The Bills and Dolphins clashed on Sunday in what was an AFC East showdown of the 2-0 teams. Buffalo’s injuries were a big concern entering the game, as they were missing many key starters. Center Mitch Morse, defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips, cornerback Dane Jackson, and safety tandem Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer were all inactive heading into the game. Unfortunately, Hyde, a second team All-Pro last year, was ruled out for the season with a severe neck injury. The hope is that he’ll be able to return in 2023. In the meantime, a depleted Bills defense would be facing off against one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
Another Opening Drive Touchdown
The Bills once again reached the end zone on their first drive of the game. This is the eighth consecutive game, including playoffs, that the Bills have accomplished this, tying the 2016 Atlanta Falcons for the longest streak in the NFL. For the third game in a row, Josh Allen completed a pass to Stefon Diggs as the first offensive play. Against Miami, it was a 28 yard completion that immediately put the Bills in Miami territory. After completions to Devin Singletary and Reggie Gilliam, the Bills were inside the 10 yard line. On fourth and goal, Allen saw a blitzer come off the left side, and quickly hit Singletary who leaked out of the backfield on the left. It was a walk in touchdown thanks to the quick blitz read by the QB.
Miami Capitalizes on a Turnover
Buffalo’s defense allowed just one first down on Miami’s opening drive, forcing a quick punt. However, punter Thomas Morstead pinned the Bills back at their 12 yard line. After back-to-back one yard runs by Zack Moss (questionable plays to run consecutively), Miami got home on a blitz that the Bills were not ready for. The play clock was winding down, Allen was trying to properly set up his extra blockers, and chaos ensued as the ball was snapped at the last second. Safety Jevon Holland rushed off the edge and knocked the ball out of Allen’s hand. Edge rusher Melvin Ingram recovered the ball and it was all of a sudden first and goal for Miami. On third down, Chase Edmonds ran the ball in for a one yard score, and the game was tied.
Allen led a 14 play drive to give the Bills their second touchdown of the game. This included a clutch fourth and two where Allen was able to move the chains with his rushing ability. After a Melvin Ingram sack, Allen threw a beautifully accurate 27 yard touch pass to Isaiah McKenzie down the sideline. It was a throw that most QBs in the NFL wouldn’t dare attempt. McKenzie did a great job hauling it in from his fingertips, and it gave the Bills offense a bit of much needed momentum. Three plays later, Allen found McKenzie over the middle for an 8 yard touchdown. The Bills once again had a seven point lead.
Miami Ties it (again)
Tua Tagovailoa led the Dolphins on a nine play, 83 yard drive that cut right through Buffalo’s defense. Their offense gained positive yards on every single play, as Buffalo’s defense struggled to make any splash plays, or even force an incomplete pass. Tua capped off the drive with an 11 yard strike over the middle to River Cracraft, who was elevated off of the practice squad for the second week in a row.
Both offenses were forced to punt on their next drives, keeping it 14-14. With 1:38 left in the second quarter, the Bills began a drive from their own 30 yard line. After reaching Miami’s 34 with just three seconds left, Allen fumbled the snap as he was trying to spike the ball. According to the NFL rules, a player must start the motion of spiking the ball as soon as it is snapped. Because Allen fumbled the snap, he couldn’t spike it, otherwise it would be flagged for intentional grounding.
Instead, he quickly turned to the outside and threw a dangerous pass to Stefon Diggs for nine yards, and that ended the half. It was a great heads-up play by Allen, realizing that he couldn’t just throw it into the ground. However, he was a bit reckless with his decision to force it to the unsuspecting Diggs, as Jevon Holland was inches away from running the other way with the ball. If Mitch Morse was healthy, you have to wonder if the Bills would’ve been able to secure an extra three points before the half with a better center-to-QB ball exchange.
The offensive struggles continued for both teams in the second half. Miami only converted one first down before punting to start the third quarter. The Bills went on a 21 play, 98 yard drive just to kick a 30 yard field goal.
The Bills defense forced a Miami three-and-out, and the offense had another chance to put points on the board. The drive started out hot with a 43 yard Zack Moss run, by far his best play of the season so far. Facing 4th and four at Miami’s 20 yard line, Tyler Bass missed a 38 yard field goal which would’ve given Buffalo a 20-14 lead. Instead, it remained 17-14.
The Bills Finally Give Up The Big Play
The young, inexperienced secondary was bound to be exploited at some point. For the majority of the game, Kair Elam, Christian Benford, Damar Hamlin, and Jaquan Johnson held up fairly well. However, the speed of Miami’s receivers were no match for Johnson as he watched Jaylen Waddle burn right by him as Tua delivered a perfect 45 yard pass downfield. Miami went from facing a third and 22 on their side of the field to first and goal at Buffalo’s seven yard line in one play. Chase Edmonds eventually found the end zone for the second time, and the Dolphins were ahead 21-17.
The Bills had several chances to retake the lead in the final 10 minutes of the game, but struggled to execute in the red zone. Allen led another long drive, this time a 20 play, 75 yard drive that resulted in zero points. This included a 16 yard strike to Diggs and a clutch 22 yard reception from Singletary on third and 10. The last play of the drive, 4th and Goal from the two yard line, Allen attempted to hit McKenzie on an out route along the side of the goal line. While McKenzie did generate enough separation to make the catch, Allen misfired and underthrew the pass.
