Great game. Not a great finish. Maybe that’s the way the Miami Dolphins will look at Saturday night’s 32-29 loss at Buffalo.
If they’d played the previous two games in California at this level, they wouldn’t be on a three-game losing streak and be fighting for a playoff spot.
Here are 10 thoughts on the game:
1. Player of the Game: Josh Allen. He was a beast. He completed 25-of-40 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran 10 times for 77 yards, including a 44-yarder when Buffalo was down 29-21 to give them life. No team relies more on a player than Buffalo (11-3) does on Allen. I’m trying to walk a line between admiring his play and saying he won’t have a long career if he keeps playing a physical game like this. His first TD drive was surgical — passes of 13, 14 and 45 yards for three of the four plays and 62 of the 75 yards. He had 217 yards passing and three TDs at half. But it’s the running that is staggerring. Down 29-21, he ran that 44 yards on one gallop, threw a 5-yard touchdown pass and then tied the game by sticking the two-point conversion over the line (or so it was decided on review). And then …
2. Buffalo finished this game in a way the Dolphins didn’t. You want to win games of consequence like this? it comes down to who can finish it out. The Dolphins (8-6) couldn’t keep an offensive drive going and punted with under six minutes left in a tie game. Still, Buffalo was back at its 7-yard line. Allen had a game-winning-drive presence to him. He took his team on the kind of drive that teams with a Super Bowl purpose have. Fifteen plays, 86 yards. It was methodical, too, so the winning, 25-yard field goal went through as time ran out in the game.
3. Tua Tagovailoa had a decent game in the cold. That was a question, especially after two bad games in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The weather wasn’t a real winter problem until the fourth quarter when the wind picked up and the snow started falling. He made two, good and deep fourth-quarter throws that gave the lead. The first was an over-the-middle pass to Jaylen Waddle that became a 67-yard touchdown. He then looked off the safety left and threw right to Tyreek Hill for a 20-yard touchdown to give the lead, 26-21. Tagovailoa completed 17-of-30 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Those are decent numbers. A game like this comes to assembling a winning drive like Allen did. The Dolphins got the ball at their 25, Tagovailoa threw two first downs and then the possession fizzled.
4. It wasn’t a great surprise that Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel adjusted from a pass-happy game in Los Angeles to a run-centric start of Saturday. The surprise was the effective running between the guards in a way they hadn’t done much. Raheem Mostert ran 6 times for 33 yards, mostly through the middle, before busting a run off right tackles for 67 yards. Mostert’s 101 yards rushing in the first quarter was better than every game but the 113 he had against the Jets. On their first touchown, Salvon Ahmed ran 11 yards up the middle. Ahmed, playing due to Jeff Wilson’s injury, had 14 yards all game. Buffalo adjusted in the second half to play the run more, but the Dolphins finished with 188 yards on 25 carries. Mostert finished with 136 yards on 25 carries. The Dolphins ran for more yards only against Cleveland (195) this season.
5. The Could-Have-Been Play of the Game I: For the second straight week, the opponent got a touchdown on the final play of the half. Last week it was Justin Herbert with a touchdown pass. This time, it was Allen from the Buffalo 4-yard line with eight seconds left. Allen took so much time, moving out of the pocket to the sideline, that the clock ran out. But just as he was about to be hit or go out of bounds he found James Cook for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead at half.
6. The Could-Have-Been Play of the Game II: Getting the ball at midfield in the third quarter, the Dolphins seemed to have missed a good opportunity when they went to punt on fourth-and-10. That’s when Buffalo’s Cam Lewis made the mistake of the game by roughing punter Thomas Morestead. This was a game with no turnovers to that point, but that should count as one. The Dolphins got the ball at the Bills 35. Two rushes put the ball on the 20. Tua made his touchdown throw to Hill from there.
7. The Dolphins pulled themselves into the game with a dominant third quarter. The defense that gave up three straight touchdowns to end the half made Buffalo punt four straight times in the third quarter. How? Well, the pass rush picked up, with the highlight play being Jaelan Phillips strip-sack of Allen and Christian Wilkins’ recovery. Also, safety Jevon Holland, who had left earlier with an injury, was used as a spy at times on Allen. The offense came alive, too, as Tua threw his two touchdown passes and the Dolphins outscored Buffalo in the quarter, 14-0.
8. Graphic of the night: “Game Delayed Due to Fans Throwing Snowballs Onto The Field.” The NFL Network put that up early in the second quarter as the referee announced a 15-yard penalty would be assessed if a player was hit (assessed after finding intent?). The message was received as fans quit throwing snowballs en masse.
9. Quick hits:
Jaylen Waddle had three catches for 117 yards and Tyreek Hill nine catches for 69 yards.
Not a great pass by Tagovailoa on Dolphins second drive, but if Trent Sherfield goes down for it that’s a touchdown.
Xavien Howard has become a target too much this year.
At 8-6, the Dolphins probably need to win two of their final three to make the playoffs.
10. Next week: Green Bay at Miami. It’s a Christmas Day game and the Packers come to South Florida for the first time since an infamous game in 2014. Leading 24-20, Ryan Tannehill threw an incompletion on second-and-10 with just over three minutes left. Coach Joe Philbin then ordered a run, saying afterward he felt “queasy” about calling another pass after that incompletion. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers on a game-winning touchdown drive. Rodgers’ Packers are 5-8 heading into a Monday night game against the Los Angeles Rams. So it’ll be short week for the Packers and a bit longer of one for the Dolphins after Saturday night’s game.