Was it exhilarating? Sure. I’m exhausted. We are all exhausted. The game had every twist and turn. It ran just a few minutes short of four hours long. There were six touchdowns, seven turnovers (counting turnovers on downs) and 11 sacks. It was an absolute epic.
And Bills coach Sean McDermott and Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel only made it more farcical. Both mismanaged the game so severely that they each interfered with their team’s ability to win the game.
In the case of McDermott, he called timeouts right before two different fourth-down conversion attempts. And in both cases, the timeout was so late that the teams played out the down, with Miami failing to convert. So the Dolphins got another chance.
On the most important fourth down of the game — a fourth-and-1 on Miami’s final possession with 2:28 left, McDaniel had such a hard time getting in a play that his team committed a delay of game penalty. After the game, McDaniel said that he had been informed by his staff that the Dolphins had gotten a first down on the previous play. They were preparing a first-down call when they realized they were actually facing fourth down. And then, because they didn’t have a fourth-down playcall ready, they were late to make the decision.
“The plays got in a little later than I would prefer — at least once or twice,” McDaniel said.
The Dolphins had to take the delay of game because the team spent all three of its timeouts on similar situations when McDaniel & Co. couldn’t communicate the play fast enough.
Overall, there was messiness from both teams at crucial moments. And that made for a tense and wild fourth quarter when just about anything seemed possible.
It felt like it was over when Skylar Thompson misfired to Mike Gesicki near the sideline on fourth-and-6 with 2:28 left. (And it was a rough play for Thompson, who had Tyreek Hill open and streaking over the middle.)
But you just never knew with this game. It really came down to the final snap when Josh Allen took a knee. And Allen made just enough big plays for his team to eke out victory over Thompson, Hill and Jaylen Waddle. There will be no shortage of plays that Allen wants back, including a handful of deep shots where he took unnecessary risks.
There was a silver lining in the mess. The Bills’ secondary managed a pair of interceptions. Cornerback Kaiir Elam had an enormous interception in the second half. But perhaps more notable was safety Dean Marlowe‘s interception. He has taken over the starting role for Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the field in the Bills-Bengals game just a few weeks ago.
Hamlin attended the team’s walkthrough Saturday, per McDermott.
“For him to be in the building, it brought smiles and happy tears to everyone,” Marlowe said postgame. “All we needed was to see his face. … It was amazing.”
Allen finished the game completing just 59% of his passes for 352 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had a fumble that Miami returned for a touchdown. That fumble came on one of Allen’s seven sacks.
“The turnovers — they really hurt us,” Allen said postgame. “They really let them back in the game.”
Ultimately, his brilliance outweighed his boneheadedness — and that’s how Buffalo came to win. And his most outstanding throw was probably his touchdown to receiver Gabe Davis with two minutes left in the third quarter. It wasn’t crunch time, but it was the play that really helped Buffalo pull ahead to a point where they could protect its lead.
Buffalo advances to play the Bengals, if they win Sunday night, or the Jacksonville Jaguars next week. Buffalo’s Super Bowl run continues.
Miami needed chaos to win with Thompson. And it got that. But it also needed big games from Hill and Waddle. And neither receiver stepped up in the way the Dolphins needed. Hill had just 69 yards on seven catches and Waddle had three catches on seven targets for 44 yards. They struggled with separation. McDaniel struggled to get Thompson doing the right things within the offense. And Miami simply looked like a team held back by their third-stringer.
After the game, McDaniel spoke about the future with starting QB Tua Tagovailoa, who remains in concussion protocol.
“I think we all see him as the leader of this team,” the coach said. “When it’s appropriate for him to lead this team, we’ll jump on that opportunity. He’s a great player with only improvement in front of him.”
But with a handful of other options, the Dolphins could get a case of wandering eyes. And not just at quarterback. There’s reason to wonder if Miami might also make a change at head coach. McDaniel really struggled as the Dolphins lost six of their last seven games (including the postseason). It would be a mistake, from my vantage point, if the Dolphins fired their first-year head coach. But teams make mistakes every offseason.
Miami might be headed for an awkward offseason in which the quarterback and coach will have to cross their fingers and hope GM Chris Grier and owner Stephen Ross are willing to sit tight.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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