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Bills edge Dolphins, 34-31, advance to AFC Divisional Round

Buffalo Bills
2022 · 14-3-0
Miami Dolphins
2022 · 9-9-0


  1. Bills win in spite of another flurry of turnovers. Only the Texans and Colts turned the ball over more during the regular season than the Bills (who played a 16-game slate, by the way). So it shouldn’t be shocking that Buffalo coughed it up three times Sunday against the Dolphins. This was the Bills’ fifth game with three or more turnovers this season and, frighteningly enough, the third straight such game. And the leading culprit, quarterback Josh Allen, was part of the problem Sunday. Allen’s two picks and a lost fumble (one of three fumbles he had in the game) cost the Bills 17 points, including Miami’s scoop-and-score on the first series of the second half. Every time the Bills threatened to pull away, a giveaway seemed to get the Dolphins back in the game -- almost inexplicably. It evoked memories of Buffalo's regular-season loss to the Vikings, when the Bills had about a dozen chances to win the game but could not. The difference here was that the Bills were able to finish off the feisty Dolphins in the final minutes, thanks in part to Miami’s own self-inflicted errors. Allen now has 16 interceptions and six lost fumbles in 17 games this season, and yet there he was late in the game scrambling with the ball unprotected in one hand. He’s a special, rare talent who made some big throws on Sunday. He’s capable of blowtorching just about any defense, but the Bills can’t keep playing this fast and loose with the competition getting stiffer in the Divisional Round.
  2. Dolphins' self-inflicted errors might have cost them big upset. The Dolphins’ lack of offensive execution, even with a quarterback and head coach in their first playoff games, was the story. The critical mistakes they made against the Bills likely cost themselves a chance to pull off a huge upset. Four false start penalties? Yes, and all of them were costly, none more so than on their final drive of the game. After a huge connection from Skylar Thompson to Jaylen Waddle to get the Dolphins in business, they cost themselves five easy yards. Then four plays later came the hammer blow: a delay of game on fourth-and-1 from midfield with just over two minutes to go. The try on fourth-and-6 fell incomplete, and Miami never got the ball back. That’s an indictment of Mike McDaniel and Thompson. It felt like the play calls were getting in late quite a bit in the fourth quarter especially. Throw in the early dropped passes by the Dolphins, and it’s not hard to see how they easily could have found a path to victory here.
  3. Give Skylar Thompson some credit for his effort. It’s easy to look at Thompson’s passing line -- 18 of 45 passing, 220 yards, touchdown, two interceptions -- and say that the Dolphins would have won the game with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa. Maybe the latter part is true, we don’t know. But Thompson was far better than his numbers indicated, even with some major meat left on the bone in this one. The two picks can’t be ignored, of course. But Thompson made some plays, peeled himself off the turf after a few huge hits and kept coming. He wasn’t perfect -- far from it -- but gave it everything he had. The Bills sacked him four times and hit him 11 times total. The Dolphins won the special-teams battle overall and got a defensive touchdown, which made all those early field goals so frustrating late in the game -- Miami could have been up more. Thompson struggled on third downs most of the game, completing only 4 of his first 14 passes in those situations for 34 yards, an INT and only three first downs prior to the big completion late to Waddle. But considering the four false starts and delay of game, the play calls coming in late, multiple big drops by receivers early and late, and the run game being ignored much of the afternoon, Thompson did what he had to to keep his team alive.
  4. Dolphins succeed and fail by all-out blitz. The Dolphins have been a pressure-based defense all season, loving to blitz and play man defense behind it. It’s what they’ve done consistently against most opponents, but especially against the Bills. Miami didn’t change its approach in this one, seemingly willing to let Allen have some short-play opportunities while hoping it also would lead to turnover chances for the Dolphins’ defense. Even though Allen threw for 352 yards and three TDs, the strategy almost worked. On the one hand, it allowed Allen to hit on plays such as the 52-yard bomb to Stefon Diggs early, as the Bills mostly did a tremendous job picking up the zero-blitz looks the Dolphins threw at them for four quarters. Then the Dolphins got what they wanted when Allen was pressured and underthrew a deep ball to John Brown that Xavien Howard picked off. This might be the blueprint that others will consider adopting, even if they might not be quite as aggressive (desperate?) as the Dolphins seemed to be in this game.
  5. Bills survive, and that’s all that matters, but mistakes are hard to overlook. It has been a surreal few weeks for the Bills, who went from the frightening Damar Hamlin situation in Cincinnati to pulling out a wild-card playoff thriller in the span of 13 days, and it’s hard to overlook that element in their quest to win the franchise's first Super Bowl. Hamlin’s remarkable recovery has thrilled the football-watching nation and likely galvanized the Bills, especially when his replacement (Dean Marlowe) made an interception. But you also can’t blame them if the emotional heft of this season had an effect on their play in this game. The Bills came out pretty sharp but cost themselves by stalling offensively and also by making some bone-headed plays. Allen’s ball security was an issue all game. The Dawson Knox drop. The Khalil Shakir drop. The Cole Beasley drop (that was intercepted). Brown stopping his route on Allen’s pick to Howard. Kicking off out of bounds. Giving up first downs on third-and-19, fourth-and-8 and second-and-18, thanks to missed tackles and assignments. Shakir and Beasley made up for their mistakes with big plays later, but those second-chance opportunities might not be there in future playoff games.

Next Gen stat of the game: On the 52-yard reception from Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs, the air distance on the throw was 59.8 yards and had a completion probability of only 15.6% -- the most improbable completion of Allen's career and the NFL’s longest completion against an eight-man blitz since 2016.

NFL Research: Dawson Knox has caught a TD in each of his past five games. The only tight ends since 1970 with a longer streak of games with one or more receiving TDs within a single season (including playoffs) are Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski.

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