The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills met for the third time this year, but the stakes are higher this time in the 2023 NFL Playoffs. This Wild Card showdown brought a healthy and peaking Bills team facing off against a Dolphins team reeling with injuries and trying to find their rhythm. Everyone seemed to have written Miami off in this game, even before this afternoon’s kickoff, including Vegas, as DraftKings Sportsbook had them as 9.5-point underdogs.
Miami started rookie Skylar Thompson at quarterback following a head injury to Tua Tagovailoa and a dislocated finger for Teddy Bridgewater. The seventh-round pick from the 2022 NFL Draft was looking to match his draft-mate, the San Francisco 49ers’ Brock Purdy, as a final-round pick quarterback to win in the playoffs as a rookie. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
The Bills, as the second seed in the AFC playoff picture, met the seventh-seeded Dolphins in the initial round of the postseason tournament. It was closer than most people imagined, but the Bills ultimately came out on top with a final score of 34-31. With the Bills’ win, they will remain at home next week, welcoming either the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Cincinnati Bengals into Highmark Stadium next week. Miami would have traveled to play the Kansas City Chiefs if they had pulled off the win.
Dolphins 31 - 34 Bills
First Quarter Reactions
The Dolphins deferred to the second half and kicked to the Bills. After a touchback, the Bills benefited from a holding penalty on Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker. Bills quarterback Josh Allen looked deep to Khalil Shakir for 17 yards, followed by a 14-yard pass from Allen to Diggs. After carries by running back Devin Singletary for two yards and running back James Cook for three yards, Allen scrambled for two yards, fumbling the ball out of bounds and setting up a 4th-and-3 from the Miami 32-yard line. Allen looked toward wide receiver Cole Beasley on the fourth-down attempt, but the incompletion gave Miami the ball on downs.
It was not the cleanest start to the game for the defense, but they were able to escape without giving up any points. That is exactly what the Dolphins need today, where the offense is a question mark.
Miami started at their own 33-yard line, with running back Jeff Wilson, Jr., picking up one yard on a run up the middle. With two incomplete passes, including a second-down pass deep to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle that was dropped, Miami was forced to punt on the three-and-out possession.
And that is what the Dolphins’ defense needs to slow down the Bills' offense. If Tua Tagovailoa were under center, Miami might be able to go toe-to-toe in a shootout. With Skylar Thompson starting, a shootout is a scary proposition.
After the punt, Buffalo started at their own 27-yard line but quickly moved the ball out toward midfield with a 20-yard pass from Allen to Diggs. After a short pass to Diggs for two yards, Allen was sacked by Baker for a seven-yard loss. Miami came with an all-out blitz on 3rd-and-15, with Allen drifting back and buying time to complete a 52-yard bomb to Diggs. On the 1st-and-Goal play from the Miami six-yard line, Allen rolled right and lasered a ball to tight end Dawson Knox for the score. Bills 7-0.
Ouch. Allen made that look easy. How Knox caught that pass in the endzone, I have no idea. There was no space for the pass, yet it made it. And the bomb to Diggs was well done, just ahead of Xavien Howard in coverage. Now Miami needs to respond.
After a touchback, Miami picked up two yards on first down with a Wilson run. On the second down play, Thompson rolled out to his left, looking for wide receiver Tyreek Hill but was picked off by Dean Marlowe and Buffalo took possession.
Absolutely the worst thing that could have happened there. It just looked like Thompson never saw Marlowe and thought he could fit the ball to Hill over the defense. Now the Bills have a short field to turn this into an ugly score early.
Starting at the Miami 23-yard line, the Bills picked up a yard on a one-yard run from Cook. After an offsides penalty on Baker, Allen found Shakir for three yards, then Singletary converted the 3rd-and-1 play with a two-yard run. The Bills ran a run-pass option play on the next snap, with Cook taking the ball 12 yards for the score. Bills 14-0.
If Miami is going to stay in this game, they have to settle down Thompson and get the offense in rhythm on this drive. They cannot afford to allow the Bills to continue to expand this lead without an answer. This is becoming the shootout they cannot afford.
