The Miami Dolphins (6-4) finally had their vengeance against their division rival Buffalo Bills (5-5) Thursday night. The Bills had physically abused Miami three straight times heading into Thursday night's contest, but Miami played like a team that knew they could, and had to, win.
Here are this week's thoughts on the game plus notes and quotes:
1. Dolphins show just how far they've come this season
Nine weeks ago this team was beaten down in Buffalo and handed a 19-point loss. The offense only mustered 10 points and the Bills dominated Miami in every phase of the game.
The Dolphins looked like a completely different team Thursday night. The offense was able to move the ball consistently against the daunting Bills front. Though the Bills were able to tally five sacks against a Miami's makeshift offensive line, Buffalo only forced the Dolphins to punt three times in the game. The Dolphins punted a total of 16 times in the previous two matchups against the Bills.
The Dolphins overcame early mistakes to play like a winning team in the second half and send the Bills back to Buffalo with a sour taste in their mouths.
2. Second half warriors
The first half of this game was a tale of surprisingly-bad defense and missed opportunities for both teams. Miami was on the Bills' side of the field three times in the first half and only put three points on the board. Buffalo also experienced redzone woes and had to settle for field goals on all three of their first half redzone trips.
The second half of the game was domination by the Dolphins. The Dolphins executed the gameplan wonderfully in the second half and as a result outscored the Bills 19-3.
The Bills were 0-7 on third downs in the second half and 0-3 on fourth down attempts. The Dolphins scored two second half touchdowns. Miami seemed to flip a switch at halftime, as they have done so many times this season, and played winning football in the second half.
3. Down and distance was huge in this game
Why do I say that? Because the Bills were 6/8 on third downs in the first half of the game. This happened because the Bills running game was working against Miami early and the longest third down that the Bills faced in the first half was 3rd and 6.
The Bills were 0/7 on third downs in the second half, however. The down-and-distances were much less favorable in the second half for the Bills and, as a result, they were unable to convert.
This, along with redzone woes, is why the final score ended up the way that it did.
4. The sequence that determined the game
The Bills put up their only three points of the second half on a yet another stalled-drive on Miami's side of the field with 6:31 left in third quarter to extend their lead to six.
The Dolphins marched their following possession down the field, with the key play being a 31-yard completion to Brian Hartline (with most of the yardage coming after the catch), and scored the first touchdown of the game to grab their first lead of the game.
Now with a one-point lead, Miami's defense began to take over the game.
After losing 14 yards on their first two downs, the Bills were faced with 3rd and 24 at their own six yard line. Bills quarterback Kyle Orton felt pressure immediately and, in an attempt to avoid a safety, lofted the ball down the left sideline to no one in particular. This, ironically, drew a flag for intentional grounding and resulted in a safety and a three-point lead for the Dolphins.
The Bills were given new life, however, when Jarvis Landry fumbled the free kick and the Bills were given the ball in Miami territory. But, true to form, the Bills struggled to move the ball in a condensed field and were forced to settle for yet another field goal attempt as the fourth quarter began.
Former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter lined up a 47-yarder to knot the game at 12. Carpenter, who had made all 15 of his previous attempts against the Dolphins, missed the field goal wide right. The miss sucked all the remaining life out of Buffalo and gave root a touchdown drive for Miami that essentially put the game out of reach.
5. Great team victory, tough task ahead
The Dolphins won their first playoff game of the year. This was a must-win, and the Dolphins responded. It was a great team win for Miami, a win that inspires confidence for the rest of the season.
Miami gets a mini-bye after this victory. But they can't spend too much time resting because they have to prepare to take on the Denver Broncos in Denver. This is a daunting task, but I don't feel as though this game is as un-winnable as many have been led to believe it is. The Dolphins team as a whole is catching a stride.
We should all enjoy this win while we can. because tough tasks lie ahead. The Dolphins can only afford two more losses this season to have a shot at the playoffs.
NOTES & QUOTES:
- Misleading stats: Bills won the turnover battle 2-0. Bills had five sacks, Dolphins had two.
- Bills fan may not agree, but the intentional grounding on Kyle Orton that led to a safety was the right call. Orton had no intentions of completing that pass.
- You give Miami's defense a lead and the fun starts. The defense dominates when the defensive line can headhunt the opposing quarterback.
- Tannehill was extremely efficient this game, but his best throw was the short crossing route to Hartline that went for 31 yards. Tannehill threw the ball off his back foot, with loft, but was still able to hit Hartline perfectly in stride to allow for the run-after-catch yardage that Hartline usually doesn't provide.
- Tannehill getting upset over missing a touchdown throw when the game was already won was awesome to see. That type of fire and will is what you want from your starting quarterback.
- Lamar Miller shook Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin so bad that McKelvin, who guaranteed a win against the Dolphins, had to leave the game with an ankle injury.
(UPDATE: Leodis McKelvin is out indefinitely with a broken right ankle.)
- The Dolphins defense was able to limit the costliness of giveaways by allowing zero points off turnovers.
- The Dolphins picked up 24 first downs. The Bills managed only 13.
- There was no running-out-the-clock controversy this week. The Dolphins had 2:33 left on the clock at the beginning of their possession, needing one first down to be able to end the game on kneel down. They were able to pick up 3rd and 5 on the ground on a great effort from Daniel Thomas somersault forward for a first.
- The difference in the game was redzone efficiency. The Bills settled for field goals on both of their only two redzone opportunities of the game. The Dolphins were in the redzone five times (six counting the final kneel down possession) and scored two touchdowns and two field goals. A Tannehill fumble ended one of Miami's redzone possessions.
- This team is on to something and is fun to watch. These Dolphins are playing with high intensity, energy and effort.
- The Dolphins rushed for 125 yards. The balance was a huge part of Miami's offensive success.
- "I think it says a lot about this team to be on the minus side tonight and still come out with a W." - Jarvis Landry.
- "We’ve had a couple of nail-biters over the past few weeks, but to come out at halftime down and finish the second half the way the guys did is a really rewarding feeling. Obviously there were some things said in the media earlier on this week, but as a whole we wanted to come out here tough and be sure to put up 60 minutes." - Cameron Wake.
- "I’ve got to do a lot better. I’ve got to get more reps. We didn’t practice that much this week because of the short week, so I’m looking forward to practice so I can work on my technique and stuff on the left (side)." - Ja'Wuan James on his first game at left tackle since high school.
- "Huge, huge, I think it was the turning point in the game where momentum just really took over and the spirit of the dolphin was within us." - Jared Odrick on the second half sequence that included a safety and two touchdowns for Miami.
- "S---, we're going to go out and beat that ass. Point blank. Period." - Leodis McKelvin's pregame guarantee.