Bills Edge out Dolphins Late in AFC East Winter Wonderland

Bills Dolphins

Buffalo, NY – In what would become an instant classic between both rivals, the stakes were high. The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have playoff implications with not many games left to play, so naturally, a matchup between the two would be must-watch television.

Miami’s offense, led by their running game, not only kept the Dolphins in it but also netted them the lead late. However, Miami’s defense struggled in the first half and the coaching staff abandoned the run game in the fourth quarter. Ultimately losing to the Bills 32-29. Missed opportunities gave Buffalo the chance they needed to steal the lead and win the game with seconds to go.

“I Wish it Were Colder”

The difference in climate between Miami and Buffalo is startling, especially when you look back at Week 3 of the NFL season. In game one between the two, temperatures at Hard Rock Stadium reached 90° with a heat index of 99° at kickoff, leaving the Bills, who wore their blue jerseys, at a massive disadvantage.

Thanks to the design of Hard Rock Stadium’s canopy, the visiting team’s sidelines (and the seats behind it) are directly exposed to the South Florida sun, while Miami’s sideline was completely in the shade.

Sure enough, the Dolphins came out on top by a score of 21-19. This led many Bills fans to complain on social media about the unfair weather conditions, while completely disregarding how cold it gets in New York in the Winter season.

As expected, temperatures got very low in the days prior to Week 15 with massive amounts of snow covering most of the city of Buffalo, including right over Highmark Stadium and the surrounding parking lot. At kickoff, temperatures reached 25° and were cloudy with light then heavy snowfall as the game progressed.

After playing in 55° weather in Los Angeles the week prior, Miami practiced in somewhat low-temperature conditions but the Fins insisted that weather would not be a serious issue for the team. This was encapsulated when head coach Mike McDaniel was seen wearing a shirt during practice that said “I Wish it Were Colder.”

Another interesting “advantage” that Buffalo had on Saturday was a surplus amount of snow available to fans in the stands, which led to snowballs being thrown on the field, most notably whenever Miami scored or when heading back to the locker room at halftime.

It reached a point where NFL officials had to stop the game early on for a few minutes, and a message was sent out to the fans that said if snowballs continued to be thrown on the field, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would be handed out to the Bills. Despite snowballs continuing to be thrown, no penalties were handed out.

The Rivalry is Back, Baby!

Saturday’s game between Buffalo and Miami turned out to be one of the most important meetings between the AFC East rivals in years. As a result, the 1 pm game was flexed to a primetime matchup so that the whole country could bear witness.

Both teams are currently in the playoffs if it were to end today. However, Miami was on a two-game slump while wrapping up a west-coast road trip. After falling to the San Francisco 49ers, the Dolphin’s offense looked flat against a backup secondary for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Regardless of that outcome, Miami still controlled its own destiny. Entering the game with an 8-5 record, the AFC wild card is still wide open for anyone including the Dolphins.

The Buffalo Bills have been one of the best teams in the NFL, winning four straight games after losing to both the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. As it stands, the Bills are in first place in the AFC and can secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Buffalo is Letting it Snow

Off the get-go, Miami gave a sneak preview of how the offense would progress for the rest of the first half handing the ball off to running back Raheem Mostert and letting him put in the work. Still, an incomplete pass on third down by Tua Tagovailoa forced a punt that pinned Buffalo deep.

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen has been one of the most elite passers in the NFL, sitting in the top five of both passing yards and passing touchdowns this season. But even Allen tends to struggle in cold games, and an overthrow on third down led to an early punt for the Bills.

Only a few plays into their next drive, Mostert kept up the pressure after both a rush and catch securing first downs. With running back Jeff Wilson out for the game, it made Miami’s success with the running game even more surprising.

After a middle-of-the-field catch by wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, the drive continued into Buffalo territory. With a successful attempt on fourth down not long after, the Dolphins crept into the red zone, but a sack on third down forced a 39-yard field goal by kicker Jason Sanders, giving Miami the early lead.

Allen made quick work on his next drive after a deep pass to tight end Dawson Knox to send Buffalo across Miami territory. In the red zone, Allen threw a quick strike to tight end Quintin Morris to score the first touchdown of the game with a minute to go in the first quarter.

Josh Allen Finds a Way

On the ensuing drive, Mostert put the team on his back with a 68-yard run straight to the red zone. Despite the setback, Buffalo’s defense held strong at the goal line and forced another field goal from Sanders- this time from 21 yards.

Tua and the Dolphins were able to do something that they struggled to do in their games against San Francisco and Los Angeles- convert on third down. On multiple third and five plays, quick passes for gains of six were enough to keep the drive going.

To get to inside the 20-yard line, wide receiver Tyreek Hill snapped a pass to set Miami up nicely. On the next play, running back Salvon Ahmed bruised his way through Buffalo’s defensive line to pick up Miami’s first touchdown of the game, cutting the Bills lead to 14-13.

