The AFC Wild Card game featuring the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills was much closer than many predicted.
Josh Allen carried a three-turnover outing, and the three-time defending AFC East champion Bills avoided a major upset by rallying to pull out a 34-31 victory over the AFC’s seventh-seeded and injury-depleted Dolphins in a wild-card playoff.
Allen finished 23 of 39 for 352 yards and three TDs but also threw two interceptions, which resulted in the Dolphins scoring 11 points.
The injury-depleted Dolphins felt that only some people gave them a chance against the Bills. Despite the challenges, they almost pulled off a playoff shocker.
Bills squandered a 17-0 lead against a Dolphins team that limped into the playoffs by losing five of its final six and was down to its third-string quarterback, rookie Skylar Thompson.
Eric Rowe blitz, forcing Allen’s fumble, was returned 5 yards for a touchdown by Zach Sieler 61 seconds into the third quarter to put the Dolphins up 24-20.
Sieler’s touchdown is the first fumble recovery for a touchdown in Dolphins playoff history. The last defensive score in a Dolphins playoff game was A.J. Duhe’s 35-yard pick-six vs. the Jets on Jan. 23, 1983.
The Dolphins scored 24 points in the last eight minutes entering the third quarter.
Entering the game, the Dolphins have not won a playoff game since 2000. They have played four playoff games since their last win; they have lost all of them by at least 17 points. They have been outscored 80-20 in their previous four playoff games.
The Dolphins extended their run of playoff losses to five. Miami’s most recent playoff win was a 23-17-overtime victory over Indianapolis on Dec. 30, 2000 in the wild-card round.
The Bills won seven in a row and were favored by 13 entering the wild card matchup.
Entering the game, Thompson was 1-1 in two starts this season. He was selected in the seventh round out of Kansas State. He closed his career by going 21 of 28 for 259 yards and three TDs in the Wildcats’ 42-20 win over LSU in the Texas Bowl a year ago. He had moments in his first playoff game, but mistakes were too many to overcome, and his receivers dropped passes.
After Thompson’s third career start, Thompson finished 18 of 45 for 220 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
The Dolphins had a chance to win or tie the game. Thompson’s pass on fourth-and-6 went just off the fingertips of tight end Mike Gesicki with 2:22 remaining.
Considering the injuries at the quarterback position and a rookie third-string at quarterback, this team nearly pulled off a monumental historical upset. The Dolphins almost won the game in one of the most challenging environments in the NFL. The defense deserves all the credit with three turnovers, including one for a touchdown; the offense did not help in return. It was a very successful season for the Dolphins.
The Dolphins were able to get into the playoffs with Thompson. He played well against the Bills. He played with more confidence even though he threw a costly interception. It was tough to beat the Bills with Thompson as the starter. The future is bright; you must feel good about this Dolphins team.
The news is positive regarding Tua Tagovailoa returning to the Dolphins next season. He is vital for winning for the organization. The Dolphins looked invincible when he was healthy and playing. Minus the injuries, this was his best season. In the offseason, the Dolphins need to decide on his contract. Do you pick up his option? Do you guarantee his option year? Do you let him play it out and keep him if he has a productive season? At the moment, concerning the concussions, his health is the concern; making a long-term deal is not the best idea. Moreover, he has missed significant time because of injuries in seasons past.
Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki may have given Miami fans his last “griddy.” He will likely be playing for another team in 2023 as a wide receiver.
On the defensive side of the ball, Christian Wilkins will be a big decision the Dolphins will have to make. He is a first-round pick, so they can pick up a fifth-year option on him, trade him or sign him to a long-term deal. He had the best season for a defensive tackle in the NFL. He is the foundation of this Dolphins’ defense.
Head coach Mike McDaniel’s play calling has been known to have long terminology leading the plays on offense to be called in as the play clocking is winding down. Communication was a piece of the reason why the Dolphins did not win however it was not the entire reason. He sometimes struggled to call the plays on offense and manage the game simultaneously this season; it may have cost the Dolphins their season today.
McDaniel will get a pass for this season and did a fantastic job. He took over the coaching position with tons of headlines from the offseason. He turned Tua’s career around; he found a way to get Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle incorporated into the offense, he revamped the offensive line improving it, but like any first-year head coach, there are some things he will have to fine-tune, especially on the penalties for delay of game.
This was an all-time great effort by this Dolphins group of players in this game. They played with the heart of a lion. The loss to the Bills is one of the best playoff games I have seen the Dolphins play. The future is bright, and the team can be better next year. They can add a few more pieces this offseason in a creative way; they have no cap space and no first-round picks.