The Miami Dolphins came into Sunday night's regular season finale with a chance to clinch the AFC East and the two seed in the AFC Playoffs. Entering the fourth quarter, that goal was well within reach. The Dolphins defense had just forced their third turnover of the game and a 15-yard pass from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to wide receiver Tyreek Hill gave the offense first-and-10 at its own 42-yard line with a 14-7 lead and 15 minutes left to play.
But penalties quickly forced a punt, which Buffalo wide receiver Deonte Harty returned 96 yards to tie the game.
Miami's next possession lasted three plays and picked up just one yard and the Bills marched down the field for what would end up being the game-winning touchdown.
With the loss, sixth-seeded Miami will play at third-seeded Kansas City on Saturday night in a rematch of the two teams' Week 9 meeting in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Dolphins built their 14-7 halftime lead through a balanced offensive attack and opportunistic defensive play that resulted in two interceptions in the end zone and another goal line stop.
Tagovailoa was an efficient 9-of-13 for 123 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception in the first half. Miami also posted its second-most carries (17) and tied its third-most rushing yards (101) in the first half of a game this season. In the second half, however, the Dolphins managed just seven rushing yards on three attempts.
The offense ended the first half with back-to-back touchdown drives but was shut out in the second half, as they were outgained 187-57 and were 0-for-4 on third down over the final 30 minutes.
The first quarter ended 0-0 after the two team's four offensive drives ended in three interceptions and one punt.
The Dolphins broke a scoreless tie on their third drive of the game when rookie running back De’Von Achane rushed to the right, made a defender miss and continued all the way to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown, his 11th total score this season.
The Bills tied the game with 4:31 left in the half on a broken play as quarterback Josh Allen's pass ricocheted off linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel's helmet and into the hands of wide receiver Trent Sherfield, who kept both feet in bounds for a six-yard touchdown grab.
With Buffalo receiving the second-half kickoff, the Dolphins offense embarked on a crucial drive towards the end of the second quarter.
Coming out of the two-minute warning, Tagovailoa faced a key third-and-three from the Buffalo 36-yard line and completed a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. to move the chains.
An eight-yard completion to Hill set up third-and-one from the Buffalo three-yard line. Tagovailoa went right back to Hill with a quick pass to the right side of the end zone to put Miami up 14-7 with 1:43 remaining before halftime.
Buffalo then moved the ball down to Miami's 11-yard line with 11 seconds left but would not score. Allen fired a pass to running back Tyler Johnson who was dragged down by cornerback Eli Apple and hit by linebacker Jerome Baker just shy of the goal line. With no timeouts left, the Bills could not get on the ball in time to stop the clock and the half ended with the Dolphins up seven.
Miami could not carry that momentum into the final two periods, however, as its five second-half drives resulted in four punts and an interception.
Buffalo scored the last 14 points of the game on Harty's punt return and a five-yard touchdown pass from Allen to tight end Dawson Knox to get the win.
Tagovailoa finished 17-of-27 for 173 yards passing, one touchdown and two interceptions. Hill led Miami with seven receptions for 82 yards (11.7 avg.) and a score while Achane added Miami's other touchdown and led the team with 10 carries for 56 yards (5.6 avg.).
Allen posted 426 total yards of offense, two touchdowns and three turnovers.
Miami extended its league-leading streak of games with a takeaway to 11, thanks to interceptions from Apple and safety DeShon Elliott and a strip-sack by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
The Dolphins' AFC Wild Card game at Kansas City is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Peacock.