What history says about the Dolphins’ 3-0 start. And snap count notes from win over Bills

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The Dolphins’ 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday was significant for several reasons.

It snapped a seven-game losing streak against their division rival. It marked the team’s first 3-0 start since the 2018 season. And as far as early postseason implications go, NFL history suggests the Dolphins have set themselves up well to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2016 season.

According to the NFL, teams who start 3-0 can expect to make the playoffs 76 percent of the time and win the division 51 percent of the time.

Ironically, the last time the Dolphins won their first three games, they still missed the postseason in 2018, finishing 7-9 in what would be Adam Gase’s final season as head coach. In fact, the last three times the team started 3-0 — 2018, 2013 and 2002 — the team failed to make the playoffs. The last time the Dolphins started 3-0 and reached the postseason was the 1998 season.

Week 4 offers a chance for the Dolphins, the only remaining undefeated team in the AFC, to continue to separate themselves from the rest of the conference or return closer to the pack. According to the league, teams who start 4-0 have an 85 percent chance to make the postseason. A 3-1 start and those odds drop to 67 percent.

The Dolphins face a short turnaround on Thursday night, playing the Cincinnati Bengals on the road. The Bengals, defending AFC champions, got their first win of the season on Sunday with a 27-12 victory over the New York Jets.

Not only would a win put the Dolphins at 4-0 for the first time since the 1995 season but all victories would be against AFC opponents and two against AFC East rivals, setting Miami favorably for potential postseason tiebreakers.

“Expectations haven’t been raised, haven’t changed,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said after Sunday’s game. “For us, this is what we believe. We believed in each other. We believed in ourselves. It might be new to a lot of the people that are watching, but for us, we don’t do anything more than what we’re asked out there on the field as well as practice, and that’s what we do. We just trust each other, go out, and play football.”

Snap counts

The Dolphins’ low time of possession on Sunday meant small workloads for the offense and egregiously high snap counts for several defensive players.

Tagovailoa, who briefly left the game toward the end of the first half to be evaluated for a head injury — which he later said was a back injury — only missed three snaps. Teddy Bridgewater made his Dolphins debut and filled in for Tagovailoa. He was sacked once and threw two incompletions.

Safety Jevon Holland was the only defender to stay on the field for every play and he logged a career-high 92 snaps.

Seven defenders played at least 70 snaps. Cornerback Nik Needham matched a career-high workload with 90 snaps, while safety Brandon Jones (83), rookie cornerback Kader Kohou (70) and outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips (62) also had career-high workloads.

After playing 62 percent of the offensive snaps in the comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens, tight end Mike Gesicki was on the field for just 17 snaps. That 40 percent rate aligns with Gesicki’s Week 1 workload when he was on the field for 42 percent of the plays. Durham Smythe played 32 snaps.

Defensive Trey Flowers played 41 snaps, his most extensive workload to date as a Dolphin.

After playing a combined seven snaps in the first two games, outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was on the field for 21 plays following a late-August appendectomy.

Raheem Mostert (24 snaps) and Chase Edmonds (19) again divvied up the running back snaps fairly evenly. Edmonds scored twice on a pair of short runs.

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr., who was questionable because of a ribs and toe injury, logged just five snaps.

Injuries to right tackle Greg Little and right guard Robert Hunt forced the Dolphins to turn to a pair of their reserve offensive linemen for brief moments. Robert Jones played five snaps and Larnel Coleman was on the field for one play.

This and that

The Dolphins became the ninth team in NFL history since 1940 to win a regular-season game running 39 or fewer plays on offense, according to Stathead. Teams were previously 8-47. The last team to win a game running so few plays was the 2018 Dolphins, who had 39 plays in a 28-20 win over the then-Oakland Raiders.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Dolphins’ 19 minutes and 20 seconds of time of possession were the fewest in a win since 2014, when the New England Patriots beat the Jets with 19 minutes and six seconds of time of possession.

Mike McDaniel joins Jimmy Johnson as the only coaches in Dolphins history to win their first three games.