The Miami Dolphins gave the Buffalo Bills their best shot on Sunday, and they came away with a 21-19 win as a result. The confluence of craziness that occurred during that game reminded me an awful lot of the Wind Bowl last year—a game that ended with a 14-10 victory for the New England Patriots over Buffalo.
Miami was unable to abuse Buffalo’s young secondary as badly as we expected, but they did just enough to come out victorious. That was mostly due to their big players coming through in clutch moments. It didn’t hurt that their defense had a great game plan and executed it, either, as the Bills had to fight for every yard they gained.
Here’s how our Miami players to watch performed this weekend.
QB Tua Tagovailoa
After suffering a back injury that caused him to shake his head, wobble, and seem generally confused on the field in the second quarter, I thought for sure that he was going to exit the game. However, Tagovailoa seemed to have cleared back-injury protocol easily enough, and he returned to lead his team to victory. Sarcasm aside, that was a scary moment for the young quarterback, whose head hit the ground hard after linebacker Matt Milano shoved him late, earning a 15-yard flag in the process. At the risk of sounding like the old guy that I am, that play was fairly routine back in the days I started watching football, and it probably wouldn’t have drawn a flag. Similarly, if this were 1992, it wouldn’t have been surprising for a quarterback to sniff the smelling salts and return to play after having “his bell rung.” But it’s not 1992, it’s 2022, and the league is supposed to have protocols in place to prevent that from happening. The NFLPA has launched an investigation to see whether Miami followed protocol in clearing Tagovailoa, who was far less efficient in the second half after returning than he was in the first half. Through two quarters of play, Tua was 8-of-10 for 76 yards and a touchdown. After returning from that hit, he was 5-of-8 for 110 yards. Two of those completions and 77 of those yards came on the same drive, as Tagovailoa hit wide receiver Jaylen Waddle twice. For all the talk of Tagovailoa’s inability to stay healthy, the kid sure looked tough on Sunday, as Buffalo hit him quite a lot. He kept on going, though, and made enough throws to put his team in position to win the game.
WR Tyreek Hill
Buffalo spent a first-round draft choice on Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam because they wanted to add athleticism to their cornerbacks. While Tre’Davious White is clearly a stud, Levi Wallace was a solid zone guy who lacked the speed to play man-to-man. Elam was beaten out this summer by fellow rookie cornerback Christian Benford, but an injury to Dane Jackson meant he would draw the man he was drafted to stop eventually, Hill, in his first career start. Elam did exactly what he was drafted to do, as he held Hill to two catches and 33 yards on the afternoon.
WR Jaylen Waddle
Through three quarters, Waddle had two catches on four targets for just 25 yards. Then, after Christian Benford left the game, Waddle was lined up across from undrafted rookie Ja’Marcus Ingram, who had been elevated from the practice squad. That was a matchup that Miami would exploit on the winning touchdown drive. On the first play of the drive, he hit Waddle deep to the right for a 32-yard gain. Then, on 3rd & 22, he hit Waddle up the middle for 45 more when the Bills decided to show that they learned nothing from last year’s playoff debacle in Arrowhead by playing a soft zone that allowed the inexperienced secondary enough time to be beaten. Perhaps they were afraid of putting the UDFA corner on an island, but if there’s one thing we’ve seen with Tagovailoa over the last few years, it’s that he can be bothered by pressure. Giving a burner like Waddle time to go downfield was exactly what head coach Mike McDaniel wanted, and the Bills played into his hands. Waddle finished the day with four grabs for 102 yards.
TE Mike Gesicki
He was a non-factor yet again, as he split time with Durham Smythe and blocked an awful lot when he was on the field. After putting up some big games against Buffalo over the last few years, Gesicki finished with a disappointing one catch for six yards.
CB Jevon Holland
He had a great day, and the scary part is that it could have been even better. Holland forced a Josh Allen fumble on what was ultimately the turning point of the first half, as it set the Dolphins up with a goal-to-go situation on their second drive of the game. That led to an easy touchdown and the early tie. Holland also had more than one pass go through or glance off his hands, so he could have added an interception or two to his ledger. He was solid in coverage, and he showed himself to be an adept tackler, too. He finished with ten tackles, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups, and that huge forced fumble on the day.