After a touchback, Miami looked to answer. Wilson picked up six yards on the first play, then picked up a yard on second down. On 3rd-and-3, Thompson pump faked deep toward Hill, then found tight end Mike Gesicki for an eight-yard gain and a first down. Thompson threw incomplete toward Hill on the next play, followed by the Dolphins calling a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. After the timeout, left tackle Terron Armstead was called for a false start. Hill then dropped a pass attempt. Thompson looked deep to Waddle on 3rd-and-15, with the pass broken up at the last second by Tre’Davious White, leading to another Miami punt.
The receivers are not helping Thompson at all right now. That is five targets to Waddle or Hill, with no completions. If Miami is to stay in this game, they need those two playing out of their minds.
On the first-down play from the Buffalo 33-yard line, the Bills challenged an initially ruled incomplete pass, but the replay showed wide receiver Gabe Davis got his hand under the ball and made the catch for a 19-yard gain. After a false start on Knox, Allen found Diggs for eight yards. On 2nd-and-7, Cook ran for no gain up the middle. Allen ran for eight yards on the play, picking up the first down on the scramble. Allen threw incomplete as Miami brought another all-out blitz. Singletary picked up eight yards as the first quarter ended.
The Dolphins are not out of this game, but they have to make a stop here if they are going to give the offense any chance of making a comeback.
Second Quarter Reactions
Allen found Diggs for 14 yards as he avoided the all-out blitz on 3rd-and-2. Singletary picked up two yards on the first-down run, moving Buffalo to the Dolphins' 13-yard line. Allen then found Knox in the endzone as he avoided the pressure, but a review ruled the pass incomplete. On 3rd-and-8, Miami defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler combined for a sack, with an assist from linebacker Jaelan Phillips, setting up a Bills’ field goal. Bills 17-0.
Maybe this is a Florida thing in these playoffs - go down big and make a comeback. Yeah, that is what I am going to assume. Wilkins, Sieler, and Phillips are going to be big for this Dolphins' defense over the next several years. Defensive back Elijah Campbell was injured on the sack play. Miami’s defense cannot afford more secondary injuries, so that is concerning.
After a kickoff out of bounds set Miami up at their own 40-yard line, Thompson held in the pocket as the pressure came around him, finding tight end Durham Smythe for 20 yards. Running back Salvon Ahmed then picked up five yards to move Miami down to the Buffalo 35-yard line. Hill then rushed on a jet sweep for nine yards. Thompson nearly threw an incomplete pass as he looked to the flat for Ahmed, but the quarterback was hit as he tried to throw the ball and it floated, luckily hitting the ground. Thompson was then sacked for a nine-yard loss by linebacker Matt Milano. On 3rd-and-19, Thompson was flushed from the pocket but kept looking downfield to find a wide-open Hill, who turned a mid-distance throw into a 20-yard gain and a first down. After a one-yard run from Ahmed, defensive end Boogie Basham sacked Thompson after he did not throw the screen pass. Thompson then threw to Wilson short, only to have the running backdrop the ball. Kicker Jason Sanders got Miami on the board with a 40-yard field goal. Bills 17-3.
Another drop? The receivers and running backs have to fix this fast. Thompson is not playing badly, but he is playing like a rookie. The second sack was on him. It was clearly a screen pass, which means there is not going to be a lot of time, and he did not throw the pass because the Bills read it well. That ball should have been thrown into the dirt. Great job by him to keep his eyes up and find Hill on the 20-yard gain. It is a roller coaster with him back there right now, but at least they are on the board. Now they need to pick up some momentum.
On first down, Cook ran for nine yards, then followed that with a 13-yard run. Nearing mid-field, the Bills looked deep to wide receiver John Brown, but Miami cornerback Xavien Howard picked the pass off at the three-yard line, then returned it 49 yards to the Bills' 48-yard line. Offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties after the play was called as a shoving match broke out.
Could that be the spark Miami needs?
