The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills met in South Florida for the Week 18 finale to the 2023 NFL season. A Sunday Night Football showdown with the winner claiming the AFC East division title and the second seed in the AFC playoff picture, the game started off as a defensive battle, with neither team finding their offensive footing in the first quarter.
The second period featured Miami breaking out their running game and taking it to Buffalo. They were able to find success on the ground, which opened up the passing game, and they pushed out to a 14-7 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Miami melted and the Bills found themselves. The Dolphins simply could not do anything. Injuries to multiple pass rushers hampered the defense, but the offense completely lost their rhythm. The running game disappeared, and the Dolphins spent the second half punting on almost every possession.
Against the Bills, that cannot happen. In the fourth quarter, aided by a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown, the Bills put up 14 points and sealed the win, and the AFC East title, with an interception.
The Dolphins, with the loss, fell to the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs picture. They will now hit the road next week to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. The Bills will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Buffalo as the now four-time reigning AFC East champions.
Bills 21 - 14 Dolphins
First Quarter Reactions
The Bills won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Miami began the game with the ball and a penalty for an ineligible man downfield. Running back De’Von Achane made up for the yardage with a 16-yard run on the first down play, then Achane lost four yards on the next play. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw to wide receiver Tyreek Hill on the next play, picking up seven yards. On 3rd-and-7, Tagovailoa looked deep for Hill, but the pass was intercepted by cornerback Christian Bradford, giving the Bills the ball at their own 16-yard line.
Bills fans would call that an “arm punt” if they had it happen to them. We will go with that. Not the start the Dolphins needed to have, but at least it did not give the Bills great field possession.
Buffalo began their first possession with a five-yard pass from quarterback Josh Allen to wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Running backs James Cook and Leonard Fournette respectively picked up four yards and five yards on the next two plays. Two plays later, Allen found tight end Dalton Kincaid, who turned upfield to pick up 29 yards. After a 14-yard pick-up by Cook, the Bills picked up small yardage on each of the next five plays before, on 3rd-and-5, Allen threw toward wide receiver Gabe Davis, but cornerback Eli Apple picked off the pass in the endzone.
A trade of interceptions to start the game. At least the Bills did not make the Dolphins pay for their mistake. Miami’s offense needs to settle down now.
After Apple took the ball out of the endzone but fell at the three-yard line, Miami began in the shadow of their goalpost. A trade of penalties turned the first down play into a 1st-and-9, but Miami quickly moved out of the danger zone with an 18-yard pass from Tagovailoa to wide receiver River Cracraft. Tagovailoa followed that with a 19-yard pass to Hill, with Achange then adding 11 yards, moving the ball to the Bills’ 48-yard line. Two incomplete passes, however, followed an Achane run for two yards, and the Dolphins were forced to punt.
At least the field position battle was not crushed by Apple choosing to run the ball out of the endzone. Achane is looking strong early. Miami just needs to stick with the running game today. No points on the board as we close in on the end of the first quarter.
The Bills missed on a deep pass attempt on first down, with Allen overthrowing a wide open Diggs streaking down the field. A bubble screen to wide receiver Khalil Shakir turned into a 46-yard gain when safety Brandon Jones, closing to make the tackle, got picked, and no one else was there for the support. Three plays picking up eight yards set up a 4th-and-2. The Bills attempted to convert, but Allen was flushed from the pocket and looked deep to the endzone, with safety DeShon Elliott picking off the pass.
Make it two interceptions from Allen! Miami’s pass rush is not getting to Allen yet, but it is making him uncomfortable and he is trying to force some things. Miami needs to make the Bills pay here.
The Dolphins attempted to surprise the Bills with a pass from Achane, but he could not get the throw away and took the sack to the end the first quarter.
Second Quarter Reactions
Running back Jeff Wilson, Jr., took the opening carry of the second half ten yards, setting up a 3rd-and-6 for the Dolphins. Tagovailoa then converted the first down on a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Braxton Berrios. After two Achane runs lost four yards, Miami faced 3rd-and-14, with a 23-yard pass to Hill converting for the first down. Wilson then ran for 13 yards, followed by another four yards on the next play. Tagovailoa scrambled for seven yards on 2nd-and-6, with Wilson then picking up a yard on the subsequent first-down play. Achane took the next ball, found a seam, and then found the endzone on the 25-yard touchdown run. Dolphins 7-0.
Achane to the house!!!!!!!— The Phinsider (@thephinsider) January 8, 2024
Let’s go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Miami is running the ball seemingly at will at this point. The passing game is picking up chunks because the running game is pulling the safeties up to the line. The Dolphins just need to keep this up.
