Welcome, everyone, to my new weekly feature: “Mr. B’s Breakdown,” where I’ll break down game film to identify turning points in each Buffalo Bills game. With parity in the NFL so high, win-loss margins are razor thin and the outcome can be traced back to a couple of moments in the game that turned the tide for the winning team.
I hoped to begin my writing tenure here with Buffalo Rumblings by analyzing a solid win for the Bills against the Miami Dolphins. Well, unfortunately Buffalo logged one in the L column for the first time against the Dolphins in almost four years. Most shocking was how dominant the Bills were on the stat sheet. Let’s take a deeper dive into what happened Sunday afternoon and touch on a few issues that mayr or may not be cause for concern moving forward.
Red Zone Offense
Since quarterback Josh Allen’s arrival at One Bills Drive, Buffalo’s offense has been an efficient force in the red zone. In 2021, Allen’s red zone numbers were: 72 of 129 (56%) with 29 touchdowns and two interceptions. He famously threw his first red zone interception against the New Orleans Saints last Thanksgiving.
This sort of success has buoyed the Bills, allowing them to blow out teams along the way—but it wasn’t present on Sunday against the Dolphins. The Bills scored on only three of five possessions deep in Miami’s territory, one of which was a field goal from the 11-yard line. With Buffalo being so accustomed to putting up seven points at the end of drives, Sunday’s results are certainly a disappointment. The game’s tipping point was a bad throw by Allen to wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie open near the goal line with less than two minutes to go in regulation. Convert, and it would have been 24-21, in favor of Buffalo. Allen had an unusually off-target throw into the dirt of Hard Rock Stadium, which left the Bills just short of their efforts to take the lead.
Blame whatever you want—being tired from the heat, an apparent hand injury to Allen, bad footwork—but ultimately the game-winning play was left on the grass.
It’s too early in the season to sound the alarm on this team’s red zone offense just yet, but they will need to play better against the Baltimore Ravens, who are also an AFC heavyweight.
The Dolphins deserve credit where it’s due, but much of the Bills’ loss can be pinned on their own mistakes. Take this play, for example—perhaps one of the team’s biggest blunders on the day. Miami sent pressure with eight different players at the line of scrimmage where left tackle Dion Dawkins was beaten clean off the line by safety Jevon Holland, who stripped the ball from Allen. The Dolphins recovered the ball with excellent field position, which turned into a touchdown. In a game decided by two points, this turned out to be a huge game-changing play.
With nearly the entire starting secondary out and defensive line injuries stacking up, the Bills needed some game-changing plays from the defensive middle. Linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds combined for nine tackles, no sacks, and no interceptions. Milano nearly repeated his work from Week 2, but ended up dropping quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s would-be pick-six. A beautiful read by Milano, who diagnosed wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s slant route through motioning across the formation, came up empty. The dropped pick would have given the Bills a ten-point lead well into the third quarter. A missed opportunity.
The crushing holding penalty
The Bills were driving with under two minutes to go in the game. Right tackle Spencer Brown was overcome with heat exhaustion, so David Quessenberry tagged in to finish the game. Penalties didn’t play a large factor on Sunday overall until there were 22 seconds left in the game. On a 2nd & 10 from the Dolphins’ 44-yard line, Quessenberry took a holding call on defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. The flag pushed the Bills back ten crucial yards. As you can see in the highlight, at the top of the screen it was a blatant hold and the right call. Buffalo never recovered from this penalty, running out of time trying to gain the ten yards back with :18 to go.
Penalties are drive killers. The Bills compiled only seven penalties for 52 yards, however it was the timing of the calls that proved fatal.
No Poyer, no Hyde—almost no problem
It’s been well documented that Buffalo’s secondary was decimated by injury. With wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill lining up against rookie corners, there was cause for concern. In the end, the Bills’ patchwork secondary held Tua Tagovailoa to only 186 yards through the air. This, coming off an explosive six-touchdown performance against the Baltimore Ravens.
