Byron's Back for the Bills
Sunday's game in Buffalo provides Miami with a chance to punch their own ticket to the postseason. It's a rematch of a Week 2 game that the Bills won late due in large part to a 46-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Allen to wide receiver John Brown on third-and-9 with 3:09 to play in a 24-20 game.
The NFL's fifth-leading receiver, Stefon Diggs, gained 153 of his 1,314 receiving yards in that 31-28 Bills' win. Jones didn't play beyond the opening series in that game after getting injured. In his three-game absence, the Dolphins defense allowed an average of 25 points per game. In the 12 games with Jones, Miami's surrendering just 17.3 points per game.
Finding a solution to Allen, Diggs, and that Buffalo offense is a big challenge for Jones and the Miami defense.
"Diggs has always been a really good route-runner, a guy who catches the ball really well," Jones said. "A savvy, vet player," Jones said.
"I think (Josh Allen's) decision making at this point is really impressive," he continued. "He knows when to run and when to fit the ball into a tight window. He's doing both pretty well. He has a really good offense and his receiving corps is one of the better ones in the league. He can make all the throws … so that's the challenge for us is competing against not just receivers but the quarterback, offensive line, they just really work well together."
Walking it Off Sanders Style
Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders is eight points away from tying the franchise single-season points scored record (144, Olindo Mare in 1999). Monday, he discussed his game-winning kick over Las Vegas.
"When they were kicking the field goal to go up, I was already at the net," Sanders said. "With my position, I'm anticipating a kick. The game's not over until it's zeroes. I didn't want that situation to happen and I wasn't loose. Before (Daniel) Carlson hit the go-ahead at the end, I was already getting loose."
With the ball on-line to split the bright yellow uprights, Sanders exuded an emphatic double-fisted celebration. Sanders was asked if hitting a game-winner was akin to hammering a walk-off home run or hitting the buzzer-beating three-point shot.
"It's about the same – or a soccer goal in the last second," he said. "There was a lot of energy on the field so a lot of energy goes into how important the kick was and when you hit a kick like that, it's hard not to celebrate."
The last time the Dolphins won in Buffalo was on Christmas Eve 2016. The win, in conjunction with a Denver Broncos defeat on the following day, propelled Miami to the postseason. Then-Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks hit a 27-yard chip shot in overtime to end it, but it was his 55-yard boot through the freezing cold Buffalo fog that sent Dolphins Nation into pandemonium.
Sanders has attempted just one field goal at Bills Stadium, a successful 29-yarder in the 2018 season finale. He's also a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points in Western New York.
"I don't think the cold will be as big of a factor as maybe the wind," Sanders said of the cold weather. "It's just staying smooth in your process. It's a pre-game thing where you identify how it's working and how the ball is flying off your foot. I'm going to identify where the winds blowing and probably just go off of that and hopefully all my kicks go in.
Winning Now and Sustaining Success
With one game left on the 2020 schedule the conversation for individual awards continues to heat up. Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated is casting his vote for Coach of the Year to Miami's man in charge, Brian Flores, while also providing credit where credit is due for General Manager Chris Grier and the work of the personnel department of the Dolphins.
…It's just that Flores has Miami at 10 wins less than two years into a rebuilding effort that basically laid out as the equivalent to buying a house on a nice piece of land and taking it down to the studs. The speed at which Flores and GM Chris Grier have built is impressive. And so too is the job Flores is doing as a game day coach who doesn't turn 40 until February.
Breer continued presenting his evidence for Flores' Coach of the Year candidacy.
Fitzpatrick's ridiculous 34-yard no-look/getting-face-masked prayer to Mack Hollins setting up a 44-yard game-winning field goal from Jason Sanders. But more than just the result, I think it showed two things to Flores's team. Number one, it showed a resourcefulness not to give a damn if strategy follows convention or not (pulling a rookie QB). Number two, it showed a willingness to do everything possible to win a game, which resonates with older players who have no guarantee they'll be around to see Tagovailoa hit his stride in the NFL.
Flores, on Sunday, commented on his approach.
"We're going to do what we've got to do to win," he explained. "I owe that to the Dolphins fans, to the players in that locker room, the people in this organization. So that's what we're going to always do, so two-person, three-person quarterback, five-person quarterback; whatever we need to do to try to win, that's what we're going to do."
The NFL's parity-centric design makes repeated success difficult to obtain. Playoff turnover hovers around 50 percent most years. Breer's conclusion for selecting the second-year head coach for the award focuses on a long-term outlook, anointing Miami's 2020 success with that coveted term – "sustainable."
"What's even better is as part of all this, he and Grier are putting together something that looks sustainable. Going into this weekend, Miami had the third-youngest roster in the NFL, and was starting six rookies, all of whom were playing without so much as the benefit of an offseason program. Tally it up, and I think Flores has accomplished more than any other coach in 2020. So I'd give him the hardware to reflect it.
Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones says Flores' authenticity has cultivated the ultimate level of trust between player and coach in this Dolphins operation.
"We just have ultimate trust in what Coach Flo is doing," Jones said. "He's been very real and straight up and straightforward since Day 1, which gives the players a comfort that what the coach is saying is not B.S. That's why I think we're having such a good response to the year regardless of what's happening because we trust our coach and he keeps it straight up. He lets us know how he's thinking and how he's feeling."
More than One Way to Win a Pass Rush Rep
Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel recorded the first multi-sack game of his career in the 26-25 win. He credits his jump in production from rookie season to Year 2 to the coaching staff's recognition and utilization of his strengths.
"I would say buying in and taking what the coaches preach on a daily basis and really developing myself," he said. "Whether it be film study or out on the practice field to really refine my techniques and fundamentals, I'd say the coaches have done a good job of putting me in position to be successful and make plays."
A common misconception with Van Ginkel – in his words – is that people think he's exclusively a speed rusher. When he has an opportunity to win with power, like he did on his first sack of Derek Carr Saturday night, it only increases the effectiveness of that speed rush.
"There's different ways to go about it. You can go straight down the middle of them or you can give them a little head nod to get them to stop their feet so that they're on their heels," Van Ginkel said. "A lot of guys think of me as a speed rusher so any time I can do a little power it can throw them off and really help my speed rushes. It really works hand-in-hand."