Allen found Knox on first down for a Bills gain of 17 yards. After a false start penalty, Allen threw to Kinciad for seven yards, then scrambled for 10. Two plays later, from the Dolphins’ 43-yard line, Allen threw a prayer that, despite Apple being all over Diggs, the receiver caught at Miami’s seven-yard line. After a Cook run for one yard, Allen attempted to throw a pass, bouncing the ball off linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel’s helmet, only for wide receiver Trent Sherfield to somehow keep both toe on the ground as he caught the deflected ball as he fell out of the back of the endzone. Tied 7-7.
Oh, come on! The Dolphins defense played that well, both on the Diggs long reception and on the touchdown, but somehow the ball fell to the right place. Of course it was former Dolphins receiver Sherfield. Why would it be anyone else? It is okay, though. The Bills got lucky on that drive. They cannot keep up that luck. Miami’s defense is winning right now, even as the score is tied.
And, the Dolphins are actually okay with a tie. It would still hand them the AFC East title.
Miami began with a nine-yard run from Achane, followed by an encroachment penalty on the Bills to give the Dolphins a free first down. A pass to tight end Durham Smythe for 14 yards moved Miami into Buffalo territory, setting up at the Bills’ 43. Wilson then picked up seven yards on a run up the middle. The clock reached the two-minute warning after another Wilson run for no gain. Tagovailoa then threw a deep crossing pass to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, Jr., with Jeff Wilson then running for a one-yard gain to move the ball to the Buffalo 11-yard line. After a Bills timeout, Tagovailoa threw to Hill for eight yards, with Buffalo taking another timeout after the completion. On 3rd-and-1 from the three-yard line, Tagovailoa connected with Hill in the front corner of the endzone and Miami regained the lead. Dolphins 14-7.
Effective once again. The Dolphins are doing whatever they want on offense right now, and the Bills do not seem to have an answer. The running game has Buffalo off balance right now, and the passing game is starting to make them pay for not being able to stop the run. This is going well.
The Bills, with 1:43 remaining in the half, came out firing, looking to score before the end of the half, then get the ball back to start the second half. Allen found Sherfield for six yards to start the drive. The next play featured Allen throwing to Diggs for 11 yards, with the receiver getting out of bounds to stop the clock. After an incomplete pass, Allen threw to Shakir for five yards with Buffalo using their final timeout. Allen then scrambled for 13 yards, followed by a 17-yard pass to Diggs. After a pass to Kincaid for no gain went out of bounds to stop the clock, an incomplete pass, a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Deonte Harty, and nine-yard pass to running back Ty Johnson moved the Bills to the one-yard line, but the clock ran out before they could get another play off.
What a great play to end the half. Jerome Baker stepped into that hit right at the goal line to make sure Johnson could not get the score, with Apple wrapping up on the tackle as well. Just a great stop.
They was a great first half for the Dolphins. Now they need to keep it up in the second half. The defense will be on the field first and has to continue to make Allen uncomfortable. They are getting into the backfield and, while they are not getting to Allen yet, they are making him throw off his back foot and forcing him to make poor decisions.
The secondary is covering pretty well. The Bills have had a few big plays, but for the most part, the defense is not letting anything crush them.
The Miami offense has to continue to run the ball. Head coach Mike McDaniel has a history of abandoning the run, but it is crushing the Bills right now. Stick with it and allow the passing game to open up because of it.
This Buffalo team is too talented to let up now. Keep the foot on the pedal and keep attacking.
Third Quarter Reactions
Buffalo started with the ball at their own 25-yard line after the kickoff. Allen threw to Diggs on first down, picking up seven yards. Cook added two on the ground, then Allen took a quarterback sneak forward for the one-yard gain and a first down. Fournette gained five yards, followed by Cook adding seven of his own. Miami linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was injured on the play, eventually slowly walking off the field. The Bills drive stalled just shy of midfield, with Cook running for a yards, Allen throwing to Kincaid for four yards, then Miami linebacker Melvin Ingram getting to Allen for the sack. Buffalo was forced to punt.
The defense did its job. Now the offense needs to open up this lead. The injury to Van Ginkel is a huge concern. Miami’s pass rushers are extremely thin; without Van Ginkel, the cupboard is nearly bare.
Miami opened their first second-half possession with a screen pass to Achane for five yards. Two passes for two yards each, one to tight end Julian Hill and one to Berrios, brought up 4th-and-1. The Dolphins punted to end the three-and-out possession.
Nope. That is not good enough. Miami cannot start the three-and-out possessions that popped up in the first meeting between these teams.
