The Buffalo Bills beat the Miami Dolphins 34-31 to advance to the AFC Wild Card round.
Here’s what we learnt from the Bills’ performance.
Josh Allen gives, and Josh Allen takes.
It was one of those days for the Bills’ top quarterback, who had times when he was superhuman and others when he was mortal and inconsistent. He had only thrown one interception in his postseason career before to Sunday; that figure increased to three.
Allen blazed in the first quarter, going 9 of 11 for 141 yards and a score as the Bills jumped out to a 17-0 lead. However, a succession of errors by the offence, some of which Allen was accountable for and others for which he was not, triggered a rockslide that nearly proved disastrous.
“Thought we did some nice things today, I did some awful things today, so there’s something to fix up and some things to learn from,” the quarterback bemoaned.
In the second quarter, Allen attempted to strike John Brown deep downfield on a similar play that he scored on last week, but Allen was off target, and Dolphins CB Xavien Howard intercepted him. Allen’s second interception deflected off the chest of Cole Beasley, who couldn’t come down with the ball, and into the hands of a Dolphins defender.
Coming out of halftime, the Dolphins had a free rusher right in Allen’s face on a first down play. Allen lost possession of the ball, which Miami picked up for a score. The Dolphins took a 24-20 lead.
“They were playing press man, they were spying on me, they were doubling Stef, I felt their front did a really nice job, maybe closing up some of the running lanes,” Allen said.
But, although Allen made some bizarre plays, he also demonstrated why he’s still one of the greatest in the game late in the game. Late in the third quarter, the Pro Bowler led back-to-back touchdown drives, one to Cole Beasley and one to Davis.
His pass to Davis put the Bills up two scores, and it was a superbly placed ball in the corner of the end zone where the WR made the tip-toe catch.
“He’s been so dependable for us,” Allen said of Davis. “I just gave him some chances to make some plays, and he came up with some huge ones tonight.”
Despite his inconsistent play, Allen established a Bills career high with four postseason 300-yard throwing outings, breaking a tie with Jim Kelly (3). He also joins QB Matt Ryan as the only players in playoff history to have at least 300 yards passing and three touchdown passes in three straight games.
The Bills’ defence restricts explosive plays and ignites a comeback with an interception.
The scoreboard will indicate that the Bills let up 31 points, but it doesn’t tell the full story of how well the Buffalo defence performed under the circumstances.
According to the data, Buffalo’s defence was a strength in this game.
The Bills held Miami to 3.3 yards per play, 231 total yards, and 4 for 16 (25%) third-down conversions. Buffalo’s four total sacks (two from LB Matt Milano, one from DE Boogie Basham, and one from DE Ed Oliver) were the most in a playoff game since the Divisional game against Baltimore in the 2020 playoffs.
In addition, the defence caused two turnovers, as CB Kaiir Elam and S Dean Marlowe intercepted Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson, who started in place of Tua Tagovailoa (concussion).
“I believe they had one, maybe two (huge plays),” McDermott said. “So just overall solid job by the secondary there and kept them in check the best we could.”
Yes, the Bills defence was far from great, but Allen’s turnover issues placed the defence in difficult situations throughout the second quarter and into the third.
Following Allen’s first interception, the Dolphins had the ball at the Bills’ 48-yard line. The defence kept Miami to 18 yards on eight plays, culminating in a 48-yard field goal. A Bills punt followed by a huge return by the Dolphins special teams unit placed the ball just beyond the red zone. Again, Buffalo’s defence held Miami out of the end zone and forced a field goal.
Allen’s second interception gave Miami the ball at the Buffalo 18-yard line, and the Dolphins did reach the end zone this time, tying the game at 17-17 late in the second quarter.
Miami’s offensive possessions in the second half: punt, punt, interception, punt, score, punt, turnover on downs.
The interception occurred in the second half from rookie CB Kaiir Elam, and the Bills seized the lead on the subsequent drive. Buffalo did not trail the rest of the way.
“That certainly helps us out, bails us out,” Allen said of Elam’s performance. “I can’t credit our defence enough for playing the way they did.”
Rookies thrive in their postseason debuts
The playoffs are about who steps up in the biggest moments, and those contributions may occasionally come from unexpected places. The Bills were helped by three crucial rookies.
RB James Cook, CB Kaiir Elam, and WR Khalil Shakir all made game-changing plays at separate moments.
“I mean, we’re banking on those guys,” McDermott said. “When you’re a young player, it wasn’t always like this. Years ago, most young players never played, or your first-round selection may have played, so in today’s NFL, these young players will be called on to participate and contribute.”
Cook rounded up the Bills’ second scoring drive of the day with a 12-yard touchdown run, which was followed by a passionate celebration in which the rookie leapt into the bleachers. He became the first Bill since Darick Holmes and Tim Tindale to score a running touchdown in their postseason debuts (vs. Miami, 12/30/95).
When Buffalo’s offence faltered and the Dolphins seized the lead, it was Elam who made a big play in his first career playoff game, picking off Thompson and setting up the Bills’ offence at Miami’s 33-yard line.
And late in the fourth quarter, with the Bills holding a 34-31 lead and facing a critical third down play, it was Khalil Shakir who hauled in a 31-yard laser from Allen to keep the chains rolling.
“That was a huge catch. We have a great deal of faith in him. He’s got terrific hands “McDermott said.