All hope wasn’t lost, as Buffalo stuffed back-to-back Miami runs and Von Miller batted down a pass attempt on third and 11. On fourth down from their own one yard line, Thomas Morstead punted the ball…right into his own teammate’s butt. The ball flew out of the back of the end zone for a safety. The Bills suddenly had two more points, and a chance to win the game with a field goal. The Bills reached Miami’s 41 yard line, but Isaiah McKenzie failed to get out of bounds to stop the clock, as the final seconds dwindled down while the referees reset the ball. Allen ran out of time to spike it, and the game was over; a 21-19 victory for the Dolphins.
Injuries were the theme of this game, as many players on both teams were either inactive or left during the game due to various circumstances. The Bills were already thin at several spots, with many key players being ruled out before the game. It seemed as if almost every single player hobbled to the sideline at some point, either with a significant injury, cramps, or in need of hydration.
Key offensive weapons such as Diggs, McKenzie, and Dawson Knox missed many plays that they’d otherwise be on the field for. Backup center Greg Van Roten, starting guard Ryan Bates, and starting tackle Spencer Brown all left the game and never returned. With backups Greg Mancz (called up from the practice squad that day), Tommy Doyle (playing out of position), and David Quessenberry in for some of the most important snaps late in the fourth quarter, it was yet another challenge Allen had to overcome to efficiently move the ball downfield.
On the defensive side, the already banged up secondary lost Christian Benford to a hand injury, although he did return later in the game on several special teams snaps. Even Allen went to the medical tent at the end of the game to get X-rays on his hand. It was an overall disastrous game from an injury standpoint, which left fans anxiously wondering if a player was seriously injured, or cramping due to the heat. The Bills inevitable lengthy injury report this week will be hard to look at, but certainly worth monitoring throughout the week.
You can make all sorts of excuses for the Bills, between the injuries heading into the game, injuries and cramping during the game, weather, referees, etc. At the end of the day, the Bills beat themselves. They had opportunity after opportunity to overcome those obstacles and win the game. Gabriel Davis dropped a contested-catch touchdown that he’s usually able to come down with. Matt Milano, who may be the best coverage linebacker in the league, dropped a probable pick-six that Tua threw right at him. Allen botched the snap at the end of the first half, then misfired to McKenzie at the end of the second half. Jaquan Johnson got beat deep on third and 22, a play where the defense should’ve expected something deep. Enough with the excuses, the Bills beat themselves.
On the flip side, I’d rather lose a game that I know we should’ve won than get blown out and start to have doubts about the team. The Bills outgained the Dolphins 497 to 212, dominated time of possession 40:40 to 19:20, and were more efficient on third down. In the end, the only thing the Dolphins had more of was points, and unfortunately, that’s all that really matters. However, knowing what this team can do when they’re fully healthy, and given the fact that they almost pulled off the win without so many players, shows that Buffalo is still the better team, and should still win the AFC East.
Finally, while I know it’s awful to lose games, it was going to happen eventually. Even with how good the Bills roster is, it’s nearly impossible to go 17-0 in this league. Patrick Mahomes and the 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs lost to the 0-1-1 Colts. Justin Herbert and the Chargers got smacked by the Jaguars. Tom Brady and the 2-0 Buccaneers lost to the Packers and their depleted offense. Losses happen, especially unexpected losses. It’s part of the fun of the game. The phrase “any given Sunday” is well-known for a reason. It stings that the loss had to come to a division opponent, but there’s still a long season left, the Bills still have the best roster in the NFL, the best QB in the NFL, and the team will get healthier as the playoffs draw closer.
Offensive Player of the Game: Isaiah McKenzie
I know, I know, he didn’t get out of bounds! But McKenzie came through with some much needed explosiveness for this offense throughout the game. He finished with seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, which included the beautiful 27 yard catch I raved about earlier. Not to mention, he got open when he needed to on that fourth and Goal play late in the forth quarter. If Allen delivers an accurate pass, he scores the go-ahead touchdown in addition to his other contributions throughout the game. He also ran once for 6 yards, which I’d like to see more of in the future, especially if the goal is to take some of the burden off of Allen during the game.
Defensive Player of the Game: Greg Rousseau
Rousseau finished with 1.5 sacks, three tackles, and two QB hits. In a game where the pass rush was almost invisible from Buffalo, Rousseau was still able to find a way to get to the QB. He has already accumulated 3.5 sacks in just three games, after finishing last year with a total of just four! Certainly the presence of Von Miller, both as an additional threat on the defensive line, as well as a coach and mentor to the young pass rusher, have helped bring his game to the next level.
MVP: Josh Allen
Allen did everything in his power to will his way to a victory for the Bills. While he did throw some dangerous passes that could have easily been intercepted, and missed McKenzie at the goal line, the game looks a lot different without #17 in the backfield. He finished the game 42 of 63 (which is an absurd amount of pass attempts but that’s what happens when you can’t effectively run the ball) for 400 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran eight times for 47 yards. Simply put, Allen carried the team on his back, but it just wasn’t enough. The surrounding factors certainly played a part, with 60% of the offensive line being backups and his top receivers on the sideline for many plays. Regardless, Allen added another MVP-level performance to his 2022 resume. He’s currently first in the league in passing yards, second in passing touchdowns (one behind Lamar Jackson), and third in QB rushing yards (behind Jackson and Jalen Hurts).
What’s Next: Bills @ Ravens 10/2
The Bills travel to Baltimore to face the 2-1 Ravens. The defense will certainly be tested against Lamar Jackson, who’s looking like one of the best QBs in the league both through the air and certainly on the ground.
Editor’s babble: Definitely a heart breaking loss for the Bills. We are grateful for Colin Richey’s contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Twitter @whatthef00tball.