December 4, 2010

2005: Chambers Has Record-Setting Day as Dolphins Rally to Beat Bills

The December 4, 2005 game at Dolphin Stadium between host Miami and the Buffalo Bills featured two 4-7 teams. The Dolphins, under the direction of first-year Head Coach Nick Saban, had just won for the first time in four weeks the game before. The offense was led by QB Gus Frerotte, a 34-year-old journeyman, and had been without RB Ricky Williams for the first four weeks due to a suspension for substance abuse.

The Bills were reeling under Head Coach Mike Mularkey. The club had parted company with veteran QB Drew Bledsoe in the offseason and handed the offense over to their 2004 first draft pick and quarterback-in-waiting, J.P. Losman. The inexperienced quarterback was struggling, and it was showing in the won-lost column.

The first quarter was dominated by the Bills. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Losman connected with WR Lee Evans for a 46-yard touchdown and quick 7-0 lead. On Miami’s third play, WR Chris Chambers (pictured above) caught a pass from Frerotte that gained 20 yards, but he fumbled when hit by CB Nate Clements and the Bills recovered at their own 44 yard line. Losman immediately went to Evans again, this time for a 56-yard TD.

Later in the period, following a 36-yard punt return by WR Roscoe Parrish to the Miami 26, Buffalo took six plays to score again, on a much shorter Losman-to-Evans pass that covered four yards. The score stood at 21-0 after one quarter of action.

The Dolphins snuffed out another threat in the second quarter when the Bills drove to the Miami 15 but Losman fumbled when sacked by LB Donnie Spragan and LB Channing Crowder recovered for the Dolphins. Still, Miami’s offense couldn’t move until the last drive of the half. Frerotte completed five passes as the Dolphins advanced to the Buffalo five yard line, but had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Olindo Mare. The Bills led by 21-3 at halftime.

Buffalo added to its lead in the third quarter when Frerotte was sacked in his end zone by LB London Fletcher for a safety. Suffering a concussion on the play, the veteran quarterback did not return. Meanwhile, the Bills drove to the Dolphins’ three and faced a first-and-goal situation when Losman was intercepted by CB Sam Madison. The Dolphins weren’t able to immediately capitalize, as backup QB Sage Rosenfels, running a no-huddle offense through much of the ensuing possession, drove the team down to the Buffalo nine but turned the ball over on downs with just seconds remaining in the period.

Following a Buffalo punt, the Dolphins were more successful on their next possession as Williams capped a nine-play, 70-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run. Still, the score was 23-10 in favor of the visitors. But the Bills had to punt again, and once more Miami, going without a huddle for much of the way, scored on 23-yard pass play from Rosenfels to RB Ronnie Brown. Buffalo’s lead was narrowed to 23-17.

It seemed as though the margin would hold up when Rosenfels was intercepted by DE Aaron Schobel near midfield on the next Miami possession. The Bills took over with 2:29 remaining to play. The Dolphins called two timeouts and took advantage of the two-minute warning to get the ball back at their 27 yard line following a punt.

Only about 25,000 of the original crowd of 72,051 were still on hand as the Dolphins drove down the field. Rosenfels hit Chambers for a 57-yard gain to the Buffalo 16. Eight plays later, on fourth-and-four and with six second left, Rosenfels lobbed a pass from four yards out that Chambers came down with for a touchdown. Mare kicked the extra point and the Dolphins came away with a 24-23 comeback win. All of their touchdowns had occurred in the final period.

The Dolphins had not overcome a margin as large as 20 points since 1974. They outgained Buffalo, 434 yards to 294, and had 26 first downs to 16 for the Bills. Miami accumulated 387 net passing yards, going to the air a team-record 65 times, with Chris Chambers setting new franchise single game records with 15 catches for 238 yards.

Sage Rosenfels (pictured below) accounted for 272 of the passing yards while completing 22 of 37 passes with two touchdowns and an interception. Before getting knocked out of the game, Gus Frerotte was successful on 12 of 28 throws for 115 yards and had no scores or interceptions. Ricky Williams was the leading rusher, gaining 46 yards on 11 carries with a TD.

J.P. Losman completed 13 of 26 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns – all in the first quarter – and had one picked off. Wasted (and overshadowed by Chambers) was a fine performance by Lee Evans with 5 pass receptions for 117 yards and all three TDs. RB Willis McGahee gained 81 yards rushing on 27 attempts. The failure to take advantage of opportunities to pad the lead ultimately proved disastrous for Buffalo.

“We really like for everyone to get their money's worth,” Nick Saban joked afterward. “You talk about playing 60 minutes, and it's a cliche, but this was an example of that today.”

“I took a quick, deep breath and said, ‘Relax,’” Rosenfels said regarding the pass to Chambers for the game-winning score. “The clock was running. We figured whatever coverage they were in, the best play was to throw it up for Chris.”

From the Buffalo perspective, a disappointed Losman said, “Nobody will know how this feels unless they've been in the locker room. I can't really describe it, because I'm no Shakespeare.”

The win proved to be a high point in a season-ending surge for Miami. The Dolphins won six straight to close out the schedule for a 9-7 tally. It was good enough for second place in the AFC East, although not a playoff spot. Buffalo kept going in the wrong direction, winning just once more and finishing at 5-11 and third in the division. Both Coach Mularkey and GM Tom Donahoe were dismissed.

In his fifth season, the huge performance against Buffalo by Chris Chambers was considered a turning point. He ended up setting career highs in receptions (82), yards (1118), matched his previous best with 11 touchdowns, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. But his performance dropped off in ’06 and during a disastrous 2007 season for the team, he was dealt away to the Chargers. As the record-setting game against Buffalo showed, Chambers had outstanding ability, but he lacked consistency and was dogged by injuries (he wasn’t helped by instability at quarterback).

In his second year, Lee Evans (pictured below) caught 48 passes for 743 yards (15.5 avg.) and seven touchdowns; his best seasons were yet to come. J.P. Losman passed for 1340 yards with eight touchdowns and as many interceptions – more critically, the team’s won-lost record with him as the starting quarterback was a woeful 1-7 and, between ineffectiveness and injury, twice lost the job to Kelly Holcomb. While 2006 proved to be a better year for him, ultimately his tenure in Buffalo was a disappointment.