It was a game the Dolphins had no business being in late, yet there they were, down just 3 points and driving for the tie, or even the win with just over two minutes left to play.
Unfortunately, a delay of game penalty at midfield — more on those procedural miscues later — forced the Dolphins into a 4th and 6 situation instead of a 4th and 1 attempt. An incompletion intended for tight end Mike Gesicki — and a turnover on downs — on that play would seal Miami’s fate.
Yes, it was a season of highs and a season of lows, but I, for one, am proud of how this team fought on Sunday despite everything that was working against them, including injuries to their top two quarterbacks which pressed a rookie 7th round signal caller into starting duty against one of the best — if not the very best — teams in the National Football League.
It wasn’t the way we wanted the 2022 season to end, but there’s a lot to look forward to for this team moving forward. But, for now, we’ll use this opportunity to take a look back at the good, bad and ugly from Miami’s playoff loss against the Buffalo Bills.
Despite being record underdogs in Wild Card round, Dolphins nearly best Bills
As news of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s inability to clear concussion protocol spread earlier in the week, we saw the betting lines widen in favor of the Bills regarding the Wild Card game between Miami and Buffalo on Sunday. By the time the game kicked off in Orchard Park, the Dolphins were record underdogs according to Las Vegas’ odds makers. The Bills were favored by two touchdowns — the widest margin in Wild Card playoff history.
The Dolphins — forced to start their rookie 7th round quarterback, Skylar Thompson — had little shot to make this game competitive according to many national analysts. Even the most diehard of Dolphins fans didn’t give Miami a realistic chance against the juggernaut Bills.
After going down 17 points, all hope looked lost. Then the ball started bouncing Miami’s way. Suddenly the score was tied 17-17 with just a couple of minutes left to go in the first half. The Bills would add on a field goal to lead just 20-17 at halftime.
Early in the 3rd quarter, safety Eric Rowe would come screaming in on a blitz of Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen, forcing a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Dolphins’ defensive tackle Zach Sieler. Suddenly, the Dolphins had a second half lead in a game they were supposed to lose by multiple scores.
The two teams would trade scoring plays throughout the third and fourth quarters, and as the clock ticked down, the Dolphins would find themselves trailing by just 3 points. Miami had one final shot to tie or take the lead, but alas, with the team at midfield, Thompson’s 4th and 6 pass to Gesicki would hit the turf and the Bills would squeak by with a marginal victory over their division rivals.
Missing Mostert, Miami can’t muster anything on the ground
Miami’s starting running back Raheem Mostert broke his thumb during the Dolphins’ playoff clinching Week 18 game against the New York Jets last weekend.
Unfortunately, due to that injury, he was unable to suit up for the Dolphins’ first playoff game since 2016. In his place, midseason acquisition Jeff Wilson and former undrafted player Salvon Ahmed were forced to carry the load on Sunday.
Unlike Week 15 when the Dolphins ran for 188 yards against the Bills, Miami couldn’t get anything going on the ground in their playoff matchup.
Wilson finished with 23 yards on 10 attempts. Ahmed tacked on three yards on five attempts.
One does have to question why Skylar Thompson — a quarterback who rushed for 1,087 yards during his college career at Kansas State — didn’t utilize his legs more this season when pressed into duty. Against the Bills on Sunday, Thompson managed just three yards on two attempts. It’s understandable that the coaches may have been worried about Thompson getting injuried on a scramble, however it was a “win or go home” situation and his rushing prowess could have been useful against a stout Bills defense.
Multiple procedural miscues hurt Miami’s chances at victory
Miami Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel is a rookie and just like players who are rookies, he has a lot to work on in order to grow into a successful leader of this football team.
One area that McDaniel has struggled in consistently this season is in the procedural department. Throughout 2022 and into 2023, the Miami Dolphins seemed to have difficulty with getting play-calls into the huddle in a timely fashion. Too often they were forced to burn valuable timeouts so they could avoid costly delay of game penalties.
Well, on Sunday against the Bills, those gaffs once again hurt the Dolphins — this time to the tune of three wasted timeouts in the second half of play, and one catastrophic delay of game penalty as the Dolphins were looking to tie or win the game late.
As mentioned above, what would have been a far more manageable 4th and 1 try as Miami was driving late in the contest, turned into a much more difficult 4th and 6 attempt. The Dolphins would turn the ball over on downs and never possess the ball again, falling to the Bills as a result.
McDaniel, after the game, would say that he was told by someone in his headset that the Dolphins had picked up the first down. After communication with the officials, he realized that the team was instead facing the fourth down try and he tried to rush out different personnel with just eight seconds left on the play clock. It was the worst possible time for the final backbreaking miscue of the season.
Plenty of Dolphins’ fans were livid after the contest — just check my Twitter mentions! However, without Mike McDaniel’s creative offense, Miami wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs in the first place. I believe he will get better in this area and others going forward and he will be a big reason why the Dolphins will achieve even more success next year and beyond.
Miami finished the 2022 regular season with a record of 9-8 and the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. However, they fell to the Bills by three points despite being 14 point underdogs. How did you feel immediately after the loss? Do you feel any differently now after some time to digest the game? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @MBrave13. Fins up!