SPILLS AND THRILLS

Wildcard review

As with the last meeting between the Dolphins and Bills it came down to the wire, and unfortunately the result was the same, as the Buffalo Bills proceeded to the divisional play-offs. The way the game evolved was a complete contrast though, as the Dolphins banged up defense gave Josh Allen all the trouble he could handle. The problem was the Dolphins offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders and there was a spark missing, with Tua in it may have been different, but we will never know.

The game didn’t start well and there was a sense that Sean McDermott didn’t have much respect for the Tua-less offense as he decided to go for a fourth and three at the Miami 32 rather than kick a field goal. The Dolphins defense held, but the next three plays gave us a sense that maybe he was right, a short run and two incompletions, frustratingly the first incompletion was a drop by Jaylen Waddle, it was a deep ball that was slightly underthrown, it should have been caught, but it wasn’t to be. Just like that Allen had the ball back in his hands. He didn’t waste much time making amends for the first drive, hitting Stefon Diggs for two long completions, and capping it off with a short pass to Dawson Knox who has become a thorn in the Dolphins side.

Skylar Thompson responded on the next drive by gifting the Bills the ball, he was looking to get a pass to Tyrek Hill in crowded coverage, but Dean Marlowe was in perfect position to make the play and intercept the ball on the Miami twenty-seven. Six plays later the Dolphins were in a hole as James Cook burst through for a twelve yard score. They would go on to kick a field goal after another failed Dolphins drive and it looked as though a rout was on. Allen was having his way with the Miami defense and Thompson was looking like a seventh-round rookie. Maybe it was the nerves and he just needed to settle down and get into a rhythm.

There was no need to panic, the game was young, and seventeen points aren’t insurmountable. The offense showed some signs of life and cobbled together enough plays to drive into Buffalo territory but got stuck at the twenty-two and had to settle for three points, but at least they got some points on the board. The outlook was a bit brighter following the score as Allen went for the jugular and attempted a deep pass to John Brown, what he didn’t expect was Xavien Howard to come away with the ball and return it back to the Bills forty-eight.

The offense took over but only managed to come away with another three points, but at least they were chipping away at the deficit, they would add another three following a three and out and a long punt return by Cedrick Wilson. The score was now 17-9 with a little over a minute left in the first half. That changed in a blink courtesy of another uncharacteristic Allen interception deep in Bills territory. Four plays and Thompson found Mike Gesicki in the back of the endzone to level the score up. How was that possible, that stats didn’t add up, Buffalo had 275 yards compared to Miami’s 111 and the Bills third down efficiency was a scary 62%. Never the less they were back in the game and giving Buffalo problems. The Bills would retake the lead just before the half on the back of some long completions, with seven seconds left Tyler Bass converted a 39-yard field goal.

Who would have thought Miami would go into the locker room down by three with the ball to start the second half considering the injuries they were dealing with. Somehow Mike McDaniel’s men were hanging in there and creating problems for the heavily favoured Bills. The opening drive of the second half didn’t go well but it didn’t matter as Eric Rowe created a sack fumble that Zack Sieler recovered in the endzone for the go-ahead score. They wouldn’t relinquish the lead until deep in the quarter when Thompson threw his second interception, setting up Allen with a short field, he only needed five plays, hitting Cole Beasley for a six-yard pass.

Allen wasn’t finished as he continued to pick on the secondary, another trio of 10+ passes and they went up 34-24 when Gabe Davis caught a deep pass in the endzone. The Dolphins weren’t about to lie down though, but time was going to become a factor as the fourth quarter had rolled around. They started the final period by scoring a touchdown following some clutch plays down the field, finishing with a one-yard run by Jeff Wilson. They were now only three points down but unfortunately that would be it. The attempted comeback in the remaining minutes could only be classified as an unmitigated clock management disaster. Time and again they broke the huddle with little or no time to set for the play, and it was a surprise they didn’t get called for multiple delay of game penalties. Thompson owned up to the gaffes after the game, but you must wonder what part McDaniel’s played in the delays.

Either way it was hard to watch as there was still a chance of an upset as they had the ball for what could have been the final drive of the game. It wasn’t to be, and they now have to start planning for next season. It wasn’t a surprise that Buffalo won but nobody could have imagined Miami hanging in there with a bunch of back-ups manning the secondary and a third string quarterback behind a patchwork offensive line. The season didn’t quite go as planned but things are looking bright if only they can stay healthy.

There are a lot of question marks around a number of players, Tua’s health and future being the biggest, but with Mike McDaniel’s in control it looks pretty good. Following the game, it wasn’t really a surprise when Josh Boyer and a couple of other defensive assistants were relieved of their duties. Over the course of the season the defense didn’t play up to expectation and regressed following the departure of Brian Flores. There were questionable calls and break downs that ultimately Boyer had to take the fall for. To be fair he was dealt a bad hand with all the injuries but whichever way you look at it the defense never had enough bite when it mattered the most.