Ahmed was stopped for a two-yard loss on first down, then Thompson found Hills for four yards. On 3rd-and-8, Thompson could not find Hill as he was hit on the throw. On a 4th-and-8 attempt, Thompson was forced to find Wilson in the flat, who somehow made two players miss and turned it into a 13-yard gain and a first down. After a false start on tackle Robert Jones, Miami faced 1st-and-15 at the Buffalo 38-yard line. Thompson threw a bubble screen to Hill for a five-yard gain. Thompson was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled for two yards, setting up a 3rd-and-7 play. Thompson attempted to find Ahmed in the flat, with linebacker Tremaine Edmonds breaking up the play on what would have been an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless player if the ball had not been caught between the two helmets. Ahmed was injured on the play. Miami settled for another field goal, this time from 48 yards. Bills 17-6.
I do not know what to think of that Ahmed hit. I get that the hit was not actually helmet-to-helmet, because it hit the ball, but the endstate is still the same. Ahmed looked rattled after the hit and he was a defenseless receiver at that point. Miami is trying to get into this game, but they are also making mistakes that are crushing them.
The Bills started at their own 28-yard line, with Cook taking the handoff after the snap and picking up two yards. After the 2-Minute Warning, Sieler and Wilkins sacked Allen, followed by a timeout from both teams. Allen looked deep at Shakir, with the receiver appearing to make a 54-yard gain as he beat Kader Kohou down the seam, but the replay showed the ball hit the ground and Shakir did not have control of the pass. The Bills punted after the replay, giving Miami back the ball with 1:48 remaining in the half.
Okay, the defense did their job. Now can the offense do something to potentially double-dip around halftime?
Cedrick Wilson returned the punt 50 yards, giving Miami the ball at the Buffalo 27-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Miami was called for a false start, backing them into a 2nd-and-15 play. Thompson then found Hill on a quick stop route down the sideline, picking up 13 yards. On 3rd-and-2, Thompson short-hopped the pass intended for Waddle. On 4th-and-2, Miami appeared set to try to convert but called timeout. The Dolphins chose to go for the field goal instead, connecting from 37 yards out. Bills 17-9.
The field goal makes sense if the Dolphins defense can stop the Bills with 1:15 remaining. Miami gets the ball back to start the second half, making this a one-score game. But a stop has to be made right here.
Knox caught the short crossing route on first down, turning it into an 11-yard gain. As the pressure approached Allen on the next play, he tried to find Beasley but shorted the pass. On 2nd-and-10, Allen looked to Beasley, but Kohou broke up the pass and safety Jevon Holland intercepted the ball and returned it for 29 yards.
There we go! Miami can triple up now.
Miami started with a reverse attempt, with Waddle taking the handoff and giving it to Hill going the other way, but Hill could not turn the corner and lost three yards. Thompson then threw to Ahmed on a wheel route, picking up 12 yards. Thompson then threw to Hill short for a two-yard gain and a first down. On 1st-and-Goal from the seven, Thompson found Gesicki in the back of the endzone for the touchdown, then threw to Hill for the two-point conversion. Tied 17-17.
Holy ****! The Dolphins are tied up in a game that appeared to be a blowout at the start.
The Bills started with the ball at the 25-yard line, with Davis catching a pass over the middle for 33 yards to start the possession. After an incomplete pass, Allen threw to Diggs for four yards, then to Davis for 17 yards. After a timeout, Allen looked for Diggs down the sideline in the endzone, but the receiver was out of bounds and the Bills settled for a field goal. Bills 20-17.
That is the problem with trying to play the Bills in the playoffs. Allen being Allen there, getting Buffalo right back down the field. The Bills are upset about the lack of a replay on the pass to the endzone, but it was the right call. This game is much better now than it looked early on.
Miami took a deep shot toward Hill on the last play, with the pass falling incomplete.
This feels so much better than it could have felt heading into the halftime break. Miami is in this game, and they get the ball back to start the second half with the possibility of taking the lead.
Thompson is playing fine. He looks like a rookie trying to adjust to the speed of the game and he holds the ball a little too long sometimes, but he is not killing the team either. If the receivers and running backs had caught a few of the dropped passes, this could already be a game in Miami’s favor.
The Dolphins tried to use the all-out blitz early in the game, but they seem to have adjusted from there. The defense is not dominating, but they are doing enough to keep Miami in the game. That is what is needed.
