Bills' D finally shows up in 19-14 win

JOHN WAWROW AP Sports Writer Published:

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- It might be time to consider calling off the search party for Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills' long-lost defense.

For one week at least, the high-priced, much-maligned unit wasn't missing in action.

Williams -- Buffalo's $100 million defensive end -- had one of the team's three sacks, and safety Jairus Byrd recovered a fumble and had an interception in a much-needed, long-awaited stifling performance that produced a 19-14 win over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night.

"That's how it's supposed to be," Williams said. "It was definitely a must win. With the way things turned out earlier in the season, we had to come out and play like it's the playoffs."

A defense that entered the game ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed and dead last in giving up an average 31.67 points, limited the Dolphins to 184 yards and 16 first downs. Buffalo held Reggie Bush to a mere 20 yards -- or 183 fewer than the Dolphins running back in his previous trip to Orchard Park last December.

Just as important, the defense closed it out by forcing turnovers on Miami's final two drives.

Byrd intercepted rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill's pass with a diving catch at Buffalo's 35 with 1:54 left. And Bryan Scott followed a little over a minute later, jumping in front of Tannehill's pass intended for Davone Bess at midfield.

"Seeing the predicament we're in, it was a must win," Byrd said. "We dug this hole for ourselves."

And here was the first step in attempting to dig out of it.

The Bills (4-6) snapped a three-game skid and won for only the second time in seven games to stay on the fringe of the AFC playoff hunt. Buffalo also ended several other inglorious skids, by beating a division rival for the first time in nine meetings, and snapping an 11-game prime-time drought that dated to 2001.

Jets sticking with Sanchez

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez is still the New York Jets' franchise quarterback despite being mired in one of the worst slumps of his career.

Tim Tebow, however, is still the team's most talked-about quarterback.

Yep, the backup has been the center of attention most of this week for a team struggling to stay competitive during a season on the verge of slipping away. Anonymous players were quoted earlier in the week in media reports criticizing Tebow's abilities at the quarterback position, which is preventing the Jets from pulling Sanchez.

"I don't think it's like a backhanded compliment or anything like that," he said Wednesday. "Guys know that I'm working hard, trying to fix my mistakes and that we're all in this thing together. Guys are taking responsibility and now we just need to fix our mistakes, and it's not one person. It's multiple things that have kind of built up and really hurt us as a team."

New York coach Rex Ryan remains committed to Sanchez as his team's leader -- while Tebow is still just a part-time contributor who many think should be given a chance at rescuing the Jets' season. Owner Woody Johnson also backed Sanchez on Thursday when he was asked during practice if he still views Sanchez as the franchise quarterback.

"He is our franchise quarterback," Johnson said. "I don't 'view' him that way -- that's what he is."

That support comes even as Sanchez is ranked near the bottom of the NFL in several passing categories. In the Jets' last three games, all losses, Sanchez has thrown two touchdown passes and three interceptions, lost three fumbles and been sacked 11 times.

Jones status still in question

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones missed practice for the second straight day with an ankle injury on Thursday and will be a game-time decision against Arizona.

Jones was injured in last week's loss at New Orleans.

Coach Mike Smith did not say which ankle is bothering Jones.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is rehabbing a sprained right ankle and hopes to avoid missing his third straight game.

Defensive end John Abraham (back), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (thigh), receiver Harry Douglas (ankle), tight end Tony Gonzalez (shoulder), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (groin), running back Michael Turner (groin) and defensive tackle Vance Walker (ribs) were all limited in practice.

Packers ready for 'Megatron'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The temptation when playing a receiver as big, strong and scary good as Calvin Johnson is to get aggressive, try to outmuscle him and hope it throws him off his game.

Do that, and you may as well ask the Screen Actors Guild for membership because the highlights of Megatron's mega-day will be all over TV for the rest of the week. Maybe the rest of the season.

"The guy's just too strong," Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said Thursday. "He just kind of throws you here and there and gets you out of position, and you don't want that. So you can't play him that way."

Williams ought to know. He's seen Johnson twice a year for the last four seasons now, and it will be his responsibility to make sure the NFL's leading receiver (in yardage) doesn't have a record-setting day Sunday like he did the last time the Packers (6-3) and Detroit (4-5) played. After managing just 49 yards and four catches in Detroit's first game against Green Bay last year, Johnson torched Williams and the Packers in the rematch for 244 yards on 11 catches, both career highs.

The 244 yards receiving were the most ever given up by the Packers, and also was tops in the NFL last year.

"Some games you may come in and you may slow him down. Some games you may come in and you may not," Williams said. "You've just got to go in and have that mindset that you will go out and get your job done."

To be fair, Williams was barely hanging on by that game, the regular-season finale. He'd bruised a nerve in his right shoulder in the season opener, and never really recovered. After a team-high nine interceptions in 2010, he had just four last year, none after Nov. 20.

Foles ready to start

PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles practiced with the first team this week and stuck around for extra film work.

He's ready to make his first career NFL start for the Philadelphia Eagles.

All he needs now is to officially and publicly be named the starter. The Eagles again practiced another day without injured quarterback Michael Vick. The veteran has sat out since suffering a severe concussion in last week's loss to Dallas, turning playcalling duties over to Foles, a third-round draft pick.

Foles relieved Vick against the Cowboys and is ready to start Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Because Vick had not completed his concussion testing, he has not officially been ruled out of Sunday's game. That could come Friday when coach Andy Reid talks to the media after practice.

"He will see some things that he hasn't seen before, and how he reacts to those things will be key," Mornhinweg said Thursday. "That would be the two biggest things right at the front of my mind that we've talked about."

The Eagles and Redskins are both 3-6 and badly need a win to even begin thinking about a .500 season. Foles was 22 of 32 for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception in relief of Vick. Those numbers weren't enough to help the Eagles avoid their fifth straight loss, a first in coach Reid's 14 seasons.

Cutler making progress

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler missed practice on Thursday and his playing status remains in question because of a concussion.

Coach Lovie Smith said Cutler continues to improve, but it's not clear if he'll be ready to play at San Francisco on Monday night.

If Cutler can't play, Jason Campbell will likely start.

The Bears believe Cutler was injured on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Houston's Tim Dobbins late in the second quarter of Sunday's loss. He finished the half but sat out the final two quarters after showing symptoms in the locker room at the break.

Cutler needs to be cleared by team physicians and independent neurological consultants before he can return. The same goes for teammate Shea McClellin and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who also suffered concussions last week.

Timmons not a typical LB

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- James Harrison rarely holds back when it comes to controversial comments.

Larry Foote's a congenial chatterbox on and off the field.

And among great Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers of the recent past, Joey Porter was known for his trash talking and James Farrior for his vocal leadership.

Something about the position, maybe.

Then, of course, there's Lawrence Timmons, arguably the best linebacker for the best statistical defense in the NFL. Timmons hardly fits the mold of a loud and rambunctious Steelers linebacker -- past or present.

But he's just as productive, if not more. And he will be in focus when his Steelers (6-3) face the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) in an AFC North showdown Sunday night.

"Man, if Lawrence says more than two words to you, I guess you're his friend," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton quipped. "I might not be his friend. I don't think he's said more than two words to me since he's been here."

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