The Buffalo Bills are playoff-bound for the fourth straight season, after a 32-29 win over the Miami Dolphins set them up with the right results to qualify with three weeks remaining in the season. This was an exciting game, even if it didn’t feature any thundersnow, and the Bills closed it out in style with a punishing final drive and a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Although the Dolphins opened the game with a 13-yard run, their drive quickly fizzled with the help of a false-start penalty. The Bills started similarly, gaining 27 yards on their first two plays, then one yard on the next three plays before punting right back.
Miami’s next drive lasted 14 plays and nearly eight minutes, and it seemed like every time running back Raheem Mostert touched the football, they moved the chains. But on 3rd & 1 at the Bills’ 11-yard line, Miami called a passing play, and defensive end Shaq Lawson screamed around the edge for a strip sack. The Dolphins fell on top of the ball, but Lawson’s play forced a field goal when Miami could’ve been running plays at the goalline.
It didn’t take long for the Bills to respond. Set up by a 45-yard reception for tight end Dawson Knox, then a 13-yard checkdown to running back Devin Singletary. Tight end Quintin Morris finished the drive with an athletic leaping catch behind a defender in the end zone, and Buffalo took a 7-3 lead.
Mostert ripped off, arguably, the highlight of the game on the next drive with a 67-yard rumbling run that was only stopped by Taron Johnson’s horsecollar tackle. That penalty literally saved a touchdown, as the Dolphins couldn’t reach paydirt from the 4-yard line, and settled for their second field goal.
The Bills had their own clock-controlling drive on the next possession, running 12 plays and converting two third downs (including a 3rd & 17). Allen finished it with a 10-yard swing pass to running back Nyheim Hines, who scampered into the end zone. The Dolphins hit right back, with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle showing some zip on a 32-yard catch. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s six-yard catch was just enough to convert a 3rd & 5, and later on the drive, Hill had a 14-yard catch on 3rd & 9. The next play was an 11-yard TD run by running back Salvon Ahmed.
With three minutes left in the half, Allen led another impressive touchdown drive that used every single second of clock. On the final play, it seemed like Allen might have run out of time to either score or throw the ball away, but he rolled right, stayed patient, and saw running back James Cook open up, where he delivered his third touchdown of the game to give Buffalo a 21-13 halftime lead.
Buffalo didn’t double-dip their halftime score, instead coming out flat with a three-and-out. And Miami seized the momentum immediately. Waddle broke free on a deep post and outran safety Damar Hamlin for a 67-yard touchdown after only three plays from scrimmage. A failed two-point conversion left the Bills leading 21-19.
Allen started Buffalo’s next drive on the right foot, running for 13 yards and finding Dawson Knox for a 21-yard catch on the next play. A James Cook run and a short catch by wide receiver Stefon Diggs gave the Bills 3rd & 2 at the Miami 33-yard line, then the drive unraveled: a holding penalty, a false start, and an incomplete pass (plus another holding penalty, declined since the Bills were already out of field goal range and it was fourth down). A promising drive ended with a punt.
The two teams traded punts, and it was a consequential game of field position: Miami’s punt rolled to the one-yard line, where Buffalo couldn’t make any headroom before punting back to the 50-yard line. Buffalo’s defense played tremendously to hold the Dolphins without a gain on the next three plays, but when Miami punted, cornerback Cam Lewis rammed into their punter and was flagged for a personal foul. That gave the Dolphins more life and fantastic field position, and they seized the lead a few plays later when Hill caught a 20-yard touchdown.
Trailing 26-21, Buffalo was still scuffling. It seemed like wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie might have a deep catch at one point, but the officials ruled it incomplete, and that was upheld after a challenge. Stefon Diggs, already frustrated with missed opportunities in the game, came wide open deep downfield, but Allen’s throw was way off target, and they punted for the fourth consecutive time.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Bills’ defense forced a three-and-out, but the offense tripped over another rake on their next play from scrimmage: Allen was hit from behind as he wound up to throw, fumbling the ball into the arms of defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Miami started in Buffalo territory and opened with an 11-yard gain by Mostert, but the Bills’ defense held stout once again — especially defensive back Taron Johnson, who notched a critical TFL on 3rd & 1. The Dolphins kicked a field goal to extend their lead, 29-21, to eight points.
As Buffalo opened their next drive, Allen gained two yards on a QB keeper and fumbled the ball — again — but this time his teammate recovered it.
Then, for the first time all night, snow flurries began to fall. The atmosphere changed, just a little, and it favored the Buffalo Bills.
James Cook took a handoff for 16 yards.
Allen galloped 44 yards through Miami’s defense, the second-longest run of his career.
Allen carried for 5 more yards, and drew a personal foul penalty when Elandon Roberts tackled him out of bounds.
