The Miami Dolphins entered Sunday’s contest at Bills Stadium with hopes of clinch their first postseason berth since 2016. Miami was well-deserving of such all season long, keeping things close versus opponents and refraining from lopsided defeats.
But against a team like Buffalo, which had the chance to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, Brian Flores’ group was caught off guard. The Dolphins trailed 28-6 at halftime, and that rendered into a 56-26 loss, ultimately crushing those tournament hopes.
Here are five takeaways on Miami’s sixth loss of the 2020-21 season.
1. Blame Tua Tagovailoa all you want, but his receivers couldn’t do much, either.
Tua’s stat-line was abysmal: 35-of-58, 361 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs.
Tua’s performance earned him a 62.5 QBR, by far the worst in his early career. As he did versus Las Vegas last week and nearly the entire season, Tagovailoa never got comfortable, and in attempts to get his team back on track, he panicked. That led to his three interceptions – including a pix-six – and more.
“All I can do is continue to grow, continue to get better,” Tagovailoa said on his performance and if his season were to end this week.
Along with the putrid performance of the former Alabama QB were his wideouts, which as a whole totaled 10 dropped catches vs. Buffalo. One of those ultimately resulted in Tagovailoa’s final interception in the red-zone, closing the door on any potential comeback.
WR’s DeVante Parker and Isaiah Ford were the cornerstones of losing control of Tua’s passes, while Durham Smythe lack of sway with the ball resulted in a forced fumble for the Bills.
Being pressured wasn’t an issue for Tagovailoa, as he was sacked just once Sunday for a loss of nine yards. Although it’s just one example, Miami’s offensive outing goes to show that picking up a wideout early in the 2021 NFL Draft should be desired.
2. Miami’s secondary struggles – again – versus Buffalo.
Nik Needham got smoked, Byron Jones wasn’t consistent for 60 minutes and there were four Bills WRs with over 65 receiving yards. Miami started off hot with a Jones tip-toe interception in the opening drive but quickly began to feel the wrath of QB Josh Allen – again.
Allen, who played in just the first half, totaled 18 completions for 224 yards and three interceptions, including a four-play, 75-yard drive to extend their lead to 28-6 before the second quarter closed. Needham accounted for two of his TDs, both going to the hands of South Florida native Isaiah McKenzie. He then gave up a 56-yard receiving score to Gabriel Davis to put Buffalo at 56 points.
Needham’s poor performance came as a shock, as he hadn’t given up a touchdown to anyone in 15 games this season.
As for Jones, he was burnt by John Brown late in the second quarter in a play that resulted in six points for the Bills. The AFC East champions found a way to garner 388 passing yards with seven different receivers. That’s the third-most Miami has given up this season (415 YDS in Week 2 vs. Bills, 393 YDS in Week 14 vs. Chiefs). That said, the only positive from the secondary came from Xavien Howard, who improved his chances at winning Defensive Player of the Year after picking up his 10th interception of the season.
Howard is the first player since Antonio Cromartie in 2007 to have 10 INTs in a season.
3. Rushing attack fails to repeat its recent production.
Miami entered Week 17 averaging 5.67 yards per carry in their past two games – versus Las Vegas and New England. The use of former Washington running backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed seemed to be the case for solving Miami’s rushing woes. Added alongside the speedy Matt Breida, that issue was starting to diminish late in the season – an obvious positive sign. But against the Bills, those struggles returned.
Miami had just 70 rushing yards, 29 coming from Ahmed, 28 from Tagovailoa and 20 from Gaskin. Breida was a no-show in what could very likely be his final game in a Dolphin jersey. That lack of production hurt the ‘Fins, which were instead forced to make Tagovailoa throw nearly the entire afternoon. But to be fair, Buffalo’s constant offensive firepower made Miami have to find quick ways to answer back, and rushing the ball wasn’t one of them.
4. A slow start goes on to haunt the Dolphins.
Miami opened things up with a Byron Jones interception in Buffalo territory, as their hunger to win their 11th game of the season made an effect. But when Tagovailoa and the offense came in, there was none of tha5 urgency to put points on the board. After a six-play, 10-yard drive, the Dolphins with a Jason Sanders 49-yard field-goal.
Miami’s defense continued their impressive start, forcing punts on two more possessions. But the offense couldn’t capitalize, punting twice following two three-and-outs. That’s when the Bills got hot and scored 21 consecutive points and never looked back.
“We need to be better opening up games on our first drive. We have to go down and give our team a spark,” Tagovailoa said.
Miami saw similar production in their offense last week vs. Las Vegas, which forced them to put in Ryan Fitzpatrick late for a spark. That did pay-off, as three straight scoring drives gave the Dolphins a 26-25 win. This time around, Fitzpatrick was out with COVID-19, and Tagovailoa fell into the same trap.
5. Sunday wasn’t what they hoped for, but it shouldn’t crumble the improvements they made this season.
There’s no denying that year No. 2 of the Brian Flores project was an obvious success. After starting 1-3, a Fitzpatrick led team put Miami back into .500 before the staff went with Tagovailoa for the rest of the season. The end result: a 10-6 record, one that included a five-game winning streak and set the record to the rest of the NFL that the Dolphins were not to be played with.
After all, there’s a connection between this group that wasn’t there in years prior. “I feel like we got something here. Everybody believes in Flores and the staff,” Xavien Howard said.