For the Miami Dolphins, the 2002 season didn’t live up to expectations. Its failures, however, couldn’t be blamed on running back Ricky Williams.
In his first season as a member of the franchise, Williams had the greatest year ever for a Dolphins running back. On this day 20 years ago, he had arguably the best day for a Dolphins running back – even if it came in a losing effort.
Williams set Miami’s single-season and single-game rushing records with a 228-yard performance in a 38-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
It was a snowy 25-degree day in Orchard Park on Dec. 1, 2002. Miami arrived with a record of 7-4 while the Bills were just 5-6. Entering the day, Williams needed 202 yards rushing to tie Delvin Williams’ single-season rushing record of 1,258 yards set in 1978.
The day started strong for Williams as he scored from 45 yards out less than four minutes in and on Miami’s first play from scrimmage. The Dolphins raced to a 14-3 lead but Buffalo responded with a touchdown run and touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Bledsoe to take a 17-14 lead into the locker room.
The Dolphins’ final lead of the day came midway through the third quarter when Williams galloped 55 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately for Miami, Buffalo would score the game’s final 21 points, highlighted by Bledsoe’s touchdown passes of 73 yards to Peerless Price and 57 yards to Eric Moulds.
William’s next rush – a gain of eight — after his long touchdown would ultimately break the single-season franchise record. One carry later, on a gain of five, Williams broke Lamar Smith’s single-game record set less than two years earlier in the AFC Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts.
While Williams had a monster day, little else went right for Miami. Ray Lucas and Jay Fielder both struggled at quarterback on a day where the Dolphins turned it over three times. Bledsoe passed for 306 yards and three scores for Buffalo in the victory. Travis Henry rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Box score and recap:
Buffalo would split its final six games to finish 8-8 for the season. The Dolphins bounced back to win its next two games but closed the year with consecutive three-point losses to the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs for the first time in six years.
As for Williams, he would finish the 2002 season with a league-leading 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns. Battles with early retirement and the NFL’s substance abuse policy would cost Williams a large chunk of his career, but in seven total seasons with the Dolphins, he eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark three times.
Williams still holds the Dolphins’ single-game and -season rushing records. Both were set on this day two decades ago.