Buffalo would not be outdone, as Allen began a two-minute drill with pass after pass averaging close to 10 yards a throw, reaching the five-yard line. With eight seconds left in the first half, Allen and the Bills offense circled around the line of scrimmage until Allen darted a pass in the back of the end zone to running back James Cook to raise the lead to 21-13 at halftime.

The Dolphins Migrate North

After an immediate three-and-out by Buffalo, Tua launched a deep ball to Waddle on third down, and the second-year receiver went the distance to quickly answer the last-second Bills touchdown in the first half. Even though Miami missed a two-point conversion, the lead was still up for grabs with a score of 21-19.

Miami’s defense, which was the team’s weakest link in the first half, made some adjustments out of halftime and forced two straight Buffalo punts, setting up the Dolphins offense to take the lead for the first time all game.

While the Bills defense forced a punt by Thomas Morstead, Miami’s punter pinned Buffalo’s offense on the two-yard line. The Dolphins defense then wrapped up Allen on third down, giving the ball back to Miami with good field position.

Despite the time of possession going in Miami’s favor in the second half, the Dolphins weren’t flawless, and Buffalo’s defense forced a massive sack on Tua, causing the drive to stall. However, a roughing the kicker penalty on the Bills for hitting Morstead during a punt extended the drive.

Tua took advantage, and while at the 20-yard line of Buffalo, he threw a dart to Hill for an easy score, giving the Dolphins a 26-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

From the Jaws of Victory

After two straight punts by both teams, Buffalo had the ball around midfield when Allen was sacked from behind by linebacker Jaelan Phillips, with the ball popping out of his hands. Miami recovered the ball, creating the first turnover of the game and setting up the Dolphins at midfield.

Tua drove down to the 30-yard line but Buffalo’s defense forced a stop on third and one, only letting the Dolphins kick a 47-yard field goal to extend the lead to eight points.

Even with the setback, the Bills found a way to answer. After a long run on a quarterback keeper by Allen, the Bills found themselves in the red zone once more. Things then got chippy for both teams after Allen was hit out of bounds, creating a shoving match as even more snow was thrown onto the players. (But no penalties were thrown, of course)

On third and goal, Allen once again targeted the back of the end zone where Knox caught another Bills touchdown. Allen then dove over the goal line on the two-point conversion to tie the game up with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

As the snow started to fall, the Dolphins could not convert on their next attempt on offense, giving the Bills the ball back with six minutes to go.

After two first downs coming off of third down attempts, Allen threw a deep ball that was incomplete, but a critical pass interference call on Miami set up a game-winning chip shot by kicker Tyler Bass as the clock hit zero, and the Bills found a way to win a thriller in New York.

Snowballs, Snow Angels, and Statistics

Tua Tagovailoa threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions- a massive improvement from his previous two games.

However, it was Raheem Mostert who was the star on offense with 136 yards off of 17 carries. Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill both combined for 183 yards and two touchdowns.

For Buffalo, Josh Allen had another premiere game with four touchdowns and 305 yards. Allen also wound up being the leading rusher with 77 yards on the ground. Four different receivers all ended up with touchdowns on the day.

While both teams finished with a similar amount of yards and time of possession, the Bills earned more first downs and ran 20 more offensive plays, while committing one less penalty.

Miami’s record drops to 8-6 but they’re still in the wild card and control their own destiny, as winning out can still get them into the playoffs.

Final Thoughts

Many fans of Miami could have written this game off and said the Dolphins would have been blown out in the freezing snow. But Miami proved themselves to be a well-built team even in a loss. Was the cold really that big a factor? It’s hard to say for sure, but their offense was solid, and did more than enough to win the game.

Where the Dolphins messed up was their defense. For most of the first half, Josh Allen and the Bills rolled right through both the defensive line and secondary of Miami. Yes, there were injuries. And yes, Buffalo has one of the best offenses in football. In addition, the defense played much better after halftime.

But if the Dolphins defense stepped up in the first half, Tua and the offense could have played with a lead much earlier, which has been a common specialty in the games Miami has won this season.

Something that also didn’t make sense was the decision on offense to abandon the run game in the fourth quarter. With only three run plays at that time, Miami’s offense looked and felt different than it did the rest of the game.

Raheem Mostert might have had his best game of the season, but was underutilized when it mattered the most. If Miami had the lead and ran the ball to kill time off the clock, who knows?

With all that said, the Dolphins are still in the playoffs for the time being. With three games left in the season, all of them are winnable. Miami’s offense proved itself reliable once more, and the defense looked good in the second half. If they can carry this into the next three games, the Dolphins are in a great position to make some noise in the playoffs.

Miami will finally head back home to Hard Rock Stadium, where they’ll host the 5-8 Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day at 1 PM.

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