No on is really dominating for Miami’s offense, where Thompson is 10-for-23 for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception, Hill has 5 receptions for 44 yards, and Wilson 4 carries for 11 yards. They are getting it done, though. They are taking advantage of some good field position thanks to the interceptions and the punt return, but those phases of the game making it easier on the offense is the formula that will work in this game.
Third Quarter Reactions
Miami started the half with a one-yard run from Jeff Wilson, but followed that with two incomplete passes. The Dolphins punted on the three-and-out.
That was unfortunate. Miami needed to do something there. Now can the defense make a play to not lose the momentum?
On the first play of the half for the Bills, Allen dropped back to pass with safety Eric Rowe getting a clean blitz off the end. The safety sacked Allen, with the quarterback fumbling and Sieler scooped the loose ball and returned it five yards for the touchdown. Miami 24-20.
I guess the defense can make a play to not lose the momentum. Miami is leading!
Buffalo started at their own 24, with Allen finding Davis for eight yards on first down. Singletary then picked up five yards, 12 yards, and three yards on three-straight runs. After two incomplete passes, the Bills were forced to punt.
The Bills seem out of sorts right now. Miami has to take advantage of this and not give the momentum back to Buffalo.
An incomplete pass started the Miami drive from their own 20-yard line as Thompson looked deep to Waddle, only to have the pass broken up at the last second. Wilson then carried the ball for four yards before a beautiful pass down the seam toward Gesicki, with the tight end just missing the ball. Miami punted on the three-and-out.
The stadium feels that Miami has the momentum right now, but the Dolphins are not taking advantage of it.
Cook started the drive for the Bills with a carry to the right, but linebacker Jaelan Phillips made the tackle for a five-yard loss. Allen threw short to Knox for three yards on the next play, then an incomplete pass led to another Bills punt.
Okay, Miami. You have to do something here. The Bills are stuck in neutral right now, but it will not take a lot for them to find their rhythm again.
Ahmed started Miami’s possession with a two-yard loss on a run, followed by a seven-yard loss on a sack of Thompson by Milano. On 3rd-and-19 from their own eight-yard line, Miami looked deep toward wide receiver Trent Sherfield, but the Thompson pass was intercepted by Kaiir Elam and the Bills took possession.
No! Absolutely not something Miami could afford. NO!
Allen threw to Davis for a 13-yard gain, moving the ball down to the Dolphins’ 20-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Singletary picked up two yards before Allen ran for 12 yards and a first down. Allen then found Beasley for the score and the Bills’ lead. Bills 27-24.
Okay, can Thompson get the offense back into rhythm and get some points here? Miami is in this game, but they cannot let the Bills regain the momentum.
Miami started the drive with a 13-yard catch-and-run from Hill, but three-straight incomplete passes followed and the Dolphins punted.
Not going to do it. The Dolphins' offense is stumbling now. Can they find themselves?
The Bills started the drive with an Allen pass to tight end Quintin Morris for 12 yards. A Cook run for four yards was followed by an incomplete pass, setting up 3rd-and-6. Allen threw to Beasley on a short crossing route, which the receiver turned into a 29-yard gain. Allen then looked to Davis in the endzone for a 21-yard score. Bills 34-24.
Miami had the momentum, but the offense cannot get going in this half and the interception gave everything back to the Bills. They need something to spark them back into this game. There is plenty of time, but they cannot make any more mistakes if they want to come back again.
Wilson picked up four yards on first down as the Dolphins looked to start moving the ball for the first time in the half. After a timeout to avoid a delay penalty, Thompson found Hill on the sideline for 12 yards. Thompson scrambled for a yard on the next play. Thompson looked to wide receiver River Cracraft on the 2nd-and-9 play, with White called for pass interference on the pass, giving Miami a first down. After an incomplete pass, the third quarter ended.
The Dolphins offense feels stuck in neutral right now. Something needs to spark this team if they are going to make up 10 points in the final quarter.