After Miami stopped the next two plays, Allen rolled right and threw to Dawson Knox for the touchdown. On a two-point conversion try, Allen made a Superman leap and, just barely, stretched the nose of the football across the goalline to tie the game.
Miami wasn’t done fighting yet. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit a 13-yard pass to Hill, then wide receiver Cedrick Wilson made a fantastic 21-yard catch with Taron Johnson in tight coverage to put the Dolphins in Bills territory. But defensive end Greg Rousseau stopped Mostert for a one-yard gain, cornerback Kaiir Elam had a phenomenal TFL on Hill (that was nearly an interception), and Tagovailoa couldn’t connect with Waddle on 3rd & 12. Miami punted back to Buffalo with six minutes remaining.
The snow fell heavier and the winds began to gust as the Bills took possession, and the team in red was oozing confidence. Allen’s first pass gained 14 yards. Then Allen was sacked, but he hit a 15-yard pass to make up the lost yardage and then some. On third down, Allen connected with Diggs for a six-yard gain to move the chains.
Devin Singletary gained eight yards on the ground, then Allen found McKenzie to convert another third down with another short gain.
Back to Singletary, who carried three times for 19 yards. Meanwhile, the clock ticked down, and when Allen tried a quick throw on an RPO (which Miami tipped away), there was only a minute left in the game.
At the Miami 34-yard line, the Bills were just barely in field goal range, but on the next play, third down, Isaiah McKenzie drew a 21-yard pass interference penalty to keep the drive going
Back to Singletary, a two-yard gain and a timeout. Again to Singletary, a seven-yard gain (the Dolphins tried to let him score, hoping to take back possession, but he took himself to the turf), and a timeout.
Allen kneeled the ball at the seven-yard line and, as the clock expired, kicker Tyler Bass sealed the deal with a field goal.
The Bills hold onto the first seed for another week, moving up to an 11-3 record, and officially qualified for the playoffs. They can clinch the AFC East with one more win, or the right combination of losses. This was an exciting game, an enjoyable response to the first game these two played, and a storybook ending for the fans in Buffalo.
- Linebacker A.J. Klein was injured on the opening kickoff. It wasn’t immediately obvious what the injury was, or how long Klein would be affected, since he usually only lines up for special teams plays.
- Center Mitch Morse went into the locker room with a concussion in the third quarter. With Ryan Bates already inactive for the game, Greg Van Roten had to play center, and David Quessenberry stepped in at right guard.
- Congrats to Quintin Morris for scoring the first touchdown of his career! The second-year tight end opened the scoring for Buffalo with a leaping, diving catch of a skyscraping pass in the first quarter.
- A strange tactical sequence played out late in the first quarter, when Raheem Mostert ripped off a 67-yard run. Taron Johnson horse collared him to the ground, saving a touchdown for the cost of four yards advanced toward the end zone. The Bills held the Dolphins to only a single yard gained on the next three plays, and Miami kicked a field goal on fourth down instead of another try at a TD.
- Billa Mafia came this close to being called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter. No really. The amped-up fans had tons of snow resting on their seats, and quickly turned the game into a snowball fight, pelting Dolphins, referees, camera operators, and anyone else they could hit. The officials had to put a stop to it, and the flag in their pocket was the last resort.
- Where has this role for Dawson Knox been all season? Knox had a team-leading six catches for 98 yards and a TD on eight targets, and he could’ve crossed the century mark but for dropping the other two targets. He was a game-changer tonight.
- Also a game-changer: Josh Allen (duh), who had 381 total yards and four TDs tonight, with only a single turnover.
- The rushing attack was too dependent on Allen’s scrambling tonight, and that can be chalked up to the absences of Morse and Bates, but kudos to the o-line and Devin Singletary for closing out the game when it mattered.
- Jaylen Waddle came away with 114 yards and a TD on only three catches, but credit to the Bills for turning Tyreek Hill into a possession receiver: 9 catches for an average gain of only 7.7 yards.
- It feels like the Dolphins really missed an opportunity to wreck the Bills with Raheem Mostert tonight. At halftime, Mostert had 12 touches for 128 yards. In the second half, he gained eight yards on five carries. Something fundamentally changed.
- Taron Johnson, Kaiir Elam, and Tre’Davious White all individually deserve credit for their splashy success tonight, combining for five passes defended and two TFLs. Each of them was beaten at least once for a big play, but overall they held up well.
- Reggie Bush Watch: Nyheim Hines didn’t take a carry tonight, and still sits behind Bush on the “leaderboard” of rushing yards. He did have a 10-yard touchdown catch, though. Great job, Nyheim!
A Christmas Eve trip to Chicago to take on the Bears (3-10). Chicago, who plays tomorrow, has been dragged through a six-game losing streak, averaging 33.5 points surrendered per defeat in that span.