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Marvelous third-down production saved Bills from early down misery

By Tim Graham

Mug half-full: Thad Lewis and the Buffalo Bills were phenomenal on third down Sunday.

Mug half-empty: They were raggedy on first and second downs.

The Bills escaped Sun Life Stadium with an improbable 23-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins. The chances the Bills could win based on their first- and second-down production were scrawny.

"We were struggling," Bills coach Doug Marrone said today. "Give Miami credit on first and second down. We weren't putting ourselves in very good situations. It's very difficult."

But the Bills converted three of their eight third downs in which they needed to gain at least 10 yards and moved the sticks on five of their 12 third downs of 7 yards or longer.

Before Sunday, the Bills had converted one of their 21 third downs of 10 yards or longer and four of their 37 third downs of 7 yards or longer.

Lewis was exceptional on third down, completing 12 of his 13 passes for 150 yards and no interceptions. The lone incompletion was dropped by Tashard Choice. Lewis then completed 12 straight third-down passes, five of them for first downs.

Buffalo's four biggest conversions:

  • Fred Jackson 21-yard catch and run on third and 15 in the first quarter.
  • Lewis 30-yard pass to T.J. Graham on third and 17 in the second quarter.
  • Lewis 17-yard pass to Stevie Johnson on third and 11 in the third quarter.
  • Lewis 12-yard pass to Scott Chandler on third and 9 in the fourth quarter.

The Bills put themselves in such low-percentage situations because they struggled on their first two downs.

Their average third-down distance was 8.47 yards. They gained an average of 8.42 yards, propelling them to a season-high conversion rate of 47 percent. That also was the best rate for a Dolphins opponent despite their defense doing its job on other downs.

"We couldn't really execute," Marrone said Sunday. "When you go back and look at the stat sheet and see first and second down, we really struggled. ... We really weren't in sync like we should be."

On their 26 first downs, including a Doug Legursky false-start penalty and excluding a kneeldown to kill the first-half clock, the Bills netted 86 yards.

Lewis completed three of his five passes for 32 yards and was sacked for a 5-yard loss. The Bills ran 19 times for 64 yards. Jackson's 3-yard touchdown run was on a first-and-goal play.

Second downs were deplorable. The Bills netted 13 yards on their 21 second-down plays.

Lewis connected on only six of his 14 attempts for 20 yards, but he was sacked twice and fell on a fumble for a total of 19 yards in losses.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett started the game with 11 straight pass plays on second down, not trying a run play until after halftime. Lewis most frequently went to Johnson on second down, targeting him six times.

Of Johnson's eight first-half targets, five came on second down. None was completed, with one interception.

The Bills ran four times on second down -- all in the second half -- for 12 yards.

For the game, Buffalo gained only four first downs on first- or second-down plays and just one in the second half.


Doug Marrone | Fred Jackson | Scott Chandler | Stevie Johnson | T.J. Graham | Tashard Choice | Thad Lewis
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |