Defense’s big day, third-and-19 mistake — 10 thoughts on Dolphins’ playoff loss to Buffalo – The Denver Post


Close. So very close to the greatest upset in franchise history.

The Miami Dolphins rallied from a 17-0 deficit in Buffalo, and took the game to the end in a 34-31 loss in the playoffs.

Here are 10 thoughts on the game:

1. Play of the game: Third-and-19. Dolphins’ 8-yard line. Leading 24-20 in the third quarter. This is the decision the Skylar Thompson and Mike McDaniel want back. Instead of a calling a draw play or short pass and punt, Thompson threw deep into double coverage and was intercepted by Buffalo’s Kaiir Elam, who returned it to the Dolphins 33. This gets to situational football – as well as knowing your personnel. You don’t want to lose a game right there with a rookie quarterback overdoing it. That interception gave a struggling Josh Allen a short field and brought a nervous Bills fan base some hope. Five plays later, he threw 6 yards to Cole Beasley for a touchdown and Buffalo took control of the game again.

2. What might have been the play of the game: Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer has been questioned about the effectiveness of his blitzes, but this was a day his defense did most everything to save the day (after a brutal first quarter, that is). When safety Eric Rowe blitzed in Sunday’s third quarter, it changed the tone of the game. Allen didn’t see Rowe, whose hit jarred the ball from Allen and sent it rolling on field. Defensive tackle Zach Sieler picked it up and at the Buffalo 5-yard line and ran in for the touchdown and a 24-20 Dolphins lead. You could see the upset in that moment – at least for a little bit.

3. Second-guess of the day: Look, the Dolphins’ fight erases any hard questioning. And McDaniel showed he can lead a team this year right to this final game when they played with a third-string rookie quarterback. But … how did they have to use three time-outs in the second half because plays didn’t seem to be getting in from McDaniel quickly enough. Even worse: They got a delay-of-game penalty in a game-on-the-line fourth-and-1 that resulted into a fourth-and-6 play that changed everything (Thompson threw incomplete). It’s on such details days are lost. Buffalo then got the ball with 2:22 left and … the Dolphins had no time-outs to stop the clock in a 34-31 game.

4. Josh Allen threw two interceptions in the second quarter, lost the ball in the third quarter on Zieler’s touchdown and was sacked seven times. That’s a big day for Josh Boyer’s defense. All this was the first thing that had to happen for the Dolphins to have a chance Sunday. Mistakes are part of Allen’s game as he finished third in the league in interceptions (14) this year. Allen kept going for the home-run throw against a Boyer defense that kept tempting him to throw that ball. It worked early but Boyer’s defense gave the Dolphins a chance. There’s a good possibilty this was Boyer’s last game, but it was a fine one for him. Allen can’t be at all happy with how he played. He completed 23 of 39 passes for 354 yards, three TDs and the two interceptions.

5. If the idea was to lighten Skylar Thompon’s load, that didn’t work. The Dolphins ran for just 42 yards on 20 carries. And the receiving? Jaylen Waddle didn’t come up with more than 100 yards of catches on Sunday. Two came in the dismal first quarter when the Dolphins fell behind 17-0. Waddle flat-out dropped a deep pass on the Dolphins opening series. On another, he had his hands on but couldn’t come down with in traffic, which was the same thing in the third quarter on another deep ball. Tyreek Hill dropped a slant pattern in the first quarter, too. Here’s the point: The best players left a lot of yards out there on the field on a day when they had to be perfect to have a chance. Those contributed to Skylar Thompson completing one of his first eight passes and the Dolphins having 19 yards of offense in the first quarter to the Bills’ 172 yards. Waddle made his first catch with nine minutes left in the game and then made a great, 25-yard catch with just over four minutes left on a third-and-10 play. Thompson completed 18 of 45 passes for 220 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

6. Stat of the game: Dolphins 18 points off turnovers, Buffalo 14 points off turnovers. The first half of this showed the path to an upset, but the problem is the Dolphins couldn’t play a clean game themselves.

7. Xavien Howard capped an up-and-down year by getting exposed early before making a big play. Maybe it was the knee issue that caused him to miss the New England game two weeks ago. Maybe his game, at 29, is dropping off. But this hasn’t been the Howard of the last couple of years and Buffalo went right at him. Stefon Diggs was two steps open and running free for a 68-yard touchdown on the game-opening play but Allen overthrew him. Diggs beat Howard again in the first quarter for a 54-yard catch to set up the Bills’ first touchdown. Diggs had five catches (on five targets) for 96 yards in the first quarter. Again: The Dolphins needed their best players to be at their best to have a chance in this game. Howard did come back with an interception and return in the second quarter that led to a field goal and 17-6 game. What now for Howard? He’ll be back. His contract says that much. He’s just a $10 million cap hit, but would cost $23 million against he cap if he’s cut (and be $33 million in dead money).

8. The Dolphins got one more thing to contribute to their near-upset: Great special teams. This was something missing much of the year. But Jason Sanders made all three field goals (long of 48) and Cedric Wilson had a 50-yard punt return to set up one of the field goals to make it a 17-9 Buffalo lead. That punt return was the longest in franchise playoff history. The special teams haven’t been good for many Sundays this year. They were great this day.7 in the second quarter.

9. Quick hits:

* Left tackle Terron Armstead gutted out another start, had to come out briefly reportedly for his hip injury and returned to the game.

* The one thing a home-field advantage gives is the snap count. The Dolphins offense had four pre-snap penalties.

* Mike Gesicki got to dance.

10. The Dolphins told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Tua Tagovailoa is “expected to return as the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback for the 2023 season.” It’s a smart message to put out. There’s no reason to think the Dolphins expect anything else before this season is even over. Tagovailoa should return, too, and this kind of statement quiets some waters. But let’s be real: There’s an off-season to measure just what other options the Dolphins have.



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