‘You don’t hide from it’: Dolphins put 2-0 record on the line vs. divisional rival Bills

·4 min read
David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

In theory, the public sentiments coming from the Dolphins’ practice facility regarding the team’s Week 3 matchup against the Buffalo Bills are correct.

”It’s the next game and the next game is important,” cornerback Xavien Howard said.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s hype or anything ... we kind of look at it as the next game,” wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said.

And yes, it is the next game, one that will count the same on the Dolphins’ record as the other 16 — win, loss, or perhaps draw.

However, as far as early-season matchups go, the Dolphins’ home game against the Bills on Sunday marks one of the franchise’s most-anticipated in recent memory. It serves as an opportunity for the team to stake its claim as a legit contender after years of mediocrity that gave way to a multi-year strip-down and rebuild.

It’s also a marquee head-to-head that’s taken on more intrigue given the Dolphins and Bills are two of the six remaining undefeated teams and the only 2-0 squads facing off against each other this weekend.

On one side, there is a Bills team, led by star quarterback Josh Allen, that has looked every bit of the Super Bowl contenders they were billed to be in the lead-up to the 2022 season. Buffalo has beat its first two opponents, the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans, by a combined margin of 55 points.

“We understand that they’re a really good team. That’s no secret,” said quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who leads the NFL with 739 passing yards. “Everyone knows that they’re a really good team. They’re tough defensively, they’re explosive offensively. So I wouldn’t say that we have a measuring stick for how good these guys are because when you look at it, their opening game, they beat the Super Bowl champions of last year. And they didn’t just beat them; it was by a lot. And the next team they played, a really good team; they beat them by a lot. So for us, we’re just looking at playing the way we play and playing the way we’ve played for the past two weeks and we’ll go out there, they’ll get our best and we’ll get theirs.”

On the other side is a Dolphins team that, after staging the second-largest comeback win in franchise history in Baltimore last weekend, is the darling of the nascent season. With a first-year head coach in Mike McDaniel pushing all the right buttons for the offense he’s crafted around Tagovailoa, the Dolphins seemingly have emerged as a legitimate player in the AFC. National prognosticators praised the Dolphins’ fourth-quarter explosion against the Ravens and power rankings reflected the team’s potential to be among the NFL’s elite. It’s recognition for a proud franchise that could be legitimized with a win over the Bills.

“Generally there is always some kind of growing pains,” said former NFL quarterback Trent Green, who provided color commentary for the Dolphins’ win over the Ravens. Green will be a part of the broadcast team again on Sunday. “It gets guys to buy in that much quicker when you see the success that you’re able to have.”

To get to 3-0 for the first time since 2018, the Dolphins will have to be victorious against a Buffalo team that has dominated the rivalry over the last four years. Miami has lost seven consecutive games against the Bills, with a point differential of -135. The last time the Dolphins beat Buffalo was on Dec. 2, 2018. Only five players remain from that team, and the roster has seen so much turnover since then that current members hold little weight to the lopsided advantage the division rival has held.

“It is a new year and a new team, really,” McDaniel said. “So we’re not approaching it like, ‘OK, well we have to get them this time.’”

Green acknowledged the importance of the game from Miami’s perspective but said a loss to the Bills wouldn’t invalidate their early progress because of the season being so young. A win, though, would continue to “reinforce the plan” of McDaniel.

“The biggest message is that you don’t ignore the obvious,” McDaniel said. “The Buffalo Bills have won the division and done an unbelievable job in all three phases, so what better for the Miami Dolphins that’s a young team that that is really invested and they’re very eager to play football, what better opportunity than playing the best and seeing where you’re at? So I think you don’t hide from it. I think you embrace the fact that they’re a good football team and that there’s one way to be put in the category of good football teams: you beat good football teams.”