Miami vice: Where does Dolphins’ loss to Bills leave them?


The snow started right as the Buffalo Bills tied the Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t just a flurry. It was a powerful winter storm that quickly blanketed the field at Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium during the Bills’ 32-29 win Saturday night.

Josh Allen has been there and done that. The man plays football like he was raised in a snowball for God’s sake. The Bills quarterback has played in conditions like Saturday’s blizzard, and much worse.

But Tua Tagovailoa? The Hawaiian? Alabama prospect turned Miami QB? Not so much.

So it looked like the Dolphins’ lead in the game changed substantially with the Bills’ tying touchdown and the onslaught of snow.

The Finns’ offense went five plays after the inclement weather arrived, and while they drove 32 yards, they came up short. They scored

Miami didn’t get the ball back either, as the Bills controlled the clock with a 15-play, 86-yard, six-minute drive that concluded with a field goal at the buzzer. The Dolphins’ secondary struggled, with rookie cornerback Kader Kohou dropping some catches and committing a defensive pass interference penalty in the final minute. (Kohou grew up in Texas, a mostly snow-free state.)

Soon, the Bills found themselves in a comfortable field goal spot at the 4-yard line. And while it could be argued that there is no “comfortable” field point in such a heavy storm, kicker Trevor Bass nailed the ball through the uprights and enjoyed the snow with a celebratory slide.

“I know a lot of people would like to talk about the weather,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said after the game. “Our team never did. And it was cool to talk about it, but it was more about the football players on the football field.”

Yes, but that football field was covered in snow.

The dolphins fought back. It really looked like they might pull off the upset in Buffalo. The recipe was there. Tua threw touchdown passes to Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Tagovailoa may not have been playing his best game, completing just 56% of his passes, but he took advantage of big opportunities. He fired the ball into gaps in the Bills defense and found spots to help his receivers score.

It was a game of tea leaves for Tua. People will see what they want to see. If Miami had won, everyone would be proclaiming the southpaw “back.” They ran highlights of Tua’s touchdown to Hill. There were enough major releases. But there were also mistakes and inaccurate or inadvisable passes. And unfortunately, these releases will become the center of attention.

Considering the Bills beat him on their long road trip, the blame rests primarily on the Dolphins’ defense. The unit had its moments. Passing Jaelan Phillips opened the fourth quarter with a drive that gave Miami a chance to grab a two-goal lead. But their offense later let down their defense, putting up just one field goal after the turnover to make it 29-21.

Even McDaniel seemed to have an off day. On third and short, he leaned into his passing offense. On a normal day, that would make sense. But against the Bills, the Dolphins averaged 7.5 yards per carry.

Even though I furiously tweeted in the game that McDaniel needed to run the ball, he didn’t. Apparently I wasn’t tracking my live tweets. If he had been, he probably would have pointed to Waddle’s score, a 67-yard touchdown on third-and-4. Not technically a short-yardage situation, but an optimal result nonetheless. That said, in the second half, the Dolphins faced three thirds when they needed three yards or less. They threw him every time. They didn’t convert every time. They finished 5 of 14 on third downs. Which leaves us with this:

  1. The Dolphins weren’t good enough to beat the AFC’s No. 1 team on the road.
  2. But they also played well.
  3. It hasn’t been the best they’ve played.
  4. Miami advanced.

All four of these things can be true at the same time.

The problem is that their progress comes during a three-game losing streak near the end of the season, when they need to win.

Miami (8-6) hosts the Green Bay Packers next week, then plays the New England Patriots before finishing at home against the New York Jets. It’s a tough ending. Right now, the Dolphins have a 66 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. If the Packers win, that jumps to 76%. If they lose, their chances drop to 46%.

I leave you with the truth about this game.

The real truth and nothing more.

That game fell to Josh Allen. That’s how the Bills won (11-3). They have the best football player on the planet, or the second best behind Patrick Mahomes. Yes, this is a team game. But sometimes individuals take over. That’s what Allen did.

The Dolphins will have to contend with that. If they give the Bills anything but their best, Allen will beat the Dolphins. He is so good.

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Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


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