The Dolphins fell in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday night and have lost three straight games for the second time this season. Holding a lead with the football in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins were on the verge of turning up the heat on the race for the AFC East. Now, the team sits at 8-6 following the 32-29 loss and the Bills' magic number has shrunk to one.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins'32-29 loss to the Bills
1. Competitive and close, but no cigar
Coming into the 2022 season, the Buffalo Bills were more than just a popular pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They were the overwhelming favorite. The Dolphins split a pair of contests with one of their longtime, bitter rivals. The two games featured a combined score of 51-50 in those two showdowns.
In 2021, the two dates with Buffalo produced a lopsided result of 61-11. The year prior: 87-54. And in 2019, the Bills swept Miami with a combined score of 68-41.
In a 17-game season, moral victories only go so far. And that's not how this one will be classified. It did, however, show the level at which the Dolphins are capable of playing on the road, in prime time, in inclement weather against the conference's No. 1 overall seed and arguably the best team in football. If the Dolphins can manage the final three games of the season, odds are they could eventually find themselves back in Orchard Park later this season with much more on the line.
"On the positive side, I think that is night and day from the football we've played since the bye," Head Coach Mike McDaniel said. "So had we played like that for the whole season, we'd be feeling a lot different because it wouldn't be the third loss in a row. So I think perspective is important and I think there's stuff to learn from it. It's a gut check for sure, but I know the guys aspire to be great."
2. Run game sparks offensive explosion
How many teams have scored 29 points on the Bills this season? The same number of teams that have gained over 400 yards of offense – two. Besides the Dolphins, the Minnesota Vikings also accomplished this but had the benefit of an overtime period to break those thresholds.
That Miami Dolphins achieved this with near-perfect offensive balance. The Dolphins ran it 25 times for 188 yards, good for 7.5 per rush. They passed the ball 30 times for 217 yards, good for 7.8 yards per throw.
The conditions – cold and eventually snow-filled – didn't prevent the league's second-ranked offense in yards per play (6.2) from sustaining drives and hitting explosive plays.
The Dolphins found the end zone on 45-plus yard plays twice for the third consecutive game. A 20-yard dime to Tyreek Hill in the back of the end zone and a 67-yard catch-and-run from Jaylen Waddle brought Miami back in an exhilarating third quarter. Prior to that, Raheem Mostert ripped off the longest run of the season with a tackle-shedding, speed-infused 67-yard gallop.
"We had to give them a reason to play single safety," McDaniel explained postgame. "I think they played four snaps of man the first time we played them. So you have a choice – you can either play scared, or you can try to you know continue doing what your offense is built to do."
3. Missed opportunities
While Miami's performance in adverse conditions was admirable, this one also had the makings of a game that slipped away as there were a multitude of key moments that swung in advantage of the home side.
Josh Allen converted on third-and-17 in the first quarter as the first big-swing moment of the game. At the end of the first half, with a one-point lead, Allen gambled with three points in hand as Buffalo were in field goal range. He made the decision pay off with a miraculous scramble touchdown throw. Buffalo also fell on a fumble that could have set Miami up on the fringe of the red zone with an eight-point lead and 10 minutes to play.
With 12 minutes left in the game, the Dolphins lost two yards on a pass play while facing a third-and-1. A first down inside the 30-yard-line with a five-point lead could have run more time down and given Miami a chance to take a two-score lead.
Two of the Dolphins four dropped passes occurred in the end zone and three of Buffalo's eight third-down conversions game via a defensive penalty. The Bills converted four of their five red zone trips into touchdowns while Miami settled for two field goals on their five visits inside the 20.