1) Good Start, Poor Finish
This game could not have started any better for the Miami Dolphins. It followed so many of the wins this team had complied throughout this season, led by the defense. They were very good early, creating havoc behind the line of scrimmage and forcing an early turnover. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel started it all by pressuring Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, and getting a sack on the opening drive of the game. That minus 11 yards forced the Bills offense into a second and 21, and that's when cornerback Byron Jones jumped in front of an Allen pass for his second interception of the season. Those two plays gave Miami's offense instant field position, and the early lead when placekicker Jason Sanders converted from 49 yards out. The Dolphins defense continued to hold the upper hand until the Bills flipped the field on Miami, and that's where the game completely changed. A three and out from inside the Dolphins own two-yard line changed the field position and momentum of the entire game. The Bills offense took possession at midfield and never looked back. A seven-play drive led to an easy Allen to Isaiah McKenzie touchdown to take the lead at 7-3. On the Bills next offensive possessions, they went eight plays covering 88 yards and another Allen to McKenzie touchdown connection extended the lead at 14-3. The lack of scoring for the Miami offense early in game not only was a major issue against Buffalo, but it's been a problem over the last month of the season. The Dolphins only scored one first half touchdown in their last four games! It's led to some exciting finishes for sure, but has applied too much pressure on their defense and special teams unit. Facing a playoff-caliber team like Buffalo, the inability to match a score with a score unfortunately doomed the Dolphins offense.
2) Buffalo Dominated All Three Phases
There haven't been many games this year where the Miami Dolphins didn't hold the upper hand in at least two of the three phases of the game. Offense, defense and special teams have worked together to achieve double digit wins, but that synergy unfortunately didn't travel to Buffalo on Sunday. The Dolphins found themselves on the short end of this match-up for the better part of three quarters, allowing pressure in the pocket, easy completions on defense, and a punt return touchdown that delivered an early knock out. Even with the Bills resting two starting defensive ends and a cornerback, their defense didn't allow a third-down conversion in the first half (0-7), and the Dolphins offense could only manage converting three of 14 in the game. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa set single-game rookie records today for pass attempts (58) and completions (35), but also threw three interceptions and also had multiple passes dropped by open receivers. It seemed like the offense works so hard to achieve minimal yards against the Bills defense. The Dolphins defense has been an anchor for the entire team, but against the Bills, too many easy completions led to explosive plays and points. It seemed like the Bills passing game had so much room to operate, where Allen and company could do whatever they pleased in the passing game. The Isaiah McKenzie 84-yard punt return for a touchdown followed by a five-play touchdown drive by the Bills offense left little doubt of what the ultimate outcome was going to be. When you examine that combination together, the Dolphins didn't come close to executing well enough to win any regular season game, and especially the most important game of the year.
3) Third Quarter Plan in First Half
On a team that's been searching for offensive explosiveness, I felt like the Miami offense should have opened up the game plan more in the first half. I say that because the offense came out to open the third quarter attacking the Bills defense, using wide out DeVante Parker versus Bills cornerback Josh Norman exclusively. Three consecutive plays down the field produced gains of 16, 13 and 25 yards. It moved the ball from the Miami 25-yard line into Bills territory at the plus 45. Those types of plays didn't allow the Buffalo secondary to sit on routes, which they were doing a lot of early in the game. It also led to easy points when running back Myles Gaskin punched it into the end zone from one yard out. It just felt to me that this offense needed that change in game plan a little bit earlier in the contest, when the game was up for grabs. I absolutely loved the double pass that worked to perfection just before halftime that led to a Sanders field goal. But before that play and gain of 32 yards, the longest offense play from scrimmage was a catch and mostly run by tight end Adam Shaheen for 23 yards. My main point is this offense needed to at least threaten the Bills vertically and get their secondary into a backpedal to create more room for Tua and the pass offense. That happened early in the second half and other then the multiple drops later in the half, could have led to more chuck yardage plays and possibly more points.