this past week’s game, and we’re there as far as that goes. That’s a mindset that’s easier said than done.”
Just ask the Dolphins, who blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to lose for the second time this season last week at Indianapolis.
“We gave it away,” running back Frank Gore said. “We should have won that game.”
To keep their faint playoff hopes alive, the Dolphins need to beat the Bills twice, and then some.
“For us to control our destiny, we have to win out,” running back Kenyan Drake said.
The matchup of sub-.500 teams may lack luster, but Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said he’s fired up about it. Released by the Dolphins during Week 5, he said the move to Buffalo turned around his career, and he’s eager to settle old scores against Miami.
“If you watch me play, I don’t hold anything back,” Phillips said. “I’m an emotional guy, and whatever happens happens. I’m not going to get any flags or anything like that, but I’m going to show my emotions.”
Phillips will need to get on the field first. In seven games with Buffalo he has played 163 snaps.
The Dolphins are braced for the 6-foot-5 Allen as a multi-purpose threat after he set a Bills record by rushing for 99 yards against Jacksonville.
“He had a run on a draw where he stiff-arms a defensive end, makes one of the DBs miss and then runs through one of the linebackers, all in 14 yards,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “That athletic ability just surprises people because of his size.”
Allen’s counterpart, 30-year-old Ryan Tannehill, said he couldn’t offer any recollections regarding the challenges he faced as a rookie quarterback.
“That was so long ago, I feel like I’m 90 compared to my rookie year,” Tannehill said with a laugh.
A knack for takeaways has been the Dolphins’ strength. They rank second in the NFL with 17 interceptions, and cornerback Xavien Howard is tied for second in the league with five. Howard has nine interceptions in his past 16 games, the most of any player over that stretch.
“If he can get his hands on it, he’s catching it,” Gase said. “That’s really the part you don’t see a ton with corners.”
Miami’s Leonte Carroo will likely see significant playing time because of injuries to the receiving corps. Carroo, who began the season on the practice squad, said he received almost 300 congratulatory text messages after making a 74-yard touchdown catch against Indianapolis.
“It was a long wait for family and friends and college buddies to see me go out there and make a play,” Carroo said. “A lot of people back home and just everywhere showed me a lot of love.”
Source: The Associated Press