What did you expect? No, no. Be honest.
The Buffalo Bills are the NFL’s new darling child and the Miami Dolphins are still the Miami Dolphins. Vegas had the Fins as two touchdown underdogs. No one gave them a snowball’s chance in hell.
Yet, they took the underperforming (or overrated; take your pick) Bills down to the wire on the road with everything against them.
How’d they do it?
Miami looked like the cast of The Replacements
Before you get all in a tizzy complaining that injuries happen to all teams, just know that I had been listed as a full participant in practice all week until Thursday, when I was downgraded to limited. By Saturday, they had me inactive and I surrendered my left guard spot to Lester Cotton. Losing a stalwart like me really takes a toll on a team’s chemistry.
At the rate the Fins’ offensive linemen were dropping, the above is barely a stretch. Terron Armstead returned at LT, which was a big boost, only to be somewhat offset by a merry-go-round of reshuffling elsewhere along the front as Liam Eichenberg was replaced at LG by me and then Lester Cotton, RG Robert Hunt slid over to RT, and Robert Jones was inserted at RG. That’s a lot of movement for a position group that benefits immensely from consistency.
Jaylen Waddle came into the game dinged up, as did Tyreek Hill. Waddle got knicked up again during the game, as did Elijah Campbell and Jeff Wilson.
Also, did you know Tua was out again? I hadn’t heard a peep about it until Skylar Thompson came onto the field. Darnedest thing.
All teams have injuries. Miami came into this game with a lot of them and a good portion at key positions. Try to ignore it all you want, but it impacts the capabilities of the team and the strategy under which they play. For example, the Dolphins could have really used a strong run game to keep the Bills’ defense on its toes and provide a foundation upon which a third string quarterback in a high stake situation could build some success.
Instead, that third string quarterback threw forty-five times.
AND THEY STILL ALMOST WON.
I think a big part of their (almost) success can be attributed to:
The Dolphins were playing with house money
Having absolutely no expectations has to play into the psyche of a team. All of the pressure is on the opponent to live up to the assumed result, so as the team on the ‘losing’ side of that equation: might as well go H.A.M.
Josh Boyer appeared to take that to heart right out of the gate, showing so much Cover 0 that the audience thought they were watching The Full Monty. While I applaud the aggressiveness in such a game, maybe don’t go to that look on *checks notes* 3rd and 15. Jaelan Phillips had another visibly standout effort, Zach Sieler and Christian Wilkins continued to dominate the middle, Jevon Holland and Eric Rowe stood tall in the secondary, and even Xavien Howard flashed a little bit like the kind of player who negotiates a new contract every offseason because he thinks he’s underpaid. Despite surrendering 352 yards passing and another 107 on the ground, the defense performed pretty well. They generated two interceptions and three fumbles (one lost) from Mr. January (we’ll get to that in a bit) and generally had the Buffalo offense off kilter throughout the game. It might be the last time we see Josh Boyer lead Miami’s defense and, if so, he did his best with what he had on this one.
As everyone knows, however, the real story was on the offensive side. The running game was DOA with Jeff Wilson compiling 23 yards on 10 carries and Salvon Ahmed adding a whopping 3 more on 5 touches. That left it all on the shoulders of a young quarterback looking to prove himself. The first rookie to start for the Dolphins in a playoff game since Dan Marino. That’s right, the fifth overall pi—- oh. Right.
Just as everyone predicated at the start of the year: Skylar Thompson.
If you were to look at his stat line: 18/45 (40%), 220 yds 1 TD, 2 INTs (QBR = 22.6; rating = 44.7), you’d be forgiven for thinking he was terrible.
But he wasn’t terrible.
He was better than a player in his position had any right to be. He put passes right on his big time, big play, big contract wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill and they said “no thank you” with some uncharacteristic drops. He moved around well to avoid sacks behind a patchwork line. He threw his first postseason touchdown to Mike Gridsicki (who I’ll be writing an elaborate eulogy for in the coming weeks) and he didn’t seem to let the pressure of it all weigh him down.
That being said, he was still sacked four times, threw one real shoddy interception, and refused to take free yards on the ground when they presented themselves. You know, the kind of stuff a late round rookie QB might do.
Given the circumstances, he showed more than enough to convince me that the Dolphins can find a long term place for him in Miami.
Fins’ Flippers: Meet Mike McD’s sawed off shotgun
The Bills’ defense gets some credit for shutting down Miami’s run game and playing tight coverage with some pass breakups scattered throughout, but Miami was its own worst enemy throughout the entire game. When the odds are stacked as high against you as they were for the Fins, that’s a recipe for coming up short.
Here’s a brief list of unforced errors I compiled while watching the game through the storefront window of a Steinberg’s.
*Penalty on the first offensive play
*Drop by Waddle on the first pass
*Thompson refuses to run on 3rd down on the first drive
*Interception thrown on second drive
*False start immediately following a wasted timeout
*Drop by Tyreek Hill
*Drop by Jeff Wilson
*False start after 4th and 8 conversion
*False start after big punt return
*False start after huge Waddle catch
*Three timeouts wasted to prevent Delay of Game penalties
*Actual Delay of Game on 4th and 1 on final drive
That’s an embarrassing list for a team already fighting so far uphill. But that last one... that last one got me.
Mike McDaniel is a rookie coach and if he doesn’t take the haunting he’ll inevitably be saddled with as a result of that play and use it to become a better coach, he’ll be an unemployed coach before much longer.
That was insane. That was inexcusable. That was inconceivable. And yeah, Mandy Patinkin, that word does mean what I think it means.
At least, in the end, the NFL got what it wanted.
The producers couldn’t have wanted the Bills to win more
Right from the intro to the game, the focus was squarely on Buffalo.
They interviewed McDermott at the end of the first quarter, they harped on Miami’s most recent playoff drubbings, and they even had a Bills-centric Mailchimp ad.
I typically rank Jim Nantz and Tony Romo as the top commentator duo working today, but holy ******* **** good ******* ************* ***** was that agonizing to sit through. Romo must have really taken those BetMGM ads seriously and put his career earnings on the Bills to have such a ludicrous display of absolute garbage spew out of his mouth for sixty game minutes (read: nine real time hours).
It was painfully obvious that they thought the game was a foregone conclusion. After Miami’s opening defensive stand to force a turnover on downs, Jim Nantz sounded like The Grinch listening to his new theme song.
My soul won’t allow me to list all of the jabberwocky that plagued my eyes and ears, so I’ll just highlight that Romo referred to the Bills as ‘The Champs’, Gabe Davis as ‘Big Game Gabe’, and Josh Allen as both ‘The Alien’ and ‘Michael Jordan’.
The Dolphins have a lot to do this offseason
There will be countless articles about what the Fins should do in the offseason (and at least one by an idiot who looks and sounds suspiciously like me), so I won’t bore you here.
There are cap space conondrums, contract concerns, free agents fleeing, injuries to investigate, and no draft picks to dig them out.
There are problems.
But, there is also a core of players who managed to make their way to the playoffs under a first year head coach with a litany of injuries and take ‘Michael Jordan’s Champs’ to within three points of going home in the first round.
If you don’t think that’s a decent place for Miami to build from in 2023, you’re probably Tony Romo.
Way to give it your all, Dolphins. It was a fun season. See you on the other side.