The final sequences of the Dolphins’ Week 3 home game against the Buffalo Bills were a perpetual yo-yo that underscored just how close victory or defeat would be for Miami.
There were the countless passes from quarterback Josh Allen on Buffalo’s penultimate drive that whizzed through the hands of Miami defenders. The lengths that separated a plowing Allen from crossing the goal line and demoralizing the announced attendance of 66,206 at Hard Rock Stadium — the second-largest crowd since it was modernized in 2015.
How punter Thomas Morstead’s punt ricocheted off the backside of wide receiver Trent Sherfield and out of the end zone, injecting life into Buffalo late.
And on the deciding drive, the mere seconds that separated the Bills from being able to attempt one final play but ultimately secured the Dolphins’ 21-19 win over Buffalo, their first victory over the division rival since Dec. 2, 2018.
In beating the Bills (2-1), a team considered by many the favorite to win the Super Bowl, the Dolphins not only snapped a seven-game losing streak against Buffalo but staked an early claim as one of the NFL’s elite three weeks into the 2022 NFL season. The Dolphins left Sunday as the only remaining undefeated team in the AFC ahead of a Thursday night road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (1-2).
“Our goals as a team are bigger than beating the Bills,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “It was a great win today. It was an awesome, gritty, gritty win. It took a lot of grit. That’s what those southern grandmothers make on Sundays, grits. It was gritty. It took a lot. It showed the character of our team. But, like [I] said, our goals are bigger than going 3-0 and beating the Bills. This is just a stepping stone to where we want to go.”
One week after quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had one of the greatest individual performances in franchise history, he and the Dolphins offense was resigned to watching a Bills offense that methodically trekked its way up and down the field underneath a South Florida heat that took its toll on both sides throughout the afternoon.
The Dolphins were doubled in time of possession — 40:40 to 19:20 — and ran just 39 plays to Buffalo’s 90. Miami was out-gained 497-212 in total yards. All of the Bills’ offensive scoring possessions took at least 10 plays, including a 20-yard, 87-yard drive that took 9:22 off the game clock in the third quarter. But for all of Buffalo’s work — and 447 yards accounted for by Allen — they were left with just a field goal that gave them a 17-14 lead. It was a microcosm of the efforts of the Dolphins’ defense in the red zone, where the game would ultimately be won.
On the Bills’ opening drive, they faced fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. The Dolphins sent a blitz, which Allen countered with ease, finding running back Devin Singletary in the flat for the short score and a 7-0 lead.
A strip-sack by safety Jevon Holland and recovery by outside Melvin Ingram III deep in the red zone set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown, a 1-yard run by running back Chase Edmonds that tied the score at 7. But Buffalo made its way back into the red zone. Again, the Dolphins would send a blitz but left a pass-catcher open. This time it was wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who caught an 8-yard pass to put the Dolphins behind by seven, 14-7.
When the Dolphins were on offense, they were able to move the ball at times against a Bills defense that featured a fearsome pass rush but was playing without its entire starting secondary due to injuries. An 11-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to wide receiver River Cracraft tied the game at 14 with 6:45 remaining in the first half.
Tagovailoa, though, had an injury scare toward the end of the first half. He landed on his back and hit his head on the grass after being shoved by inside linebacker Matt Milano. Tagovailoa got up but his legs wobbled, and he was taken out of the game to be evaluated for a head injury. Backup Teddy Bridgewater entered the game at the 2-minute warning and played the rest of the first half, but Tagovailoa re-entered the game to start the second. Though Tagovailoa said he passed a concussion test, he and McDaniel later said it was a back injury that Tagovailoa sustained in the first quarter and resurfaced after he was shoved.
The NFLPA has asked the NFL to investigate the team’s handling of Tagovailoa’s injury, according to multiple reports.
Of the Dolphins’ four second-half possession, only one was fruitful but it was the most pivotal. A 3-yard run by Edmonds gave them a 21-17 lead with 10:08 remaining. A 45-yard pass deep down the middle of the field to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle — on third-and-22 — set up what ended up being the decisive score.
The goal-line mistakes made by the Dolphins defense in the first half wouldn’t be replicated with the game on the line. The Bills got as close as the 1-yard line when Allen was stonewalled by inside linebackers Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts on a second-down run. On third down, cornerback Xavien Howard broke up a pass intended for receiver Stefon Diggs in the back of the end zone. On fourth down, Allen’s feet weren’t set as his pass to McKenzie aimlessly fell to the ground in front of him with 1:46 remaining.
“That was the toughest part of the game,” said Tagovailoa, who completed 13 of 18 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown. “We never knew when our next [opportunity] would be ... The defense came through, and it kind of tells a picture story of what our team is capable of. It’s not just our offense being able to help win a game, but it’s the defense as well. And we’ve seen that today with their performance.”
Morstead’s blooper punt offered a moment for the Dolphins’ glee to turn into dismay, but McKenzie was tackled by Ingram inbounds with 12 seconds remaining, setting off a scramble to spike the ball with time remaining.
The Dolphins’ crowd counted down the final seconds of the game before erupting into celebration, capturing what McDaniel described as a “roller coaster” of emotions — one the Dolphins were finally able to savor.
“To be able to finish the game with two unbelievable efforts by the defense,” McDaniel said, “I think I couldn’t have written a better script for what we’re trying to do.”