Twelve years. 

That's how long it's been since the Buffalo Bills last won a prime-time game. On Thursday night, that streak ended.

The Bills, thanks to a strong defensive performance and key special teams plays, beat the Miami Dolphins 19-14 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. 

The win also snaps Buffalo's three-game losing streak. The Bills last won on Oct. 14 against Arizona.

Here is this week's Buffalo Bills report card:

GRADING THE UNITS

OFFENSE - C

I mention the Bills red zone offense below, so I won't talk about that too much. The bottom line: The Bills need touchdowns. Kicking four field goals isn't going to cut it in most games. You need touchdowns. The Bills were fortunate to win the game Thursday without an offensive touchdown. 

The good news: C.J. Spiller was productive, rushing for 91 yards and racking up 130 total yards. Stevie Johnson had six catches for 79 yards in the win. 

The bad news: The Bills' passing attack wasn't productive. Not counting Johnson and Spiller, there was only one catch for more than 10 yards. The passing game was a big reason why the team didn't convert on third downs. The Bills only converted two of their 12 third down conversion opportunities. 

As for Ryan Fitzpatrick, he was fine. He didn't make mistakes. He made a couple of nice throws, but he also missed his targets in the red zone. It wasn't a bad game for Fitzpatrick, but he can play better.

DEFENSE - B+

There's a lot to like about this performance. A lot.

First, the run defense. On paper, the Bills have one of the worst run defenses in the league. But Thursday was a different story. The Dolphins had 60 yards rushing. Miami's Reggie Bush had only 20 yards rushing, while Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas had 33 yards on the ground. 

The front four played well. Mario Williams, Kyle Moore and Shawne Merriman all had sacks and Kyle Williams had a couple of tackles. Overall, a solid performance by the defensive line.

The secondary committed some penalties, but they came up big when they had to. Jairus Byrd's interception late in the fourth quarter stopped Miami in their tracks. Bryan Scott's interception sealed the deal with under a minute left. 

If the Bills defense plays like this the rest of the way, they will have a chance to win every game. The key will be the run defense. We'll see if the run defense can continue to be successful in the coming weeks. 

SPECIAL TEAMS - A-

I'm generous. They should get a lower grade for allowing that kickoff return touchdown, but overall, a great performance by the special teams unit.

Leodis McKelvin's 79-yard punt return touchdown was the only TD scored by the Bills. Kicker Rian Lindell's four field goals rounded out the scoring for Buffalo. And punter Shawn Powell had a nice game, with five of his punts landing inside the 20. 

COACHING - D+

The defense played well. I don't know what Dave Wannstedt is doing differently -- the scheme appears to be the same -- but the players are producing. It makes him look good, even if he doesn't deserve it. (Maybe he does.)

But my beef with Chan Gailey continues. In the first half, the Bills had two 3rd-and-1 opportunities. They failed to convert both. Why? On one of the plays, Gailey decided to send out the wildcat offense with Tashard Choice running the ball up the middle for no gain. Why did he do that, with C.J. Spiller in the lineup? Who knows. 

But that wasn't the worst play call. On 3rd-and-1 deep in Miami territory, Gailey went with an empty set. Again, they needed one yard. If you didn't know any better, you would have thought the Bills needed 20 yards. They didn't convert and ended up kicking a field goal. 

His play calls at the end of the first half were just as bad.

Gailey's play calling is hurting this team. He needs to be smarter, not only with the plays, but with the personnel. 

Game Ball

C.J. Spiller and Jairus Byrd. Byrd had two tackles, a fumble recovery and a fourth quarter interception. A few players on defense could get a game ball tonight, but Byrd's big plays made a difference.

And then there's C.J. Spiller.

Spiller rushed 22 times for 91 yards. He also had three catches for 39 yards. It wasn't his best game this season, but he got the job done. He was the best player on offense for the Bills. He now has more than 1,000 total yards this season.

Needs Improvement

Red zone offense. The Bills had plenty of chances to score deep in Miami territory. Case in point: The end of the first half. The Bills had a couple of chances from the one-yard line to score, but they couldn't convert. They had to settle for a field goal -- one of four in the first half. 

The Bills were lucky Thursday night. They had plenty of help from their defense and special teams. But you're not going to get that support every game. The offense needs to score touchdowns in the red zone. It's that simple. Because the Bills failed to convert in the red zone, the Dolphins were able to get back in the game. 

That's why those red zone opportunities are so important. It's the difference between a five-point win and a five-touchdown win. 

Up Next

At 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, the Bills will play the Indianapolis Colts. After the Colts game, the Bills will play four of their final five games at home.

(1) comment

Missileer
Missileer

What irks me is the ridiculous wildcat formations. He has repeatedly tried them numerous times per year and they never fool anyone. Usually, it ends up in a loss of yardage for the play. This isn't rocket science, why can't he figure it out? And you're right, the inexplicable calls on 3rd and short are dumbfounding.

Another issue is Fitzpatrick. He can't hit the broad side of a barn if it's 20 yards down field. Everyone complained about Captain Checkdown, but Fitz does the same things. He is pretty accurate in the short passes, but still makes really bad decisions. Everyone calls him a gunslinger, but in reality, he is just a poor passer.

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