Here are some takeaways from the Miami Dolphins’ incredible win over the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium:
You gotta play it ‘til the end
With the Dolphins leading, 21-17, Thomas Morstead booted a punt from his own end zone into the backside of teammate Trent Sherfield, cutting the Dolphins’ lead to 21-19 with 1:33 left. Morstead helped save the day with his free kick that traveled to the Buffalo 6-yard line and was returned to the Bills 23-yard line. Buffalo needed a game-winning field goal and the Dolphins defense held. — Chris Perkins
Dolphins playoff chances now 76%
The Dolphins, according to the NFL, have a 76% chance of making the playoffs with a 3-0 start in a 17-game season. The Dolphins, of course, started 3-0 in 2013 and 2018 and missed the playoffs, but this 3-0 start has a different feel. Not only are expectations higher, the team is better and better-equipped to deal with changing expectations. The Dolphins have a tough game ahead at Cincinnati on Thursday, but if you’re keeping track of tiebreakers the Dolphins are 2-0 against AFC East opponents and 3-0 against AFC opponents.
Dolphins offense still finding itself
The Dolphins offense hasn’t scored more than seven points in any quarter this season aside from that impressive 28-point showing in the fourth quarter at Baltimore. It seemed the Dolphins would attack Buffalo’s secondary, which was missing three starters from a week ago (All Pro safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, and cornerback Dane Jackson). But that didn’t happen. Dolphins wide receivers Tyreek Hill (two receptions, 33 yards) and Jaylen Waddle (four receptions, 102 yards) had relatively low-key contributions considering their high-spirited moments from earlier this season.
Dolphins defense still ballin’
Safety Jevon Holland had a strip-sack on Bills quarterback Josh Allen that defensive end Melvin Ingram recovered at the Bills 6-yard line. The Dolphins began the day tied for 10th in forced turnovers with three. The Dolphins defense held Buffalo to a reasonable point total (17) and had a decent showing overall, limiting both Allen (42 of 63, 400 yards, two touchdowns, 94.7 passer rating) and wide receiver Stefon Diggs (seven receptions, 74 yards).
Tua leaves briefly, then returns, answering durability questions
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whose durability has been questioned, showed some toughness when he appeared to get his bell rung late in the second quarter. Tagovailoa was shoved down by linebacker Matt Milano and appeared to have his head hit the ground. Tagovailoa stood up briefly, was wobbly, then went to the ground and went to the locker room with trainers. Tagovailoa only missed three plays (backup Teddy Bridgewater was 0 for 2) and returned for the start of the third quarter. Of course, with third-team quarterback Skylar Thompson inactive the Dolphins avoided a potentially nerve-racking situation. It’s unclear who would have served as Bridgewater’s backup.
Right tackle shuffle
The Dolphins again showed some depth at right tackle, going four deep and doing OK against the likes of Bills pass rushers Von Miller and Greg Rousseau. When starter Greg Little went down in the second quarter with an apparent finger injury, Larnel Coleman was inserted in his place. But when Little went out again in the third quarter, right guard Robert Hunt shifted to right tackle, and Robert Jones was inserted at right guard. You could say Hunt was the fourth-team tackle considering Austin Jackson (ankle) was the starter for the opener and Little was his backup and Coleman was his backup. Little eventually came back and finished the game.
Crossen makes TD-saving play, showing more secondary depth
Cornerback Keion Crossen, possibly on the field because Xavien Howard was being treated for cramps, showed off the Dolphins’ cornerback depth when he batted away what should have been a touchdown reception, saving four points. Bills wide receiver Gabe Davis appeared to have beaten Crossen in the third quarter for an 11-yard touchdown reception. But Crossen knocked the ball out of Davis’ hands at the last second. Buffalo ended up kicking a 30-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead. But considering Howard and Byron Jones (still on the physically-unable-to-perform list) were sidelined, the Dolphins showed good depth and fortitude against one of the NFL’s best offenses.
Bills fans know how to get tickets
Buffalo fans, known as Bills Mafia, filled Hard Rock Stadium. Bills fans might have comprised as much as 35% of the crowd, possibly even as much as 40%. It was an impressive showing from a group that usually travels well, and even more impressive considering the Dolphins have sold out their season ticket allotment. Bills still fans found a way to get tickets.
Melvin Ingram is a force
Ingram made an impact on the game among two sacks, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble, and setting the edge (turning the run play inside). Ingram had a 6-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery touchdown in the opener against New England. Although Jaelan Phillips has gotten off to a slow start, Ingram has been there to put some energy into the Dolphins’ edge game.
