- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Inconsistent as the Buffalo Bills have been, safety Corey Graham sees no reason why they can’t finally get on a roll to make a late-season playoff push.

“I believe in this team. I believe in what we’re capable of doing,” Graham said. “We know what it takes. We know what’s at stake. We know what we’ve got to do.”

Beating the surging Houston Texans (6-5) on Sunday would be a start for Buffalo (5-6), which has run out of room for error in mounting any realistic bid to end the NFL’s longest active playoff drought at 15 seasons.

Buffalo has lost two straight and four of six. Injuries are piling up. And so are questions about the porous performance of coach Rex Ryan’s prized defense, which is playing well below its high-priced expectations.

“Sometimes when you’re backed into a corner, you see what people are made of,” Graham said. “It’s time for us to fight.”

They’ll have to do it against an opponent who has won four straight and moved into a tie with Indianapolis atop the AFC South.

End J.J. Watt is leading a defense that’s allowed two touchdowns and 35 points in its past four games. And quarterback Brian Hoyer has been efficient in managing an offense led by star receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

“People can try and look at it like it was some sort of overnight switch from five weeks ago,” said Watt of Houston’s turnaround. “But it’s really been a day-to-day process to make this happen. And it’s going to continue to be a day-to-day process.”

Watt has been a difference maker over the past month. He has 9 1/2 of his NFL-leading 13 1/2 sacks in the past five games.

The Bills, by comparison, have just 16 sacks all season - a considerable drop-off after they led the NFL with 54 last year.

Coach Ryan still isn’t sure what to make of Buffalo.

“I’m not admitting defeat by any stretch of the imagination. We have some opportunity,” Ryan said. “And clearly right now, in my opinion, we can win the rest of them. But we’re also a team that could lose them all.”

Some things to watch for as Houston attempts to beat Buffalo for a fourth straight time:

BANGED-UP: Though DE Mario Williams is expected to return after missing one game with a foot injury, the Bills will be minus a number of defensive regulars.

Tackle Kyle Williams (left knee) and his backup Alex Carrington (quadriceps) were placed on season-ending injured reserve this week. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is out with a sprained right ankle. And safety Aaron Williams still isn’t cleared to return from a neck injury.

GROUP EFFORT: Texans running back Alfred Blue has started all four games since star Arian Foster suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. But he’s far from the only one getting carries. Since Foster was injured, four other players have helped Blue carry the rushing load.

Chris Polk, Jonathan Grimes and Akeem Hunt have all pitched in, and Houston has also unveiled a wildcat formation featuring receiver Cecil Shorts.

Ryan credits Texans offensive line coach Mike Devlin for introducing some of the more exotic schemes. Devlin helped design similar plays for the Jets, when he was working under Ryan.

EXTRA WATTAGE: Though Watt gets the most credit for the Texans’ defensive resurgence, he’s not doing it alone. Linebacker Brian Cushing leads the team with 84 tackles, and linebacker Whitney Mercilus has 4 1/2 sacks in his past four games. The secondary has combined for five interceptions during the winning streak.

CLEMSON CONNECTION: Hopkins and Bills receiver Sammy Watkins were a formidable receiving duo during their two seasons together at Clemson. In 2011, they combined for 154 catches for 2,198 yards and 17 TDs.

Hopkins, who at 23 is a year older, refers to Watkins as “my little bro,” and has had the distinct edge. Hopkins ranks third in the NFL with 1,081 yards receiving, and has nine touchdowns. Watkins, who has missed two games due to injuries, is 48th with 526 yards, and has five TDs.

Watkins joked Hopkins is playing so well he can’t help but keep track of his former teammate.

“I have no choice,” Watkins said. “I see him on Sports Center like every week.”

EMPTY SACKS: The Bills’ 16 sacks are the fewest they’ve had through 11 games since they had 10 in 2007. They’ve yet to register more than two sacks in one game this season. And Buffalo has a 1-4 record when limited to one or fewer.


AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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