TORONTO — Even though he was playing far from Miami, in another country no less, Ronnie Brown felt right at home.
The Miami Dolphins running back admitted the prospect of facing arch-rival Buffalo in the first-ever NFL regular-season contest played in Canada was daunting, given he figured the Bills’ close proximity to Rogers Centre would make them the overwhelming favourite among Toronto football fans.
That is, until he and the Dolphins went out for the pre-game warmup and were greeted by a healthy representation of aqua and orange in the stands. Brown said that boost helped Miami capture a historic 16-3 win over the Bills on Sunday to move into a tie atop the AFC East Division with New England and the New York Jets.
Heady stuff for a Dolphins squad that was the laughing stock of the NFL last year with a dismal 1-15 record.
"Obviously we came up here and Toronto was new scenery for us," said Brown, who ran for a game-high 70 yards on 16 carries. "But we went out and saw the people in aqua and orange and it made a pretty big difference.
"You don’t feel like you’re playing an away game and you’re excited for the support."
The game was the second of eight Buffalo will host at Rogers Centre through the 2012 season. The first contest was an exhibition game the Bills won 24-21 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in August.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Rogers Centre roof was closed and the game was played in balmy 22 C conditions, a stark contract to the bitterly cold (-7 C) and windy conditions that were outside of the facility. Once again, there were no corporate logos on the artificial turf — just the Bills crest at centre field and their team name in both end zones– but what was most noticeable was the 10-yard end zones on an NFL field compared to the 20-yard end zones in Canadian football.
Buffalo came into the game with a commanding 7-2 record in games against Miami past Dec. 1. However, the previous ones were all played at Orchard Park, N.Y., where gusting winds and freezing temperatures have proven to be a big hindrance for the warm-weather Dolphins.
The Toronto-based group that secured the games — dubbed Bills Toronto Series — was looking to showcase the city as a viable home for a full-time NFL franchise. However, once again the game wasn’t a sellout.
The announced attendance was 52,134 — which certainly seemed generous — and was short of the 54,000-seat capacity Rogers Centre has for football. On Sunday, the facility didn’t look as full as it was for the exhibition game, which attracted less than 49,000 spectators.
The crowd was at its most boisterous during ‘O Canada’. Midway through the national anthem, the fans began singing and completely drowned out performer Kreesha Turner.
"That was strong," said Dolphins running back Ricky Williams, the former Toronto Argonaut who ran for 40 yards but had a 14-yard TD scamper negated by a penalty. "I got kind of emotional during the national anthem (when fans began singing).
"It (O Canada) is a beautiful song and I hadn’t heard it in a while. It wasn’t clear who the home team was and that’s nice for us."
The gathering was certainly knowledgeable and cheered following obvious big plays. But overall, the contest lacked atmosphere, partly because Miami was so dominant. The Dolphins had the ball for over 37 minutes, outrushed the Bills 115-85 and outgained them 295-163.
."I thought both sides of the ball did a nice job," said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. "Defensively we were able to get off the field on third down, we were able to stop the run, which was a goal coming in here.
"Offensively we were able to rush the football enough … and put some drives together in those situations. It was exciting coming to Toronto and playing in this venue, but the most important thing was getting the eighth win."
.Still, the attendance was disappointing as event organizers are paying the Bills an average of $9.75 million per game. Steep ticket prices, ranging from $75 to $575, certainly haven’t helped as in both instances the Toronto group staging the contest has had to "distribute" tickets.
Buffalo was the home team, but only in name, a fact not lost upon the Bills.
"It felt like we were on the road," said Bills tackle Jason Peters."
"It was cool, it was fun but Buffalo fans are a lot more rowdy," added Buffalo defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. "We could have used that rowdiness today.".
Quarterback Chad Pennington was 23-of-29 passing for 181 yards and a TD as Miami (8-5) earned its sixth win in seven games. The Dolphins also won both contests against Buffalo for their first season sweep since ’03.
"Our offensive line came set the tone with the running game," said Pennington. "They created some holes for the running backs and the running backs hit the holes at the right time."
Buffalo (6-7) is last in the AFC East, having lost six of its last seven contests after a promising start to the season — winning its first four games and five of its opening six. While still mathematically alive, the Bills would need a miracle not to miss the NFL playoffs for the ninth straight year.
And for the second straight week, Buffalo’s anemic offence managed just a field goal.
Bills coach Dick Jauron decried the "poor execution" of his offence, but was encouraged by the defensive efforts, which gave the team a chance to come back in the late third and fourth quarters.
"It was a nice job from the defence," he said. "But our offence is really struggling.
"When you score three points you are not going to win football games."
Bills starter J.P. Losman, replacing the injured Trent Edwards (groin), struggled pretty much throughout the contest. He was 13-of-27 passing for 123 yards with an interception and also lost a fumble.
"It’s frustrating even more because we know we have the talent and we have the want to and drive and work ethic," Losman said. "We do everything we’re asked. But for some reason we still have to find a way to win whatever it takes.
"Guys are at a loss of words because of the outcome"
Losman had Buffalo in a great position to pull to within 13-10, sitting on the Miami three-yard line in the third quarter. But he underthrew Lee Evans in the corner of the end zone, allowing Will Allen to register the interception.
"That’s a critical play," Sparano said. "Just when you think you’re bending a little bit to come up with a play like that in the endzone like Will did, that’s big."
Especially considering Miami made it 16-3 on Carpenter’s 27-yard field goal at 6:50 of the fourth.
Anthony Fasano had Miami’s touchdown. Carpenter booted the convert.
Rian Lindell had a field goal for Buffalo.
NOTES — There was a moment of silence to honour the memory of Rogers Communications CEO Ted Rogers, who helped bring the Bills series to Toronto and died Tuesday … Defensive lineman Corey Mace, a native of Port Moody, B.C., dressed for Buffalo. He had spent the opening 13 weeks of the season on the practice roster … Miami linebacker Joey Porter had two sacks, boosting his season total to 16.5.