It took almost all four quarters, but Tua finally hooked up with Waddle on a deep post to the middle of the field for a gain of 45 yards. All game long, safeties Damar Hamlin and Jaquan Johnson played great. That is until 3rd & 22, when Tua made the perfect throw, splitting the safeties and dropping the ball right into Waddle’s chest. It was the only play of the day where I said: “This doesn’t happen if Hyde or Poyer are on the field.” Perhaps that’s also true of Buffalo’s defensive depth when they acquire more experience.
The Bills employed poor clock management at the ends of both halves. Tied at 14 with no timeouts ahead of halftime, Buffalo had a 3rd & SHORT near midfield. After two completions to wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, Allen lined up for a spike but bobbled the snap, turning and throwing to Stefon Diggs. If Allen tried to spike a bobbled snap, the rules say it could either be called intentional grounding or a fumble. The pass almost got picked off by cornerback Xavien Howard, who would have taken it the other way for a pick six. Diggs instead caught the ball and ran 15 yards as the game clocked ticked to zero. No points and a wasted possession going into the half.
Then, at the end of the fourth quarter, the Bills had 2nd & 20 at their 47 after Quessenberry’s holding penalty. Down by two with no time outs, Allen dumped the ball off to Mckenzie who was unable to get out of bounds. Tick tick tick, went the clock. Allen wasn’t able to spike the ball and the game came to an end. That one extra timeout would have made a world of difference.
Having burned two in the previous possession holding the Dolphins to a three-and-out on their final drive, Buffalo had to face a two-minute drill situation with no timeouts. Their first timeout was used earlier to prevent a delay of game on the offense. Zack Moss broke a career long 43-yard run and Allen tried to get the offensive unit set up to attack. As the play clock ran down, Allen barked calls at the offense and tight end Dawson Knox looked confused at the line of scrimmage. The play clock hit zero and a flag was thrown, but the referee allowed the Bills to use a timeout instead of flagging them. Buffalo desperately needed that timeout late in the game. While it may be just a small moment, the devil is in the details—and details likely cost the Bills a win.
Clock management issues can be fixed with more preparation, communication and general game awareness. The concern level is low moving forward, but I will say with a harder schedule this season, the Bills have work to do to find wins in close games. Their last seven losses have come via one-score games, so something has to give. Improvements can be made, and we’ll find out next time Buffalo’s in a close game whether or not they have learned from their mistakes.
When a team gains 497 yards on offense (with Josh Allen accounting for 447 of them) and the defense holds such an explosive offense to 21 points, your first thought is “how much did the Bills win by?” The Dolphins earned a rare victory considering the way the game played out. Benjamin Solak tweeted that Buffalo is the fourth team in NFL history to lose a game where they had over 450 yards of offense, held the ball for more than 40 minutes, and had one or fewer turnovers. The last team to lose such a game like this was the 2016 Bills in Week 16 against the Dolphins. (Fun fact: this is the game when Rex Ryan only had ten guys on the field in overtime.) Ben Volin also shared this stat: “In the last 16 years, NFL teams are 2-106 when being out-gained by at least 275 yards. The two wins included the 2020 Dolphins vs Rams and this game in 2022 Bills vs Dolphins.”
Dolphins/Bills:— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 26, 2022
Buffalo is the 4th team in NFL history to lose a game in which they:
1) had over 450 yards of offense
2) held the ball for more than 40 mutes
3) had one or fewer turnovers
The last team to lose such a game?
The Bills. Against the Dolphins. Week 16, 2016. pic.twitter.com/hMffZFbPaK
All in all, the Bills shouldn’t play again in 90-degree heat this season. Plus, the team’s injured players will recover (17 players ended up on the injury list after the game), and Allen will remain a superstar who can keep the Bills in every game. The Dolphins earned this win, but it was close. I’d argue Buffalo lost this game more than Miami won it, which leaves hope for the future.
With a few of these mistakes cleaned up and home-field advantage in the Bills’ favor next time, the Dolphins shouldn’t expect the same outcome in December at Highmark Stadium.
Which play do you think hurt the Bills the most against the Dolphins? Leave a comment and let me know.
You can also catch our show: Not Another Buffalo Podcast with my co-hosts Jon and Pat every Wednesday and Friday as we cover the Bills and talk sports betting for the football weekend ahead.