Dolphins sit atop a hotly-contested AFC East
The Dolphins (3-0) are atop the AFC East. Of course, the battle was so closely-matched you could argue either the Dolphins or the Bills are the best team in the division right now. But the Dolphins won so they’re the current kings. Both teams had injury issues in Sunday’s game, the Bills’ more serious than the Dolphins’ injuries. Whatever the case, this matchup stirred more intrigue for their December rematch.
Dolphins haven’t seen this sort of a 3-0 start since Dan Marino was playing
Miami started 3-0 in 2018, 2013 and 2002, but the most recent time they started by winning their first three games with at least two of them division games was 1998, in Marino’s second-to-last year playing. The only coach who has had a Dolphins team start 4-0 is Don Shula. His teams accomplished that feat six times in his 26 seasons coaching the Dolphins (1995, 1992, 1984, 1981, 1979 and 1972). — Steve Svekis
Dolphins defense had two plays in the opening minutes that haven’t been seen by Miami against Josh Allen
First, the 250-pound Ingram was alone on an island in the left flat at the Dolphins’ 2 and had Allen chugging toward him full speed. Somehow, Ingram stayed squared up and put Allen on the ground for a loss of a yard for what was technically a sack. The Bills behemoth quarterback is never stymied from scoring in that situation. Yet, here was Ingram, laying down a huge marker regarding how stout the defensive effort would be from the aqua-and-orange. Then, Jevon Holland — a week after battling a pulling guard to a stand-still near the goal line in Baltimore — got in on Allen for a strip sack that set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown. The defense, who had played good first halves last year against Buffalo, put in a full game that brought the Bills back into their realm after years of dominance by Allen and Buffalo.
You see something new every day
Into my 47th year watching the NFL, I can’t remember having seen a team’s offensive tackle actually call the first timeout of the second half with his team trailing. That is what Terron Armstead did in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins DID go on to take a 21-17 lead. Then, came play number two, in the same quarter … a safety when a punt bounces off the punting team.
Eye-popping stat from the Baltimore miracle, part 1
When Tyreek Hill rolled up his 190 receiving yards and Jaylen Waddle his 171, it was the first time in over 10 years that teammates had each caught 171 yards of passes in a game. That came on Sept. 16, 2012, when the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks (199) and Victor Cruz (179) did it against the Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium. The only other time it had been done on the road during the Super Bowl era (since 1966) was 50 years ago, and also in Baltimore. On Sept. 24, 1972, the New York Jets’ Rich Caster (204) and Eddie Bell (197) pulled it off.
Eye-popping stat from the Baltimore miracle, part 2
The Dolphins became the first team to win a game when trailing by at least 21 points with 14 minutes left AND lose a game when winning by at least 21 with that small amount of time left on the clock (up 30-7 over the Jets at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in 2000). Tampa Bay has blown two games where they led by at least 21 points after three quarters, and Dallas has won two where they trailed by at least 21 when heading into the fourth quarter.Playoffs-vs.-the-Bills Tyreek Hill vs. Regular-Season-vs.-the-Bills Tyreek HillTyreek Hill, who has annihilated Buffalo the past two postseasons (20 catches for 322 yards — 16.1 yards a catch — and a touchdown in two wins), has had a different experience before the calendar turns to January. Hill’s performance in his four regular-season games against Buffalo: Nineteen catches for 157 yards (8.3 yards a reception) and zero touchdowns. His teams improved to 2-2 in those games.
Jaelan Phillips’ dry Septembers
The former University of Miami standout had played six games in September as a pro. In those approximately 220 defensive snaps, Phillips had logged no sacks and only one knockdown of the quarterback and one hurry. Dolphins Hall of Fame defensive end/linebacker Jason Taylor, though, has shown the value of patience for a thinner, angular edge pass-rusher. Taylor began his career with only 17 sacks in his first 46 games. And, none of those sacks forced a fumble, a play he became known for, as, over the next 125 games, he terrorized offenses for 100 sacks and 34 fumbles forced, scoring six touchdowns and three safeties. Still, it is an early truth that the season’s first month as been dry for Phillips.
On deck: At Cincinnati Bengals, Paycor Stadium, Thursday, 8:15 p.m.
The Dolphins head to southern Ohio on a short week with a ton of “house money” in their pockets, at 3-0 and — incredibly — arguably the best team in football. Joe Burrow enters Week 4 having averaged being sacked 5.3 times a game in his past six contests, with a multitude of additional hits on him as he threw passes.