MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The race for the AFC playoffs has gotten tighter week after week.
The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins realize they have little room for error in their quest to reach the postseason.
With both looking to bounce back from frustrating defeats, the visiting Bills try for a fourth straight victory over the Dolphins on Thursday night.
Buffalo and Miami are both 5-4 and tied for second in the AFC East, two games behind New England. However, nine of the 11 AFC teams with winning records are ahead of the Bills and Dolphins.
Buffalo beat Miami 29-10 on Sept. 14 behind five field goals from Dan Carpenter. The ex-Dolphin has made 12 of 13 attempts during the Bills’ three-game winning streak in the series.
“You lose three in a row to anybody, it’s not going to feel good,” Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said. “The Bills play us very well. It’ll be a huge game. To get a win on Thursday night at home would feel great for us.”
Miami needs a much better rushing effort after gaining a season-low 50 yards in a 20-16 loss at Detroit that snapped a three-game winning streak Sunday. Though the Dolphins’ 228 yards also were a season low, they were in position to win before the Lions scored with 29 seconds remaining.
Miami was held to 80 rushing yards by Buffalo in Week 2, then averaged 137.8 on the ground in the six games prior to facing the Lions.
Nursing a sore shoulder, Lamar Miller was held to 10 yards on four carries Sunday. He gained 46 on 11 attempts at Buffalo in September.
The Bills allowed 405 rushing yards in the first six games, but have yielded 460 in the last three. Buffalo gave up 127 in Sunday’s 17-13 home loss to Kansas City, including a 39-yard touchdown to Jamaal Charles on fourth-and-1 early in the final quarter.
Winners of two straight prior to the defeat, the Bills blew a 13-3 lead and a chance to better position themselves to snap a 14-year playoff drought.
“We definitely lost an opportunity,” coach Doug Marrone said. “Now we’re going to have to fight our way back and find a way to win our next game.”
As the Bills focus on more effectively stopping the run, the offense can’t seem to shake its struggles in the red zone. Last in the NFL at 41.2 percent inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, Buffalo settled for two field goals in four trips Sunday.
Bryce Brown appeared headed for a 17-yard TD run early in the third quarter but lost a fumble a few steps from the end zone. Buffalo also turned the ball over on downs late in the fourth as Kyle Orton threw four straight incompletions from the Chiefs’ 15.
The Bills, whose 19 takeaways are tied with Miami and Arizona for second in the league, had one while committing three turnovers. They are tied with the Dolphins for seventh in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-5.
“We can’t change anything. It’s time to get ready for Miami,” safety Aaron Williams said. “If we want to get back to the playoffs, this is a really important game.”
The NFL leader with 34 sacks, Buffalo recorded six against the Chiefs. The Bills sacked Miami’s Ryan Tannehill four times in September.
Tannehill, who has been sacked 18 times and owns a 67.0 passer rating while going 1-4 against the Bills, could be in for another rough afternoon. Miami lost left tackle Branden Albert to a season-ending right knee injury against the Lions.
While rookie Ju’Wuan James will move from right to left tackle, it appears veteran left guard Daryn Colledge could miss a third straight contest with a back injury. After Albert was hurt, Dallas Thomas moved from left guard to right tackle, and Shelley Smith took over at left guard.
“What you saw is probably what you’re going to get (Thursday),” coach Joe Philbin said. “Those guys weren’t perfect, but overall I thought they held their own.”
Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins had eight catches for 117 yards with a TD in the September meeting with Miami. The rookie had 12 receptions for 279 yards and three touchdowns in the two games prior to last week, but managed only four for 27 while dealing with a sore groin against Kansas City.
Orton, who has thrown 10 TDs and three INTs while going 3-2 since replacing EJ Manuel as the starter, has never faced Miami.
Watch Miami take on the Buffalo Bills this Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBS4, your official Dolphins station!
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