By Tim Graham
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Even with the boos, Dan Carpenter's easiest play was his most important.
The final five plays that followed were much more harrowing.
Carpenter, back in the stadium where he kicked five seasons, made a 31-yard field goal to give the Buffalo Bills a 23-21 lead over the Miami Dolphins with 33 seconds to play.
"There really wasn't much thought process," Carpenter said. "Just kick it through those yellow things out there."
Then came the kickoff. And the tackle.
Yes, Carpenter had to make a tackle, and that's never good.
Then came four downs in which the Dolphins had a chance to get into field-goal range and win.
"I put our team in a really tough spot," Carpenter said.
Bills coach Doug Marrone noted they wanted a deep kickoff after the field goal, but Carpenter got under his kick too much. The ball came down at the 2-yard line.
Dolphins returner man Marcus Thigpen said he was "shocked" to field the ball. "I thought he was going to squib it or kick it out of the end zone. When I saw I had the opportunity, I was definitely excited about that."
Thigpen broke up the right sideline and into the open. With that, Carpenter's disappointment over the bad kickoff couldn't linger. He suddenly was on the spot. He had to make a tackle to stop Thigpen from scoring.
"Just get him on the ground any way you can," Carpenter said. "I didn't want the game to end that way."
He took a swipe at Thigpen's legs and got a piece. Thigpen was staggered but remained on his feet. Buffalo's pursuit caught up and forced Thigpen out of bounds at Miami's 46-yard line.
"I didn't tackle him," Carpenter said. "Credit to Thiggy for sure. When I hit him, I thought for sure he was going down. But he somehow stayed up."
Said Marrone: "I probably lost a couple years of my life out there on that play."
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw four passes. The last three were deep balls, including a fourth-down heave into the end zone intended for Brandon Gibson as time expired. The ball fell to the ground, incomplete.
"I'm a cheerleader at that point, unfortunately," Carpenter said. "I was extremely disappointed with my kickoff and gave them great field position. Our defense came up big and got off the field."
Carpenter went to a Pro Bowl for the Dolphins. He's fifth in Dolphins history with 535 points. He holds the club record with a career 81.9 field-goal percentage. His 60-yard field goal in 2010 is the longest in team history.
Carpenter claimed Sunday's game felt no different than any other. Marrone corroborated that sentiment based on how Carpenter carried himself throughout the day.
"When I left here," said Carpenter, also cut by the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets this summer before sticking with the Bills, "I just wanted to play football. There's a lot of good kickers in the league, and it's hard to get on a team and stay on a team.
"I'm thankful for the Bills giving me the opportunity, and I'm just trying to make the best of my situation."
Carpenter made all three of his attempts Sunday, and was booed on each one.
"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect," Carpenter said of the fan response. "I didn't know how the reception would be. On the first field goal, I got my answer."
Back in Week Two, Carpenter missed his first field-goal attempt with the Bills. He has converted 15 straight, three away from Rian Lindell's team record set in 2007.
Carpenter's Dolphins replacement, rookie Caleb Sturgis, was wide right on his lone attempt, a 51-yarder in the second quarter.
taggedDan Carpenter | Doug Marrone