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Sammy Watkins' career day turns around Bills' frustrating Sunday

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Sammy Watkins told the Buffalo Bills earlier this season that they were making him and the team "look bad" for not targeting him enough in the passing game.

He can't say that now.

Playing on an injured ankle that kept him out of practice Friday, Watkins gained a career-high 168 receiving yards on eight catches in Sunday's 33-17 win over the Miami Dolphins, helping to turn the tide of a game that was otherwise a brewing disaster for the Bills.

The Bills, now 4-4, were making the same mistakes that we've seen from them at their worst moments this season. Their offense was sputtering, their defense was underperforming and penalties continued to be a maddening problem -- they committed 13 for 94 yards. But in his return to the lineup, Watkins caught a 63-yard deep ball from Tyrod Taylor to set up a touchdown and added a 44-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Who expected that from Watkins, who has missed three of the past four games and might have been the Bills' most hobbled player entering Sunday?

What it means: The Bills would have had less than a 10 percent chance of making the playoffs if they had lost Sunday, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, so this was a big victory. The Bills get back to .500 and also got back on track at home, where they are 2-3 on the season. Their schedule gets tough during the next two weeks as they travel to face the New York Jets on Thursday night and then the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

One reason to get excited: The offense is back. Buffalo made critical mistakes with EJ Manuel at the helm in the previous two games. But with Taylor and Watkins in the lineup, we saw the offense that the Bills envisioned. If players can stay healthy, it's a group that can get them to the playoffs.

One reason to panic: The defense is still underperforming. Ryan Tannehill's 27-for-36 showing for 309 yards was his best in four career games at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and running back Lamar Miller burned the Bills at times for 141 total yards. The Bills were able to make enough plays to win -- whether it was stopping the Dolphins at the goal line on the final play of the first half, or Jerry Hughes' strip-sack of Tannehill in the third quarter -- but it's becoming increasingly clear that this isn't the same defense that Jim Schwartz made one of the best in football last season.

What were they thinking? There are a few candidates for this distinction, although neither played a role in the outcome of the game. First was offensive coordinator Greg Roman's decision to call a flea-flicker in the first quarter that badly failed, stunting a drive that also included a failed end-around run by receiver Robert Woods. The second candidate is Hughes' 15-yard, unnecessary roughness penalty on the opening drive of the second half, when Hughes hit Tannehill late out of bounds. Hughes entered the game with a team-high seven penalties and has an unrelenting penchant for dumb penalties such as that one.

Fantasy watch: Watkins might have surprised fantasy owners, but he wasn't the only productive player in the Bills' offense. Running back LeSean McCoy surpassed 100 rushing yards for the first time this season, gaining 112 yards on 16 carries. He showed his trademark burst and explosiveness on a 48-yard touchdown run the first quarter. Backup Karlos Williams also registered on the fantasy radar, adding a 38-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to total 110 rushing yards on nine carries in his first game back from a concussion.

Ouch: The Bills had a brief injury scare in the first half when rookie cornerback Ronald Darby limped off the field following a kick return. Trainers examined his right knee, but he later returned to the game. McCoy also walked off the field with trainers in the fourth quarter and later departed for the locker room with a shoulder injury; he previously left for a play in the first quarter, shaking off what looked to be a right shoulder injury.