Things we learned in Miami Dolphins’ 34-31 wild-card round loss to the Buffalo Bills – Boston Herald
Here are some of the top takeaways from the Miami Dolphins’ playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Sunday:
Skylar Thompson does well
Rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson played a pretty well and kept the Dolphins in the game and gave them a chance to win. Thompson’s third quarter interception by rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam, who attended Benjamin High School, set up Buffalo at the Dolphins 33-yard line. Thompson, who was 18 of 45 for 220 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, had numerous passes dropped. Thompson had a deep pass dropped by wide receiver Jaylen Waddle in the first quarter. That offensive mistake wasn’t Thompson’s fault. But Thompson threw an interception to safety Dean Marlowe on second-and-8 from the Bills 27-yard line on a pass intended for Tyreek Hill that was thrown about four yards in front of Hill. Still, Thompson played a good game and made good decisions, just as he did last week in the victory over the New York Jets that got the Dolphins into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season. — Chris Perkins
What a game!
Sunday’s game didn’t disappoint when it came to action. It was easily the Dolphins’ best game of the season considering what was at stake, and considering it was a road playoff game as a two-touchdown underdog. Coming in, the Dolphins and Bills played two close games this season with the Dolphins winning, 21-19, in September in South Florida, and Buffalo winning, 32-29, last month in western New York. Sunday’s wild-card game featured the Dolphins trailing, 17-0, cutting their deficit to 20-17 at halftime, taking a 24-20 lead, falling behind, 34-24, and then cutting their deficit to 34-31 to set up a dramatic fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a fourth-down incomplete pass to tight end Mike Gesicki from the Buffalo 43-yard line. Still, what an incredible game.
Just as Bills quarterback Josh Allen made a few mistakes, so, too, did the Dolphins, who won the turnover battle, 3-2. The biggest miscues came on clock management, where the Dolphins used their final timeout because the play clock was running down and got hit with a delay of game on fourth-and-1 on their final possession. Aside from that, Thompson opened the game with a deep pass to Waddle who had the ball go through his hands despite being wide open, past All Pro safety Jordan Poyer. If Waddle could have kept his feet (he was near Buffalo’s 30-yard line) it might have been a touchdown. Late in the first quarter Tyreek Hill also dropped a pass near Buffalo’s 30-yard line. In the second quarter running back Jeff Wilson Jr. dropped a pass on third-and-16 that probably wouldn’t have resulted in a first down, but it was a drop nonetheless. In the third quarter tight end Mike Gesicki was behind the defense when he had a tipped pass go past his hands. The ball was tipped by linebacker Tremaine Edmunds at the 45-yard line and Gesicki missed it at the 47, meaning the ball could have changed trajectory making it a more difficult play for Gesick.
Xavien Howard vs. Stefon Diggs, part II
Allen went at Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, who was shadowing All Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs, with mixed results. Allen targeted Diggs (seven receptions, 114 yards) four times among his first seven passes. Diggs rewarded the Bills with four receptions for 88 yards, including a 52-yard reception to the Bills’ 4-yard line on third-and-15. But Howard got an interception in the second quarter when Allen threw a bad pass for wide receiver John Brown. Diggs, however, won the battle against Howard.
Dolphins’ offensive line struggles
Credit the Dolphins’ makeshift offensive line for giving another strong effort, but it wasn’t good enough for a victory. The Dolphins started center Connor Williams, left guard Lester Cotton, left tackle Terron Armstead, right guard Robert Jones and right tackle Robert Hunt. Thompson was sacked four times and took 11 hits, which isn’t ideal, but the Dolphins were down two starters.
Cotton, the third-year player from Alabama, spent his first two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders and was making his first start with the Dolphins. The Dolphins normally would have Jones at left guard (or Liam Eichenberg, who was inactive due to a hand injury sustained last week), Hunt at right guard and Brandon Shell at right tackle, but Shell was inactive due to knee and ankle injuries sustained last week. On a second-quarter play the offensive line gave up a sack for a nine-yard loss. But they were good for the most part. Left tackle Greg Little played for Armstead (hip) late in the second quarter, but Armstead returned to start the third quarter.
One of the offensive line highlights was Armstead jogging on the sideline either to get loose or stay warm late in the second quarter, and then waving his hands while enjoying the Otis Day song, “Shout” that was playing in the stadium (by the way, that song is a Bills staple but obviously Armstead didn’t care).
Josh Allen and suspect his ball security
Allen, who is prone to turnovers, had two interceptions and two fumbles. That wasn’t a shocker. Allen entered the game with 15 interceptions, which was tied for No. 2 in the league, and five lost fumbles, also tied for No. 2 in the league. Allen threw a terrible interception in the second quarter. Howard’s interception became a 48-yard field goal by kicker Jason Sanders that cut the Dolphins’ deficit to 17-6 before safety Jevon Holland had an interception in the second quarter that the Dolphins turned into a touchdown that tied the game at 17. Allen also lost a third-down fumble out of the bounds in the first quarter on a scramble.
Upon review, three Bills would-be receptions are disallowed
Replay reviews went the Dolphins’ way in the first half as two passes that could have been touchdowns were disallowed as well as another deep pass. A would-be 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox was overturned in the first quarter. That play would have given the Bills a 21-0 lead, but they ended up kicking a 33-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead.
