Given a fighter's chance by few, the reaction around social media after the Dolphins' 34-31 loss in Buffalo was positive. The majority offered applause to a team that competed for a full 60 minutes against difficult circumstances. On the road against a Super Bowl favorite while short-handed at multiple key positions, the Dolphins took the lead in the third quarter, and had the ball at midfield with 150 seconds to play, trailing only by three.
It's the type of performance that gives the Dolphins momentum heading into the offseason. A top 10 offense with a defense that improved in the final month of the season is going to have fans counting down the 230 days until Miami's next regular season game. Until then, the roster-building portion of the calendar awaits.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins' postseason loss at Buffalo.
1. A team that fights
Social media is many things. Perhaps best among them, is the connection fans are afforded to their favorite players. Be it players absent from the game on injured reserve, or the guys that competed in that environment and earned valuable experience, this young team is eager, just like you.
Progress in this league is rarely linear and it's usually not immediate. The teams that have reached the mountain top over the last decade-plus usually endure some heartbreak along the way. Last year's Rams. The Chiefs prior to their 2019 title. Even the Peyton Manning Colts and Drew Brees Saints suffered devastating losses before achieving their ultimate goal.
Now, for the Dolphins, they earned some valuable postseason experience. They got a taste of competing in high-intensity situations with the greatest stakes the sport can offer – elimination games. That can only benefit this team moving forward. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill discussed playoff atmospheres last week. With the benefit of hindsight, the value of Sunday's experience is relatively quantifiable given Hill's comments.
"Games are much more elevated in the playoffs," Hill said. "Guys are sharper. Guys are much more on their assignments. And the game is much faster. It's going to be a lot different because it's single-game elimination, so guys got to play at a different speed."
How's this for growth? The Dolphins played the Bills three times this season with a cumulative score of 85-81, a team they struggled with last in previous years and one that is a popular Super Bowl pick. Furthermore, the Dolphins were within one score in the fourth quarter in every game they didn't win this season, indicating they had a chance to win every game in the final frame. The last time that happened was 1984.
The next step in the process is closing those games out with greater consistency.
2. Defensive surge culminates
interjecting with the thought that the opponent over the final three games played a role in that ranking, remember that DVOA stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. The metric is adjusted based upon the opponent faced.
If DVOA didn't prove it, how about the Dolphins performance against an offense that finished the 2022 season top three in the league in key categories such as total offense, scoring and yards per play?
Those efforts culminated with seven sacks and three takeaways on Sunday at Buffalo. How often has a defense done that to Josh Allen? It was the third time in his career he was sacked seven times and the first time a team paired that pass-rushing production with three takeaways from the Pro Bowl quarterback.
The Miami pass rush was relentless all year and finally paid off with a massive day of production. Behind dominating performances of Christian Wilkins, Bradley Chubb, Zach Sieler, Jaelan Phillips and the rest of the front, Miami finished the season third in pass-rush win rate, trailing only Dallas and Philadelphia.
3. The right kind of guys
Last week, tackle Terron Armstead won the media's Good Guy Award for the 2022 season – voted on by local media for professionalism and accommodation of the beat covering the team. During the ensuring press conference, it was revealed that a quarter of the Dolphins roster received votes for the award. What does that say about this team?
"We're getting the right people in the building," Armstead said. "People that respect the game, respect how it's played and all the nuances of it on and off the field. It's important. It's extremely important to have that in the locker room – guys that can articulate, communicate, show that respect through the ups and downs because we went through a five-game win streak, five-game losing streak."
Armstead battled through injuries all season long. It was a similar story for a handful of players on this team. We saw wide receiver Jaylen Waddle exit and return to the playoff game dealing with that shoulder injury. We saw players casting up and getting back onto the field. This is a team that fought for each other all year and developed a level of trust and respect that should pay dividends going forward.