ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As the Miami Dolphins‘ offense found life in the third quarter Saturday night, their AFC East showdown against the Buffalo Bills seemed destined to go down to the wire as the anticipated snowstorm moved in.
A defensive pass interference call put the Bills at the Dolphins’ 13 with 45 seconds left, and Tyler Bass converted a 25-yard field goal as Buffalo pulled out a 32-29 victory to clinch a playoff berth.
Josh Allen threw three TD passes in the first half to put Buffalo up 21-13, but Tua Tagovailoa threw two TD passes, including a 67-yarder to Jaylen Waddle, in the third quarter as Miami took a 26-21 lead to set up a wild ending.
With just under six minutes to go, the Bills needed a drive. The offense had struggled for almost the entire second half outside of one touchdown drive. But as the snow started seriously falling at Highmark Stadium, Allen led the Bills downfield on a drive that took everything off the clock and handed Buffalo a win and a playoff berth.
The 15-play, 65-yard drive that ended the game was the Bills’ longest of the game in terms of plays and did not give the Miami offense a chance to respond.
The victory was far from perfect with four punts in the third quarter and mistakes allowing the Dolphins to take the lead, but it was the ability of the struggling offense to put together two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, thanks to Allen’s arms and legs, that proved to be enough.
Describe the game in two words: Playoff clincher. The Bills have always had their sights set on big things this season, and while the effort was far from perfect in all three phases, they did enough to clinch their spot in the postseason, in large part thanks to the struggling running game emerging in the fourth quarter with 99 yards.
Troubling trend: Missed tackles and run defense. These two go together. The Bills’ defense had seemed to solve most of its run problems, allowing fewer than 100 yards on the ground in each of their last four games entering the meeting with the Dolphins.
But Miami was committed to getting the running game going and had success doing so, in part due to a significant amount of missed tackles. The Dolphins rushed for 188 yards, averaging 7.5 yards per carry. The explosive plays on the ground and missed opportunities went a long way in the Dolphins’ second-half success.
Promising development: All four of Allen’s passing touchdowns went to running backs and tight ends, the most of his career. The Bills have not consistently integrated running back Nyheim Hines into the offense since trading for him at the deadline, and tight end Dawson Knox has had a diminished role as a receiver this season. Against the Dolphins, both had receiving touchdowns — tight end Quintin Morris and running back James Cook had the other two. Knox exploded for 98 yards on six receptions and was vital part of the passing offense. Getting under-utilized players involved is an important step for this offense. — Alaina Getzenberg
Under-the-radar stat that matters: Allen has now thrown multiple touchdowns in all 10 games he’s played against the Dolphins. Only Tom Brady (22) has more games with multiple passing touchdowns against the Dolphins all-time.
It was Miami’s rushing attack that kept it in the game in the first half, and it was the big-play capability of the passing game that put the Dolphins in the lead in the second half.
But it came down to who had the ball last, and Allen made that count.
QB Breakdown: Tagovailoa has historically struggled in cold-weather games, but he was a driving force in the Dolphins’ comeback attempt.
In the coldest temperatures he’s ever played in, Tagovailoa snapped out of a streak of poor play, taking his checkdowns and handling the Bills’ defense. After an awful performance against the Chargers in Week 14, Saturday’s game marked an ascension to the mean for the Dolphins’ quarterback, and his efficiency didn’t slow down once the snow began to fall in the fourth quarter. In Miami’s first drive after the snow began, he hit Hill on the run for a 13 yards before lofting a 21-yard pass to Cedrick Wilson.
Describe the game in two words: Broken narrative. The outside expectation entering the game was for the team from Miami to struggle in a snowy, cold western New York. But the Dolphins’ 405 yards of offense Saturday night proved they could hang in a cold-weather environment — which was a critical obstacle to climb, considering they’ll likely have to travel north if they make the playoffs.
Promising sign: The Dolphins’ run game was essentially non-existent during their losses to the Chargers and 49ers, rushing for a combined 125 yards — 28 of which came from Tagovailoa in Week 14. But Mostert broke the 100-yard mark in the first quarter thanks to a 64-yard rush, the Dolphins’ longest of the season. Per Next Gen Stats, Mostert ran for 52 yards over expectation, while Salvon Ahmed added 43 yards on six carries in place of the injured Jeff Wilson. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Under-the-radar stat that matters: Mostert is the first Dolphins player in the last 45 seasons to rush for 100 yards in the first quarter of a game.