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Blame Game: Offense Falls From Strength to Liability

Who should get the blame for the Miami Dolphins division losing loss to the Buffalo Bills?

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Rich Storry/Getty Images

Miami Gardens - The silence in the Miami Dolphins locker room following the loss to the Buffalo Bills was deafening. The sudden realization that the division slipped out of their hands while up three games with five games left took over the players and coaches. It happened, again. The same old story. Dolphins are a top level team at the beginning of the season and find a way to lose in crushing fashion at the end. Only this time, it’s with the best team the Dolphins have had in decades. They just can’t seem to shake the choking reputation, and there’s enough blame to go around.

You can point to injuries, and the Dolphins have had the worst injury luck this season. That’s true, but for the key players still on the field, they have to do everything they can maximize themselves when it’s within their control, and they came up short particularly on offense.

The defense did everything they could to contain arguably the best player in the league right now in Bills quarterback Josh Allen. That’s no shot at Lamar Jackson. Both are side by side for MVP, but that’s neither here nor there.

Although the Bills dominated time of possession (38 minutes - 22 minutes), the injury-riddled Dolphins defense forced three turnovers. They only gave up fourteen points, with one touchdown being a Trent Sherfield back of the end zone toe tap after the ball was batted a mile into the air. The defense stepped up on the Bills final possession, stuffing Josh Allen on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak giving the ball back to the offense for one last chance to tie the game with adequate time left.

Safe to say I will not be issuing blame to Evil Vic Fangio, and the defense, although to be fair, James Cook dropped an open touchdown, and Jalen Ramsey got toasted by Stefon Diggs, but was overthrown. Outside of that, the defense played their hearts out.

Tyreek Hill’s Achilles Heel

Showtime, was brought to Miami the day Tyreek Hill landed there. Almost every game there’s a big-time play made by him, usually coming in the form of a long ball going over the top of the defense for a touchdown. That leads to some fan-favorite celebrations, whether it’s the peace sign on the way to the end zone, the backflip with a selfie, or a conga line. When everything is going right for the Dolphins, Tyreek Hill turns it into a party.

That is all well and good, but when the games get close and the pressure is at its greatest, Tyreek fails to make big plays. Not just make big plays but make the plays that a superstar or even a star receiver routinely has to make. There’s no other way around it. He has to be a guy Tua can depend on when the going gets tough. Tyreek has not delivered in those spots, and reared its head again Sunday night.

Three drops involved Tyreek, and the magnitude of the game was increased each time. The first “drop” and I put that in quotations because I didn’t view it as a drop, was on a second and fifteen play where Tua threw the ball behind Tyreek and low. Tyreek went down for it and looked to have secured it, but ultimately was ruled down. He gets a pass for that. The throw was not good enough.

The second play was a huge third-down play with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Bills just scored to go up 21-14, and all the pressure was on the Dolphins. On that play, Tua had immediate pressure in his face and got a great ball out to Tyreek on a crossing route, hitting him in the stomach. Tyreek drops it and sucks the soul out of the home crowd. Killer drop.

The last play that gets glossed over due to a pass interference penalty called against Tyreek’s defender was the soul crusher. Tua throws a perfect ball on a crossing route, and although Tyreek’s defender grabs his jersey and slows him down a hair, he’s still able to extend his arms, and the ball hits both his hands and drops. He had the momentum and enough room with his speed to beat both safeties for a touchdown.

If he catches that ball and does what everyone expects, it’s a tie game with a minute left going toward overtime, and Tua has 200+ yards with two touchdowns to one interception instead of the stat line he ended up with.

I can’t sit here and act like they would’ve stopped Josh Allen from getting a field goal or even won in overtime, but we would be having a different conversation about Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins as a whole.

Tua Scared of the Big Moment?

If you go on X, you’ll see immediately after the game all the Tua haters came out of the woodwork to say that Tua is not the guy and is afraid of the big moment. Is that true? The simple and correct answer is no. Not at all.

The most obvious evidence is his walk-off bomb to DeVonta Smith to win the National Championship. There are no lights brighter than that other than the Super Bowl. That’s cake work answering that question, but then the next question becomes, can he get it done against the best competition in the NFL?

The simple answer to that is yes, and he’s done it several times, including this year against the Chargers when people had them as a playoff team and two weeks ago against the Cowboys. I know the Cowboys drive was only a field goal, but that’s what was needed. They chewed out all the remaining time and won the game.

Let’s bring it forward to the game against the Bills. Up 14-7 coming out of the half, plenty of factors went into why the Dolphins didn’t score any more points, and little had to do with Tua. Here’s how the five second-half drives went:

  • Berrios couldn’t get 1 yard after the catch on 3rd and 3.
  • McDaniel punts on 4th and half a yard instead of a QB sneak to keep the drive going.
  • 2 penalties. 2nd and 30 runs for 6 yards. 3rd, and 24. Not much you can do.
  • 2 runs for 1 yard and Cedric Wilson can’t make a contested catch on 3rd and 9.
  • Tyreek Hill’s 3rd down drop would’ve been a first down.
  • Claypool runs a horrible route that results in an interception. End of game.

When talking about blame, the only criticism we can give Tua is that he’s not physically talented enough to put the team on his back and run for big first downs through contact as Josh Allen does. The passes he threw were on the money for the most part. The ones that were off did no damage besides the interception he threw on the first drive trying to hit Tyreek deep, but it was pretty much a punt pick.

I look back at the throws he made on third downs, and they were there. Sometimes that’s all you can do, and hope one of your receivers will come along for the ride and make plays with you. You could say that Tua stared down a couple of people on critical plays like the Tyreek third-down drop in the fourth quarter or on the Chase Claypool interception, but if the ball was in the right place at the right time, the ball needs to be caught, and the right route needs to run.

I don’t put much of this game on Tua’s shoulders, but he’s a leader and will fall on the sword for his guys.

Spin the Wheel of Blame

The Miami Dolphins lost the division title to the Bills, and it feels eerily similar to past years, but at the end of the day, the Dolphins are an eleven-win team in the playoffs, and most fanbases would wish to be in the same position.

It’s coming close to time to turn the page and focus on the Kansas City Chiefs, but before the Dolphins do that, you need to figure out how the loss happened and why it happened. It could be the injuries, Tyreek coming up small in big moments, Tua not making the best decisions, being physically gifted enough to carry the load, or Madden McDaniel and his play calling.

Spin the wheel of blame, and let us know in the comments whose shoulders this loss should fall upon.