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Bills suddenly on brink of elimination

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ORCHARD PARK, N. Y. — In the span of five days, the Buffalo Bills went from legitimate AFC playoff contenders to the pretenders that they have been for the past 14 years.

Back-to-back losses to fellow AFC hopefuls Kansas City (17-13) at home Sunday and then Thursday night at Miami (22-9) dropped the Bills to 5-5. With all five losses to AFC teams, the Bills are buried in the conference standings with almost no chance to make it to January.

“We’ve put ourselves in a difficult situation and now we have to fight our way out of it game by game,” said coach Doug Marrone.

The Bills have home games against the awful Jets and the rugged Browns to close out November, and then are confronted with a December gantlet that includes road games at Denver and New England, plus a home game against Green Bay.

“We know what we have to do in the future,” said quarterback Kyle Orton, who suffered through his worst game since taking over for EJ Manuel six weeks ago, throwing for just 193 yards. “We’ve got to go out and beat some good teams, that’s all of our focus.”

The issue against the Dolphins was the offense, or lack of it. The Bills managed only 237 yards and 13 first downs and failed twice more in the red zone, settling for Dan Carpenter field goals. They are now 0-for-6 in the red zone the last two games, and haven’t scored a touchdown from anywhere on the field in their last 21 possessions. Their last TD came on their first drive of the Kansas City game.

“My job’s to put points on the board, and whatever I need to do to get this offense better, I’m going to do,” said Orton, who completed 22 of 39 passes and missed several open receivers throughout the night.

Playing without injured running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, the Bills did a pretty good job running against the Chiefs, but they never got anything established in Miami and Anthony Dixon (35 yards) and Bryce Brown (14) averaged a combined three yards per attempt.

Once the Bills fell behind in the fourth quarter, they were forced to throw, and that’s when the Dolphins’ strong pass rush teed off. The Dolphins did not record a sack in the first seven quarters against Buffalo this season, but registered two in the fourth, plus numerous pressures, as the Bills still-struggling offensive line was helpless.

“It’s just not good enough, whatever the reason is,” Orton said of the recent offensive woes. “We’ll just have to go back and watch the tape, but our performance isn’t good enough right now.”

Meanwhile, Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin suffered a fractured ankle in Thursday’s loss and is out indefinitely. He fell awkwardly on his ankle as he missed a tackle on a 33-yard run by Lamar Miller in the second quarter.

McKelvin, a seventh-year veteran, has started nine games this season and is tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions.

“We’ll have to see what we’re going to do with that,” Marrone said of McKelvin’s injury. “We’re in discussions there, meaning the roster spot and what goes on and where we put him as far as IR and things like that.”

REPORT CARD VS. DOLPHINS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D — In his sixth start with the Bills, Kyle Orton saved his worst to date for the biggest game of the year. Just like last week against Kansas City, Orton struggled with his accuracy and went 22 of 39 for a season-low 193 yards. Sammy Watkins, still hobbled by a sore groin, had just three catches for 32 yards. Chris Hogan stood out with seven catches for 74 yards including four third-down conversions.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D — Fred Jackson was inactive, and the Bills missed him. Bryce Brown (14 yards) and Anthony Dixon (35) simply couldn’t get anything going, though part of the problem was that the Bills gave up on the running game in the second half and rushed for only three yards. They averaged 2.8 yards per carry against a stout and athletic Miami front.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus — Miami QB Ryan Tannehill has traditionally struggled against the Bills, but in winning for the second time in six starts against Buffalo, he looked like a different quarterback. He was an efficient 26 of 34 for 240 yards and two TDs, and he completed passes to nine different players. The Bills had a tough time dealing with play-action, and Miami’s first TD was a beautiful play-fake by Tannehill. Corey Graham had a team-high seven tackles and two pass breakups.

RUSH DEFENSE: C — The Bills have grown weaker against the run as the season has progressed. At one point they were No. 1 in the NFL, now they are 10th after the Dolphins gained 125 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt. Lamar Miller found a way to gain 86 yards on 15 carries, 33 coming on one breakaway where he took advantage of a Leodis McKelvin whiffed tackle, the play where McKelvin hurt his ankle. The Linebackers were invisible for the Bills with Preston Brown in on just five tackles, Nigel Bradham four and Brandon Spikes two.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C — Dan Carpenter made three field goals, but it’s the one that he missed that he’ll remember. He failed from 47 yards on a kick that would have tied the game at 12-12 in the fourth quarter. Colton Schmidt punted just twice for a 37.0 net, and Bryce Brown averaged 25 yards on three kickoffs, pressed into duty because of the injuries to C.J. Spiller and Marquise Goodwin.

–COACHING: D — The Bills faced a must-win game in difficult conditions, on the road for a Thursday night game, and they fell flat and the loss likely kills any real chance they had of contending for a playoff berth. Doug Marrone’s situational decisions continue to rankle Bills fans. His willingness to punt from the opponents’ territory is starting to grind on fans’ nerves. This time he did it with his team down 19-9 and 9:42 left to play, facing a fourth-and-6 at the Miami 47. Nathaniel Hackett’s offense hasn’t scored a red-zone touchdown since the Jets game, and Jim Schwartz’s defense melted in the second half and gave up two touchdown drives totaling 143 yards.

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