The 10-3 Bills hosted the 8-5 Dolphins in a pivotal AFC East matchup on Saturday night. After losing in Miami by two points, it was Buffalo’s turn to use Mother Nature to their advantage. In a game that saw an almost 90 degree difference in temperature, it was time for Josh Allen to do what he does best…Squish the Fish.
The Dolphins gained just one first down on their opening drive, thanks to a 13 yard run from Raheem Mostert. After consecutive incomplete passes from Tua Tagovailoa, and a false start penalty, Miami punted.
Buffalo’s opening drive wasn’t much better. After Allen hit Dawson Knox for a gain of 11 yards and Stefon Diggs for a gain of 16, Buffalo failed to move the chains again and punted back to Miami.
Red Zone Success
The Dolphins rode the hot hand of Mostert, who was consistently breaking off big runs and earning first downs. His 36 total yards, plus a 15 yard completion to Jaylen Waddle, set up Miami in the red zone. However, Buffalo’s defense didn’t break, as Shaq Lawson sacked Tagovailoa on third down to force a field goal.
Buffalo answered quickly, scoring a touchdown in just four plays. Allen connected with Knox for a 45 yard gain, then hit Devin Singletary out of the backfield for 13 yards. On first and 10 from the 14 yard line, Allen threw a back shoulder pass to backup tight end Quintin Morris, who made an amazing catch with a defender draped over him.
Miami responded with a 67 yard run from Mostert, who evaded several Bills tackle attempts in the process. Despite the success of the run game, the Dolphins opted to pass inside the 10 yard line, resulting in two incompletions and another field goal.
The Bills had a different approach to their next drive, meticulously moving down the field on 12 plays. Allen hit Gabriel Davis for a gain of 21 on third and 17 to keep the drive alive, and a 20 yard hookup with Diggs placed Buffalo in the red zone. From the 10, Allen threw an immediate check down to Nyheim Hines out of the backfield, who utilized his speed to outrace defenders to the end zone for a touchdown.
Fins Find End Zone
Waddle beat Tre’Davious White on a deep vertical route, gaining 32 yards on the catch. After several runs for minimal gains, Tyreek Hill moved the chains with a gain of 14 on third and 10, a play in which rookie Kaiir Elam had good coverage. On the next play, running back Salvon Ahmed ran up the middle, broke Damar Hamlin’s tackle attempt, and rumbled into the end zone for Miami’s first touchdown of the game. The extra point from Jason Sanders cut Buffalo’s lead to just one point.
Buffalo’s Buzzer Beater
The Bills got the ball back with 2:55 remaining in the half, starting at their own 18 yard line. Allen picked apart the Dolphins, hitting Diggs for 13, Knox for nine, and Singletary for six to help get into field goal range. However, Allen wouldn’t be settling for three points. On third down, Allen rolled to his right and threw a bullet to Isaiah McKenzie, who was able to hold onto the laser to set up the Bills in the red zone. Three defensive penalties gave Buffalo a free 15 yards, setting up first and goal at Miami’s four yard line. The only problem? There were just eight seconds left on the clock. Despite the expectation that Allen would throw a quick dart into the end zone and then settle for a field goal, the QB took the ultimate risk – extending the play. Rolling to his right, he directed traffic and threw the ball towards the end zone with one second left. In what would be the last play of the half, James Cook fell to his knees to make the grab for Buffalo’s third touchdown of the game.
Miami Takes the Lead
Buffalo had the opportunity to ‘double-dip’, and score points at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half. However, the offense seemed to stall in the third quarter, as the Bills punted on all four of their drives, including two three-and-outs.
The Dolphins scored twice in the third quarter, as Tagovailoa found each of his speedy wide receivers for deep touchdowns. On his 67 yard touchdown throw to Waddle, miscommunication between Hamlin and Jordan Poyer left the middle of the field open. After catching it at the 40 yard line, Waddle accelerated the rest of the way to get Miami right back into the game. Tua sailed a pass out of the back of the end zone on Miami’s 2-point conversion attempt, keeping it a 21-19 game.
A sack from DaQuan Jones and Matt Milano eventually led to a Miami punt, where Buffalo committed a costly special teams foul. Defensive back Cam Lewis hit punter Thomas Morstead after his punt, resulting in a 15 yard ‘roughing the kicker’ penalty and a new set of downs for the Fins. Just three plays later, Tyreek Hill burned White on a vertical route, and Tagovailoa hit him in stride in the end zone for a touchdown. Buffalo had blown their lead, and were now losing 26-21.
After a beautiful Taron Johnson pass break up on third down, Buffalo would get the ball back early in the fourth quarter. On their first play of the drive, Allen was stripped by Jalean Phillips and Miami recovered at midfield. Thankfully, the Dolphins were only able to score a field goal off of the turnover, but their lead was extended to eight points.
