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Bills 32, Dolphins 29: Five things we learned

The Bills are playoff-bound and on the verge of their third straight AFC East title after their come-from-behind win over Miami on Saturday night

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are playoff-bound after a come-from-behind, 32-29 win over the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night. The Bills now hold a three-game lead in the AFC East with three games remaining, and any single win by Buffalo in their final three games will deliver them their third straight division title.

As has routinely been the case during the Bills’ current five-game winning streak, things were not always pretty, and it took some clutch performances late to erase an eight-point fourth quarter deficit and deliver the win. Here are five things we learned from Saturday night’s huge victory.

Josh Allen continues dominance over Miami

Buffalo needed an MVP-caliber performance from their quarterback to outscore a very talented Dolphins offense, and Josh Allen delivered exactly that. Allen completed 25-of-40 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns, one turnover (a lost fumble on a strip-sack in the third quarter), and a quarterback rating of 119.2. He added 77 rushing yards on 10 totes, pacing Buffalo’s rushing attack on the evening. All four of his scoring throws were to tight ends or running backs.

After yet another mid-game lull for Buffalo’s offense — they didn’t score in the third quarter, and wasted their first five possessions of the second half in the process — Allen locked back in, engineering a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion (which he converted himself), and then the game-winning field goal try as time expired. Buffalo’s defense did enough late to keep the score within striking distance for Allen, and he delivered the win.

In his career, Allen is now 8-2 all-time against Miami, with 3,232 total yards and 31 touchdowns in those games.

Two receivers step up to complement Stefon Diggs

In any given week for Buffalo’s offense, the most important question to answer is which receiver — or pair of receivers — can step up as high-volume targets to complement the team’s obvious top receiver, Stefon Diggs.

While the Dolphins were able to limit the damage that Diggs did (five receptions, 60 yards), the Bills got excellent complementary contributions from tight end Dawson Knox and wide receiver Gabe Davis. That duo combined for 10 receptions, 154 yards, and Knox’s game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Davis (four receptions, 56 yards) converted a 3rd & 17 with a 21-yard reception on the Bills’ second scoring drive. Knox (six receptions, 98 yards, one touchdown) was the more important contributor on the night; he had a 45-yard catch-and-run reception on Buffalo’s first scoring drive, and then caught the fourth-quarter touchdown that helped tie the game back up after Miami had gone on a 16-0 scoring run. Knox might have had an even bigger night had he not dropped multiple passes, but he did plenty to help Buffalo’s offense overcome a strong night from the Dolphins’ outfit.

Two defensive backs key late surge for defense

It’s fair to wonder if the Bills could have emerged from this one with a win without the fourth-quarter play of cornerbacks Taron Johnson and Tre’Davious White.

This was finally a welcome-back performance for White, who had been working to get his legs back under him after returning from a year-long ACL recovery on Thanksgiving Day. Buffalo’s defense recorded six pass break-ups on the evening, and White was responsible for three of those. He looked strong to start, and then rebounded late after giving up a go-ahead touchdown to wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the third quarter.

Johnson, however, made the two big plays at a critical juncture in the game. Trailing 26-21 at the start of the fourth quarter, Johnson cut underneath Hill on an out route on a short third-down conversion try and nearly intercepted the pass. That forced a Dolphins punt, but Miami got the ball right back after Allen was strip-sacked by linebacker Jaelan Phillips and lost a fumble. On the ensuing possession, with Miami facing yet another short third-down try, Johnson read Miami’s route concept quickly and brought down the receiver for a loss. That forced a Dolphins field goal, and at that point, Johnson had essentially single-handedly kept Miami from making it a two-score game.

Special teams gaffes are cause for concern

Make it two straight weeks that Buffalo’s special teams unit has committed a second-half gaffe that played a critical role in the game’s outcome. In last week’s win over the New York Jets, that came in the form of a blocked punt that went through the end zone for a safety, allowing the Jets to stay in the game.

Last night against Miami, the special teams gaffe came with the Bills nursing a two-point lead in the third quarter while clearly struggling offensively. After Buffalo’s defense forced a punt near midfield, reserve defensive back Cam Lewis blatantly roughed Dolphins punter Thomas Morstead, resulting in a drive-sustaining personal foul in Miami’s favor. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa found Hill on a touchdown throw on the ensuing possession, and Buffalo’s special teams was indirectly the reason for trailing in the game.

These types of self-inflicted wounds by the Bills’ third phase need to be ironed out as quickly as possible. Buffalo’s margin for error has decreased significantly as the season has progressed, and these sorts of hurdles may not be surmountable for much longer.

Two streaks preserved vs. Miami

With this win, the Bills remain unbeaten at home against the Dolphins under head coach Sean McDermott; they are now 6-0. The Bills are now 6-1 all-time under McDermott in games in which they have a playoff-clinching scenario, including a streak of five consecutive wins.

Here’s a bonus stat to finish this off: in beating the New England Patriots, the Jets, and the Dolphins in back-to-back-to-back weeks, the Bills have beaten division rivals in three consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 16-18 of the 1993 season. That year ended in a Super Bowl appearance for the Bills.