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Bills 34, Dolphins 31: Rapid recap, notes from Buffalo’s survival

Buffalo survives and advances

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s choose to focus on the destination, and not the journey: the Buffalo Bills beat the Miami Dolphins, 34-31, on Sunday afternoon to advance in the 2023 NFL playoffs. They will host either the Cincinnati Bengals or the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round of the AFC bracket next weekend.

The postseason is about surviving and advancing, and that’s what the Bills did against a Dolphins team that knows Buffalo well. These two teams battled three times this season, and all three games were settled by a field goal or less. The Bills-Dolphins rivalry, if that was not yet clear, is very much back.

Buffalo did a lot to keep an undermanned Dolphins team in this game. Josh Allen turned the ball over three times, including a scoop-and-score fumble early in the third quarter that gave Miami a 24-20 lead. The defense struggled to tackle for stretches, and gave up too many big plays through the air in key situations. On special teams, a kickoff out of bounds and a long punt return allowed gave Miami momentum after the Bills raced out to a 17-0 lead.

This was also a very frustrating game to watch, on both sides of field. Miami dropped some big passes early in the game to miss out on early opportunities to keep it close, and Buffalo would return the favor in the second quarter. More sloppy play followed. The game featured five turnovers in total, and despite the high final score, the teams honestly left more points on the field.

In the end, however, it was Buffalo’s big plays that saved the day. Allen threw for 352 yards, ran for 20 more, and had three total touchdowns. Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis each had 100-yard receiving days, combining for 13 receptions, 227 yards, and Davis’ game-winning touchdown reception — which occurred in the third quarter. Despite giving up some plays, the defense sacked Dolphins quarterback Skylar Thompson four times, recorded seven tackles for loss, broke up 10 passes, and picked Thompson off twice. They also recorded a key fourth-down stop late in the game with Miami attempting to drive for a game-winning field goal.

This was not pretty. Mercifully, beauty is not a prerequisite to winning a football game, and the Bills found a way to win ugly. They live to play another week, and for now, that’s enough.