The Miami Dolphins (8-6) lost a heartbreaker at Buffalo, 32-29, on Saturday night in a chilly game that saw the Bills (11-3) clinch a playoff berth.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen did lots of damage late as the Bills scored 11 points, including a dramatic two-point conversion by Allen, in the final 9:02 and eventually winning on a 25-yard field goal as time expired.
Regardless, the Dolphins, who are on a three-game losing streak, can clinch their first playoff berth since 2016 with two victories in their final three games — against Green Bay on Christmas, at New England on New Year’s Day, and against the New York Jets in the regular-season finale.
Passing game: B+
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (17 of 30, 234 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, 104.0 passer rating) started slowly but finished well. Wide receivers Jaylen Waddle (three receptions, 114 yards, one touchdown) and Tyreek Hill (nine receptions, 69 yards, one touchdown) also got in on the act. Tagovailoa clearly is favoring the receivers he likes/trusts as Hill had 13 targets and Waddle had seven. No one else had more than two, and tight end Mike Gesicki had just one target and one reception for 5 yards. Tagovailoa was sacked twice and absorbed just four hits as pass protection was solid. But Buffalo had six passes defended. Still, this was a good showing by the Dolphins.
Running game: A
Running back Raheem Mostert rushed for a season-best 136 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries as the Dolphins cranked out a season-best 188 rushing yards and one touchdown. Mostert ran with speed and authority as the Dolphins, who’d rushed for 125 yards total in the previous two games, showed a commitment to the run game and made it work. If there’s a downside it’s that Mostert had seven carries for 101 yards in the first quarter and only had 35 rushing yards in the final three quarters. On top of that, his 67-yard run was a great deal of his work. Aside from that he had 16 carries for 69 yards. But Mostert and the offensive line made things happen and provided much-needed balance to the offense. If the Dolphins can continue on a similar path they’ll have no problem earning a playoff berth.
Defending the pass: C
Yeah, that fourth-quarter pass interference call against rookie cornerback Kader Kohou hurt badly because it led to the game-winning field goal. Buffalo had third-and-6 from the Dolphins’ 34-yard line, where it would have been looking at a 52-yard field goal attempt in the snow. The 21-yard penalty put them at the Dolphins 13. But the real problem was Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen (25 of 40, 304 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, 119.2 passer rating) was amazing. He put on a show with accurate passes and good decisions. Tight end Dawson Knox (six receptions, 98 yards, one touchdown) led the way as six Bills players had at least two targets and 24 yards receiving. Nine Bills players had at least one reception, and seven Bills had a reception of 10 or more yards. Four Bills players had a receiving touchdown. The Dolphins had two sacks and had six hits on Allen. In the end, however, Allen was too good.
Defending the run: D
Allen carved up the Dolphins defense for 77 yards on 10 carries to power a running game that compiled 150 yards on 29 carries. Once again, a running quarterback racked up some big numbers against the Dolphins. Chicago’s Justin Fields (178 yards rushing) and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (119) also had success this season. Aside from Allen’s 44-yard run, he totaled nine carries for 33 yards, which isn’t really harmful. But the 44-yard run led to a touchdown and then Allen had the dramatic two-point conversion in which he stretched the ball across the goal line to tie the game at 29. The guy was pretty darn good.
Special teams: B+
Kicker Jason Sanders, who booted a season-best 55 yard field goal last week, had three field goals (39 yards, 21 yards, 47 yards) to assist the point total. And punter Thomas Morstead plaecd three punts inside the 20 and Mostert had a 28-yard kickoff return. A roughing call against Morstead fueled the drive that resulted in Hill’s 20-yard touchdown reception. Unfortunately the Dolphins allowed a 36-yard kickoff return but it didn’t lead to any points. Nice work here.
Coach Mike McDaniel and his staff had the Dolphins prepared. And going to the running game early was huge. It allowed the Dolphins to be fairly even in time of possession (the Dolphins had 30 minutes, 7 seconds; Buffalo had 29:53). There were some costly penalties, and the fact the Dolphins had three touchdowns compared to Buffalo’s five touchdowns was pivotal. You can question McDaniel’s decision to go for a two-point conversion (it failed) when the Dolphins trailed, 21-19. But it wasn’t a determining factor in the game. Plus, the Dolphins had 405 yards of offense and averaged 7.1 yards per play (Buffalo had 446 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per play). All things considered, the coaches had their guys ready to play. Good work.
Stock up: Raheem Mostert
Mostert’s 136 yards rushing boosted the offense and gave them another way of gaining yards aside from through the air. He ran hard and used his speed. Oh, and let’s credit the offensive line and pass blocking, which includes the tight ends and fullback Alec Ingold. If they can come close to duplicating what they did against Buffalo, they’ll be OK.
Stock down: Dolphins’ ability to beat good teams
The Dolphins are 3-6 against teams .500 or better, have lost six consecutive to teams .500 or better, and are on a five-game road losing streak to teams .500 or better. That must change, and judging by the way the Dolphins played Saturday it seems likely to change in the season’s final three regular-season games.
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