The Bills systematically worked the clock and the field on their possession. A few bigger plays, including a pass to Sherfield for 12 yards, a scramble for 13 yards, and pass to Kincaid for 11 yards, and a pass to Shakir for 13 yards, were mixed in with nine other players in a 7:30 minute drive. On 3rd-and-13 from the Dolphins 21-yard line, however, Allen was sacked by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who stripped the ball and recovered the fumble.
Perfect time for Wilkins to make his presence felt. With Van Ginkel now ruled out of the game with a foot injury, the Dolphins defense is continuing to step up and make Allen’s day a tough one. Can the Dolphins capitalize on the third turnover by the Bills’ quarterback?
Miami started the drive with a 15-yard pass to Hill as the third quarter came to an end.
A false start penalty on Miami after the break pushed the Dolphins into a 1st-and-15. The Bills challenged a completed pass to Hill for 14 yards, and the call was overturned to an incomplete pass. Fullback Alec Ingold was called for an illegal blindside block on the next play, backing Miami into a 2nd-and-30. A Jeff Wilson run for seven yards was followed by a pass to Smythe for 10 yards, with a declined ineligible lineman downfield penalty bringing up 4th-and-13. The Dolphins were forced to punt again.
Again, nope. Not the possession Miami’s offense needed. They are crushing themselves now.
Harty returned the punt from the five-yard line, cutting through the middle of the field and finding space for the 95-yard touchdown. Tied 14-14.
Everything is imploding right now. The Dolphins need to take a breath and find their rhythm right here and now. Linebacker Cameron Goode was injured on the punt return and the cart had to come out to get him. Where he fell was basically the hole Harty used to spring out for the score. Goode had also been thrust into the defensive lineup in place of Van Ginkel, so Miami’s defense is even thinner at this point.
Miami went three-and-out, gaining one yard on the drive.
Well that was not the breath and find a rhythm plan at all. They at least did try to run with Achane, but right now, they cannot do anything. Can the defense make a stop to give them another chance?
The drive started with an Allen pass to Diggs for five yards, followed by a Cook run for three yards. Allen then ran a quarterback draw for five yards. A 26-yard pass to Kincaid, followed two plays later by a 28-yard pass to Shakir moved the Bills into a 1st-and-Goal from the Miami three-yard line. Two plays later, Allen found tight end Dawson Knox who powered into the endzone for Buffalo’s first lead. Bills 21-14.
The deep pass to Shakir is going to look like cornerback Kader Kohou was at fault, but safety Brandon Jones ran through Kohou on his own coverage, knocking the cornerback into Apple in the process. It allowed Shakir with all the space he needed to make Miami pay. The Dolphins offense has to answer right now. There just is not enough time left to have another quick punt with the Bills showing they can control the clock right now.
Tagovailoa overthrew Hill on the first play, then found wide receiver Chase Claypool for a three-yard gain. On 3rd-and-7, Tagovailoa threw incomplete targeting Hill, with the receiver getting it to the receiver, but it could not be brought in. Miami punted on another three-and-out.
As highlighted on the broadcast, that was the fourth-straight possession for the Dolphins that resulted in a punt, the first time this year they have done that. What is happening right now? Everything is just falling apart.
A pass into the flat for Cook picked up six yards as the Bills began their drive. After a timeout, Buffalo picked up three yards on a Fournette run. A two-yard gain on a sneak on 4th-and-1 followed a quarterback sneak for no yards. Fournette fan for two yards, forcing Miami to use their first timeout. Allen was sacked by Zach Sieler on second down, with a timeout following. A delay of game penalty on the Bills moved them into a 3rd-and-13, but Allen scrambled for a 15-yard gain - with five more yards added for a holding penalty on Miami. Fournette lost a yard on first down, with the Dolphins using their final timeout. Allen then ran for one yard on a designed play. On 3rd-and-10, Allen threw to Shakir for nine yards, leading to the two-minute warning. After the break, on 4th-and-1, the Bills tried to draw Miami offsides, then called a timeout. On a real fourth-down attempt, the Bills again ran the sneak as Allen tried to jump over the line, but the Dolphins stopped it.
Okay, the offense has one last gasp chance. They have no timeouts. They have to figure this out right now.
Hills picked up seven yards and got out of bounds. Tagovailoa then threw to Smythe for six yards. A defensive pass interference on a pass to Hill moved Miami into Bills territory. An incomplete pass from Hill on 1st down was followed by an interception to end any chance Miami had.
Are you serious? The Dolphins did nothing in the second half and the score came out exactly as it should with that kind of performance.