Let it Snow
Buffalo’s last two drives resulted in points, including a Dawson Knox touchdown. The score was set up thanks to a 44 yard run by Allen and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Dolphins. Knox ran a corner route out of the slot, and the ball was delivered to the back of the end zone as he turned to break away from the defender. However, the comeback wasn’t complete. On Buffalo’s two-point attempt, Allen ran a QB draw from an empty formation, leaping over the entire offensive line so that the football could barely break the plane of the goal line. Initially ruled short of the end zone, a review overturned the call, and the game was tied.
Suddenly, the Bills had new life, tied with Miami late in the fourth quarter. As if it were out of a movie, the infamous Buffalo snow finally arrived, covering the field in white. Miami reached midfield but punted back to the Bills with six minutes remaining, and Buffalo intended to use as much of that clock as possible. In the end, the Bills got their wish, draining the entire clock as they slowly marched down the field. Gabriel Davis made catches of 14 and 15 yards to add several chunk plays to the mix of runs from Singletary. The running back carried the ball seven times for 36 yards, and had the presence of mind to fall down short of the end zone to chew more clock and set up a game-winning Tyler Bass field goal. Bass drilled the 25 yarder with zeroes on the clock, and the Bills had won the game.
Mitch Morse left the game with a concussion, and didn’t return. While a concussion in itself is a serious injury, it’s also important to consider that this is the center’s sixth concussion of his career, placing his availability for this season and beyond in question.
Buffalo was able to right their Week 3 wrong, splitting their series with the Dolphins and all but clinching the AFC East for a third consecutive season. While Tua Tagovailoa has made tremendous improvements this season, Allen showed why he is still a tier above his division counterpart. He showed up when the Bills needed him most, and went full superman on many big-time plays. However, Allen’s superhuman athleticism masks the deficiencies in the trenches, and the offensive line issues may get worse before they get better. With the injury to Morse, and Rodger Saffold and Spencer Brown struggling as of late, the Bills will need better play from their offensive line in the future.
While Damar Hamlin has been more than serviceable replacing Micah Hyde, this game showed that his chemistry with Poyer still has room for improvement. Their miscommunication on Waddle’s deep touchdown probably wouldn’t happen if #23 was on the field. Regardless, the return of Tre’Davious White certainly boosts the secondary. White and several other DBs were burnt multiple times in their press coverage of Miami’s speedsters. The problem was that the Bills were failing to make contact at the line of scrimmage with these receivers, which is pretty much the whole point of playing press-man. By jamming the receivers, the rhythm of the play is thrown off, and doesn’t allow Hill or Waddle to fully accelerate and take advantage of their speed. When the Bills were able to make contact at the line of scrimmage, the plays typically resulted in a much more positive result for Buffalo than when they failed to jam at the line.
Punting four consecutive times in a tight game like this is inexcusable from Buffalo’s offense. Coordinator Ken Dorsey has had his moments, but needs to be more consistent in his success. Buffalo’s offense has certainly improved over recent weeks, and the shift in focus to incorporating Dawson Knox certainly correlates to that. Hopefully with another week to be integrated into the offense, Cole Beasley can make more of a contribution to the offense from the slot.
Offensive Player of the Game: Dawson Knox
Knox had his best game of the season, recording six catches for 98 yards and one touchdown, all team highs. Despite two noticeable drops, the tight end was Allen’s most reliable target, consistently getting open and finding space behind the linebackers. He has now scored a touchdown in two straight games, hopefully a sign that his season-long slump is at its end.
Defensive Player of the Game: Taron Johnson
While the slot corner didn’t fill up the stat sheet, it seemed at times like he was single-handedly keeping Buffalo’s defense afloat, registering a key pass deflection on third and three and recording a two yard tackle for loss on third and one on back-to-back drives.
MVP: Josh Allen
This was the type of MVP performance that had eluded Allen in recent weeks. He finished Saturday’s game with 304 passing yards, 4 passing touchdowns, 77 rushing yards, and a successful 2-point conversion run. Although the offense certainly stalled later in the game, Allen’s hot start and clutch finish was enough to overcome the mid-game slump. The performance has catapulted him right back into the MVP conversation, plus an injury to Jalen Hurts and a date with Joe Burrow in two weeks may help his odds.
What’s Next: Bills @ Bears 12/24
In a Christmas Eve matchup, the Bills travel to the ‘Windy City’ to take on the explosive Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears, with a win guaranteeing the AFC East crown.
Editor’s babble: We are grateful for Colin Richey’s terrific contributions to our blog. You can also find Colin on Twitter @whatthef00tball. Merry Christmas!