Fourth Quarter Reactions
Opening the quarter, Miami started with a pass to Cedrick Wilson for 14 yards, then followed that with a pass to Ahmed for 13 yards. Ed Oliver sacked Thompson for a seven-yard loss on the next play, setting up a 2nd-and-18 from the Buffalo 31. Miami ran a screen pass for Ahmed on the long-yardage situation, and Ahmed turned it into a 20-yard gain and a Miami first down at the 11-yard line. Jeff Wilson picked up a yard on the next play. After a Buffalo timeout, Waddle took a flip on a reverse and turned the run into an eight-yard gain, being ruled down at the one-yard line, but picking up the first down. Jeff Wilson lept over the pile for the score on the next play. Bills 34-31.
Okay, there we go. Now a defensive stop and Miami is in business. Good solid drive with getting everyone involved, including Waddle. If you have to give it to him on handoffs, that works. He has been targeted on four passes on the day, without a reception, but now has a carry for eight yards. In fact, Miami’s two longest rushes on the day belong to Hill and Waddle, the top two receivers.
Allen started Buffalo’s drive with two incomplete passes, including a beautiful pass breakup by Kohou deep down the field. On 3rd-and-10, linebacker Melvin Ingram and Sieler met at Allen for another sack. The Bills punted on the three-and-out.
Here we go. Miami has the ball with about 10 minutes remaining in the game and the chance to take the lead. Is the offense up for this moment?
The drive started with a no-gain run from Jeff Wilson, then an incomplete pass toward Gesicki as Thompson was pressured. On 3rd-and-10, Miami was given a timeout just before a delay of game penalty. Thompson found Waddle for a five-yard gain on the next play. The Bills called timeout just before the snap on what ended up being an incomplete pass deep toward Waddle. Miami decided to punt it after the timeout.
Time for the defense to step up and get the ball back. Right now. They cannot afford to let the Bills milk this clock.
Cook picked up two yards on first down, then Hines turned a four-yard pass into a seven-yard gain. Allen then looked deep, with Shakir somehow snagging a ball that appeared to be overthrown for a 31-yard gain. Cook lost a yard at midfield on the next snap, with Allen sacked for no gain by Elijah Campbell. Linebacker Bradley Chubb sacked Allen on the next play forcing a fumble and a nice yard sack. Buffalo punted.
That was exactly what needed to happen. Can the Dolphins kill this clock and score to win the game?
Two incomplete passes started the drive for Miami. After a timeout to avoid the delay of game penalty, the Dolphins converted the first down on a 25-yard pass from Thompson to Waddle. A false start on Miami backed the Dolphins up to their own 24-yard line and set up a 1st-and-15 play. Thompson was forced to throw away the pass as he was pressured on the first play, then Waddle caught a pass for 14 yards, giving Miami a 3rd-and-1 from the 48-yard line. Ahmed was stopped for no gain on the running play, setting up a 4th-and-1 play. After a delay of game penalty, Miami faced a 4th-and-6, with Thompson attempting to find Gesicki for the first down, but Elam broke up the pass and Miami turned over the ball on downs.
That will be the ball game. Miami fought for this one, but the Bills came away with the win in the end.
Cook was stopped for a one-yard loss with Phillips making the tackle and the clock running down to the 2-Minute Warning. The Bills picked up four yards with a Singletary run, then picked up six yards on the next run. After a review, the Bills were awarded the first down and ran out the clock.
The Dolphins were in this game. They fought. They scrapped. They tried to make the upset happen. For a team that was written off before the weekend even arrived and were 13-point underdogs, Miami hopefully proved something to everyone this weekend. A loss sucks, and it always does, but the Dolphins now head into the offseason with playoff experience and knowing they are not that far off from the Bills.
The season series between the two teams finished with Buffalo winning 85-81. Miami is close. They have to clean up some things. They have to figure out a way to keep Tua Tagovailoa healthy, whether it is a new helmet, better protection, working on how he gets hit, or something else, but if they can do that, they can improve in this offseason.
Mike McDaniel will look back on this season and improve some things. He now has a year of play calling under his belt and will speed up the process. The timeouts and delay of game issues from this game - and for parts of the year - should be cleaned up for next year. Plus, Miami will hopefully not be starting a seventh-round rookie quarterback making his third career start in the playoffs in 2023-2024.
One-and-done in the playoffs is not what you want, but every team except the Super Bowl champion ends the playoffs with a loss. Miami made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Next year, they work on ending the playoff-win drought.