A deep pass to wide receiver Khalil Shakir on third-and-8 from the Bills 30-yard line late in the second quarter was wiped out after an official review showed the ball hit the ground.
The pass, which was 54 yards, would have set the Bills up at the Dolphins 16-yard line. Buffalo, which had a 17-6 lead, ended up punting.
A would-be 21-yard second-quarter touchdown reception by Diggs, which was never ruled a completed pass, was reviewed and replays showed Diggs never had control of the ball. The Bills ended up kicking a 39-yard field goal for a 20-17 halftime lead.
Another Mike Gesicki sighting
Gesicki had a 7-yard touchdown reception from Thompson with 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter and an 8-yard reception for a first down in the first quarter. On the latter, Thompson pulled it down after looking at Hill and threw to Gesicki for a first down. Gesicki was the leading receiver for last week’s Jets game with four receptions for 46 yards and ended Sunday’s game with two receptions for 15 yards and a touchdown. By the way, Gesicki, who had fun after being mocked for his “Griddy” dance earlier in the season, faked a Griddy after his touchdown reception, and then did the internet dance move, which seemed to mildly delight the Buffalo fans.
Dolphins’ run game
The Dolphins rushed for just 42 yards on 20 attempts, going against conventional wisdom that said the Dolphins must run the ball and control the clock to win, such as they did last week against the Jets. Running back Raheem Mostert, who missed Sunday’s game with a broken right thumb, rushed for 136 yards in the Dolphins’ 32-29 loss at Buffalo last month. The Dolphins finished the regular season second-to-last in the league in rushing attempts.
Return game features a spark
Wide receiver/punt returner Cedrick Wilson Jr. put a charge in the Dolphins with his 50-yard punt return in the second quarter that led to field goal that allowed the Dolphins to cut their deficit to 17-6. The Dolphins used kickoff returners Jaylen Waddle and River Cracraft on Sunday. Mostert, who missed the game due to a thumb injury, is the usual kickoff returner. Cracraft had one kickoff return for 23 yards.
Dolphins’ defense has gotten Josh Allen to spit out turnover-worthy plays
When Eric Rowe sacked Josh Allen and dislodged the ball, it marked the 10th time this season Josh Allen has lost the handle on the ball against Miami. He also threw three dropped interceptions in the teams’ first meeting to go with his two actual interceptions in the playoff game. — Steve Svekis
Mike McDaniel’s gameplans: Excellent; His second-half management: Awful
Three second-half timeouts to purely avoid delays of game? While trailing in a playoff game? Come on.
Jaylen Waddle’s drops issue reared its head at the worst time
Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle has battled drops through his career and after the Houston Texans game in November had an unsightly 15 bungled passes in his first 27 career games. Then? He got into a regular-season-ending (and career-long) six-game stretch of games where he held onto all of the 19 passes that hit his hands. And then it all came crashing down on Miami’s opening possession at the Bills 31 when he muffed a beautiful long ball by Skylar Thompson that would have been a 40-yard gain and put Miami in position to open the scoring in the game. Then, in a key third-quarter deep throw, he again couldn’t hang on.
Christian Wilkins, culminating his huge year, finally got loss-of-yardage tackles against the Bills
With his two half-sacks Sunday, the tour-de-force season of Christian Wilkins concluded in style with at least one play of zero yards allowed or a loss of yards in 16 of his 18 games. Awesome. His only such shutouts on the stats sheet had been in the two regular-season games against Buffalo.
Mike Gesicki logged an incredibly rare — if not unprecedented — accomplishment
The Dolphins tight end somehow scored a half-dozen touchdowns in what many have termed a disappointing or even lost season. Amid all that tumult, he has to be on a very short list — and maybe a list of one — as a tight end who has caught multiple touchdown passes each from as many as three quarterbacks, with two caught from Tua Tagovailoa (Ravens and Lions), Teddy Bridgewater (Vikings) and now Skylar Thompson (Patriots and Bills)
Xavien Howard has a postseason pick streak going, a half-dozen years apart
In Pittsburgh in January of 2017, Howard intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 11 yards and then he snagged an Allen pass and took that back a nifty 49 yards.
That was the best playoff performance in Buffalo in Dolphins history
Thirty-two years ago, Dan Marino and co., trailed the Jim Kelly juggernaut Bills 30-27 with 10:29 left in the game, before the Bills pulled away. Incredible performance, obviously.
If only there were a way for Terron Armstead to make it through a full season
Obviously, as a Pro Bowl selection, the expectation is that the offensive line would perform better with Armstead in the lineup. However, the pass-pressure splits are truly staggering. According to pro-football-reference.com, the Dolphins offense took 1,133 snaps during the regular season. In the 764 where Armstead played, Miami allowed only 16 sacks and 46 quarterback hits (QBH). In the 369 without Armstead, those numbers exploded to 19 sacks and 52 QBHs.
A sobering Dolphins milestone related to Don Shula
The Dolphins just completed their 27th season since the departure of the NFL’s winningest coach, Don Shula. That stands as one season longer than Shula spent in Miami. By the numbers: Shula won 274 games. Since he left, Miami has won 216 games. Shula won two Super Bowls. None were won from 1996-2021. The 1970-95 Dolphins played in 31 postseason games and won 17 of them. The post-Shula Dolphins just played in their 11th playoff contest, having won three of them. Shula’s NFL career ended in 1995 in a 37-22 wild-card loss to Buffalo in Orchard Park.
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