The Miami Dolphins entered their Week 18 matchup against the Buffalo Bills in the same situation as their opponent: win and the divisional crown was theirs. Lose, and they would be traveling as a wild card team for the playoffs. Well, lose they did, as Miami blew a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter en route to a 21-14 defeat.
The Bills weren’t perfect in defending against Miami’s top players, but in the second half especially, they were about as close as they could have been to perfection. Buffalo’s offense moved the ball at will, and after Miami’s offense was able to do the same in the first half, the Bills clamped down and limited their division rivals in the second half.
Here’s how our five Dolphins to watch performed this week.
QB Tua Tagovailoa
In the first half, Tua was really, really good. He completed 9-of-13 passes for 123 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. In the second half, Tua was really, well... not good. He completed 8-of-14 passes for just 50 yards and an interception. Miami’s offense gained just three first downs after intermission, and they ran 17 plays for a net total of 47 yards when penalties were factored into the equation.
Buffalo wasn’t really able to pressure Tagovailoa, but they did confuse him with coverages. That hesitation led him to hold the ball, which led him to rush his mechanics just enough at times. That rush caused him to miss high all night, which eventually came back to bite him on the game’s final drive. His last pass was a loafer into double coverage that safety Taylor Rapp intercepted, but there were a few passes that he just couldn’t put enough on in order to gain the yardage his squad needed.
On Miami’s first drive, he had Braxon Berrios beyond the sticks for a first down on the left hash. However, Tagovailoa was a little outside the right hash, and his throw hung in the air long enough that Berrios had to come back to the ball to catch it. By coming back to the ball, he ceded the first-down position, allowing Buffalo to make a tackle and force a punt.
These things happen when Tagovailoa is either forced off his spot by pressure or forced to go to a later read, making a throw where he doesn’t quite have his feet and body going in the direction for him to make his strongest toss. Buffalo’s secondary tightened up in the second half, limiting Tagovailoa and keeping the Bills in it long enough for their offense and special teams to score enough to win.
WR Tyreek Hill
Speaking of players who had a big first half, Hill was another one who was killing Buffalo early before the defense settled in and stopped him. Prior to halftime, Hill had five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. After halftime, Hill saw six more targets, but he caught just two more passes for 22 yards. He had opportunities to do more damage, but he either dropped the ball or had one of Buffalo’s safeties (Micah Hyde once on a third down and Rapp later on a first down) jar the ball loose.
It was Hill’s best game against Buffalo as a member of the Dolphins, as he totaled seven catches for 82 yards and a score. Much of that production came in the first half after Rasul Douglas left with a knee injury, as Hill worked on sub corner Dane Jackson. Jackson found his legs in the second half, totaling three tackles and a pass breakup on the night. Hill found himself leaving the field of play immediately after his quarterback’s game-ending interception, as he chose to skip the postgame handshakes in favor of an early shower.
LB Melvin Ingram
The veteran showed up in a big way on Sunday night, as he was a legitimate problem on the blitz all night long. Ingram totaled five tackles, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and two tackles for loss on his night, turning back the clock and looking like his much younger self — when he was asked to do things that make sense for him to do. I have to add that caveat because, for some reason, Ingram was the man who defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had in coverage against tight end Dalton Kincaid on one of Miami’s blitzes in a tie game in the fourth quarter.
Predictably, quarterback Josh Allen found Kincaid for a huge gain, picking up 26 yards to put the Bills at Miami’s 35-yard line. That call reminded me of some dark times, like when former Bills coach and self-proclaimed defensive genius Rex Ryan had guys like Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus dropping into coverage. Buffalo’s offense saw the matchup, exploited it, and set themselves up to take a lead that they would not relinquish.
LB Andrew Van Ginkel
Miami’s Josh Allen mirror/spy didn’t finish the game, as he left in the third quarter thanks to a foot injury. He was hurt while making his only tackle of the night, stopping running back James Cook on a seven-yard gain. He would have been credited with a pass breakup when Josh Allen dunked a pass off his head in the second quarter but, somehow, the deflection was secured in the end zone by wideout Trent Sherfield — so it instead ended up a “wow” play in a game full of them.
CB Eli Apple
The veteran started his night off with a bang, securing an errant throw by Josh Allen for an interception in the end zone that ended Buffalo’s first drive without allowing points. From then on, though, things weren’t as good. Allen was able to throw the ball at will as the night progressed, and Apple was on the wrong end of a pair of big pays.
First, he seemed like he gave up on the aforementioned hockey assist from Van Ginkel’s helmet, staring up at the ball while Sherfield positioned himself to catch it below. Apple also was the man in coverage who wide receiver Stefon Diggs burned for a huge gain to set up said touchdown, as Diggs made a brilliant sliding grab with Apple right in his face. He finished his night with eight tackles and that interception.