The red-hot Buffalo Bills offense stayed true to form with a 28-point explosion in the second quarter as the Dolphins finish the season with 10 wins after a 56-26 loss in the finale in Buffalo.
|3rd Down Conv.||3/14||4/10|
|Time of Possession||32:38||27:22|
Questions regarding how the Bills would approach this game were quickly answered when quarterback Josh Allen took the field to start, and the Dolphins were initially up to the challenge. Buffalo's first three possessions of the game resulted in two punts and Byron Jones' second interception as a member of the Miami Dolphins. As the Bills are known to do, one of the NFL's most dangerous offenses flipped the switch.
Buffalo scored on three straight offensive possessions with a pair of Allen passes going to wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. McKenzie added an 84-yard punt return to widen the gap to 28-6 by the halftime break.
"We didn't play well in any phase," Head Coach Brian Flores said. "Offense, defense, or special teams -- it's a team effort. Yeah, I thought we had a good week of practice. Yeah, I thought we were ready. At the end of the day, we didn't execute in any of the three phases. You've got to execute against a good football team if you're going to give yourself a chance."
Miami received the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards in under four minutes, capping it off with their first touchdown of the game, a 1-yard plunge by running back Myles Gaskin. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went to wide receiver DeVante Parker early and often with completions of 13, 16, 25 and six yards on the scoring march. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for Miami.
Parker finished the day with 116 receiving yards, his third 100-yard game of the season. Gaskin followed up his career-game last week with 83 yards from scrimmage, giving him 259 over the final two games of the season.
The positive momentum continued as Miami forced a Bills punt on the following possession, but then a receiver slipped on Miami's next drive, giving Bills cornerback Josh Norman an interception return for a touchdown to extend the Buffalo lead to 35-13.
"It's always tough to come in and play this team," offensive lineman Jesse Davis said. "Putting ourselves down early didn't help. Our execution wasn't where it needed to be, but we kept fighting and that's what this team has shown all season, we can fight."
Before Buffalo found its rhythm, Miami started the game in familiar fashion. For the 12th consecutive game, the opposition failed to score on their opening possession as Miami simultaneously extended their league-best takeaway streak with the Jones interception.
It was Jones' second interception of the season and extended the Dolphins' streak to 22 consecutive games with a takeaway, dating back to last season. It's the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the third-longest in team history.
Two quarters later, Jones' counterpart, Xavien Howard, made history.
Howard's third-quarter interception gave him 10 on the season, tying Dick Westmoreland (1967) for the most in franchise history. Howard became the first NFL player with double-digit interceptions since Antonio Cromartie of the San Diego Chargers intercepted 10 passes in 2007.
Entering play in Week 17, Howard was allowing just 49.3 percent of passes targeted in his direction to go complete, and limited opposing quarterbacks to a collective passer rating of 48.7 – both best among players with at least 40 pass targets, per Pro Football Focus. He also finished the season with 20 passes defensed, the most in the NFL as of the end of the early kickoffs.
"It was hard to be happy. Nobody wants to get beat like that," Howard said. "We came in trying to win the game and it didn't happen, so I didn't really get the feeling with the 10th interception that it was good enough."
The Dolphins finish the second regular season under Head Coach Brian Flores with 10 wins and in second place in the AFC East. The five-win improvement from 2019 tied the third-best turnaround in franchise history (five-game turnarounds in 1982-1983 and 2004-2005).
"The season we had last year to this year was kind of night and day difference," Davis said. "That kind of spoke for what we did this offseason, what we were able to do this season. Obviously we wanted to win that game and give us our own shot to get in. This is a great group, looking at the team from top down. Overall, I think we can fight. We've shown we can improve and hang with some teams but tonight we weren't able to perform."