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Bills 48, Dolphins 20: Five things we learned

Buffalo re-takes the driver’s seat in the AFC East

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills re-took control of what still looks certain to be a tight AFC East race with an emphatic 48-20 throttling of the Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Sunday. The Bills are now 3-1 on the season and in first place in the division, thanks to their head-to-head tiebreaker over the now 3-1 Dolphins.

Miami came into the game riding the high of a 50-point victory in Week 3, and as the lone remaining unbeaten team in the AFC. They ran into a buzzsaw on Sunday, however, with the Bills going blow-for-blow with the Dolphins’ high-octane offense early, then flipping the game script with key defensive plays in the second quarter to open up a 17-point halftime lead. In the end, Buffalo’s four-score win secured their eighth straight win over Miami at Highmark Stadium.

The victory did not come without loss, however. Here are five things we learned on Sunday.

Josh Allen was perfect

In his career, quarterback Josh Allen came into this contest having never lost to the Dolphins at home. In six career games against Miami in Orchard Park, Allen sported a career passer rating of 108.9, with 20 total touchdowns versus just six turnovers. Buffalo’s average margin of victory in those games was 14.3 points.

Then he threw the first perfect game of his career yesterday, sporting a pristine 158.3 quarterback rating in completing 21-of-25 passes for 320 yards with four touchdowns and no turnovers. He added an 11-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to provide the final score of the game. It was such a strong effort that it actually raised his career home quarterback rating against Miami by nearly eight whole points.

Josh Allen vs. Miami in Buffalo

Allen vs. MIA Comp Att % Yds YPA TD INT Rate
Allen vs. MIA Comp Att % Yds YPA TD INT Rate
2018-22 (6 games) 128 198 64.6 1,555 7.9 17 4 108.9
2023 Week 4 21 25 84.0 320 12.8 4 0 158.3
Total 149 223 66.8 1,875 8.4 21 4 116.7

This was very much a return to form for Allen, who was miserable in Week 1, then largely unneeded in blowout wins in Weeks 2 and 3. Buffalo needed its offense badly against Miami’s high-octane attack, however, and Allen and company delivered in a very big way.

Stefon Diggs continues to dominate targets

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs was the primary beneficiary of Allen’s career day, hauling in six receptions for 120 yards and three touchdowns — his third three-touchdown game as a member of the Bills.

Diggs was also Allen’s most-targeted receiver on the game, as usual, with Allen throwing his way seven times. Six were caught to delightful effect, and the seventh yielded a 43-yard defensive pass interference penalty on Miami cornerback Kader Kohou to help set up the Bills’ third touchdown of the day (and Diggs’ first).

Through four games, Diggs has commanded 39 of the Bills’ 132 passing game targets, a healthy 29.5% target share as the clear alpha in Buffalo’s aerial attack. No other Bills receiver has garnered more than 18 looks (Gabe Davis, for a 13.6% target share).

Allen is spreading the ball around — 11 different pass-catching targets have hauled in at least one reception in the Bills’ first four games of the season, and four (Diggs, tight end Dalton Kincaid, Davis, and running back James Cook) have double-digit reception totals. Allen’s 74.8% completion rate is also on pace to easily set his career high. Time will tell if the team is able to maintain its blistering aerial efficiency with Diggs the clear focal point, and still without a clear-cut secondary receiving option behind him.

Tre’Davious White can’t catch a break

On Thanksgiving Day in 2021, cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his ACL. It took him a full calendar year to return to the playing field, and then it took him another 10 months to start looking like his usual self. White was really rounding into form of late; he had a great interception in the Bills’ Week 3 win over Washington, and could have had another late in the first half yesterday. He was looking like his former All-Pro self again.

Then he suffered yet another non-contact injury on a 4th & 1 stop in the third quarter. It’s believed to be a season-ending Achilles injury for Buffalo’s top cornerback. Take some time to read the post-game reaction to the injury from his teammates, and especially from head coach Sean McDermott; that article, from ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg, puts into clear perspective just how respected White is in the locker room. It’s a tough blow for the Bills, but more importantly for White, who is a great player and a franchise cornerstone, and who put in so much work to return from his previous injury not just physically, but mentally. Here’s hoping his road to recovery is a bit less taxing this time around.

Playing without White is a row that Buffalo has hoed before, but it will be difficult. Should the worst be confirmed for White, Christian Benford (who also suffered a shoulder injury in this game) and Dane Jackson are likely Buffalo’s starting boundary corners moving forward, with 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam also getting a chance to dress on game days as a reserve.

D-Line continues to shine

Despite the loss of White, this was a banner day for McDermott and his defense. It looked rough early on, with Miami cruising down the field on each of its first two possessions for touchdowns, but Buffalo’s offense was also in cruise control, and it bought McDermott time to make adjustments.

Adjust, they did: After those first two possessions, Miami’s next four drives ended with a punt, a punt, a fumble (recovered by turnover-magnet linebacker Terrel Bernard), and a punt. They did open the second half with a touchdown drive, which cut Buffalo’s lead to 11 points, but then their next four possessions went interception (safety Micah Hyde), turnover on downs, turnover on downs, and turnover on downs.

The Bills continue to look more aggressive and cohesive than in previous seasons with McDermott calling the defensive plays. Turning teams over is certainly helping; the Bills have now forced 11 turnovers in their first four games, which always makes things feel a lot better overall for a defensive unit.

But the biggest story line defensively, at least in this author’s opinion, continues to be the strong play of the defensive line. We knew it would be a deep unit coming into the season, but as a whole, they have also been dominant in passing situations. They brought down quarterback Tua Tagovailoa four times to add to their sack piles from previous weeks, and now sit at 16 sacks through four games. Defensive end Greg Rousseau (two sacks) led the way this week, with tackles Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones registering one each, as well.

Von Miller is expected to return to practice this week, by the way.

Avoiding the letdown

The last time the Bills played the Jacksonville Jaguars was in Week 9 of the 2021 regular season. The Bills were coming off of a big October home win against Miami at that time; they then went down to Jacksonville and put up a legitimate stinker, losing 9-6 to a three-win Jaguars outfit helmed by now-disgraced coach Urban Meyer, with Allen turning in a three-turnover performance.

This time, the Bills will be coming off of a big October home win against Miami as they travel to face the Jags. Jacksonville is a much-improved team since the last time these two squads faced off, however. More pertinently, the travel for this one will be a bit more intense, as the team flies out to London on Friday. The Bills play the Jaguars at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at 9:30 a.m. EDT this coming Sunday.

Now that the Bills are back in the driver’s seat in the AFC East, they need to avoid a similar letdown as the one they experienced two years ago. They’re riding the high of three straight wins with a plus-90 point differential, and having just dominated their biggest rival. Expectations have shifted a bit. Each week is a challenge, and with the Jaguars already in London coming off a win yesterday at Wembley Stadium, they have something of a situational advantage that Buffalo must overcome. This is a sneaky-big game for the Bills.