Dolphins 34 (10-5)
Bills 31 (7-8) OT
It’s uncertain which party was more rocking. The team charter back to Miami on Christmas Eve, or my party following the Chiefs victory Christmas night. Popping Champagne and drinking anything with an ounce of alcohol content, the Dolphins first post-season berth in eight years was more jubilant than opening whatever my favorite Christmas gift was as a child.
After the Ryan brothers caused a seismic earth quake inside New Era Stadium following the Charles Clay touchdown catch by simultaneously leaping three inches into the Buffalo air, it was rather satisfying to see the defeated look don the potentially former head coach of the Bills.
Displaying the resiliency that they have all season, the Dolphins managed to put their fans through another excruciating contest that was not for the faint of heart. The dreadful performances at home vs the Browns and Titans, the drubbing at the hands of the Ravens, none of these heart-breakers were going to measure anywhere close to the disappointment of blowing a 14-point lead in Buffalo.
After the classic 90’s like shootout finished, the Dolphins found themselves needing one more domino to fall to get into the January tournament. That domino fell and the Dolphins are likely looking at a trip to Pittsburgh in week 18, and they have one man to thank for it all.
Adam Gase is everything this organization needed. I’m going to get my one knock of him from Saturday’s game out the way from the jump.
The Dolphins got the ball back at their own 45 after a big Jakeem Grant return in the fourth quarter. Miami led 28-24 with five and a half minutes to play. Jay Ajayi was shredding the Bills and Gase went with a reverse to Landry for no gain, a dropped screen attempt to Landry and then were forced to pass on 3rd and 10 which went for three yards.
It brought back nightmare memories of Dave Wannstedt neglecting Ricky Williams on a potential kill drive in week 17 at the Patriots in 2002.
Despite that disastrous sequence, Adam Gase has a team that refuses to quit and always finds a way to make plays in the critical moments. Bad teams melt down in these situations and good teams raise their level of play.
We’ve talked about culture change more times than I can count but it’s a legitimate observation as the Dolphins now have confidence that they will make the game changing plays rather than allowing them.
We should also probably thank the officials who finally allowed the big breaks to fall the way of the Dolphins – especially the non-call on a blatant pass interference in the end-zone on Spencer Paysinger.
2016 was supposed to be a transition year. Instead, the Dolphins have won 10 games, have wrapped up a playoff berth and have done so with the youngest head coach and one of the youngest rosters in the NFL.
If you have stuck with this team through all the years of crap, you’re about to cash in. This team is going to be competitive for a long time.
Let’s get to the individual performances.
I saw Jay Ajayi described as a “bum” for his recent run of games by one of my Facebook friends that is essentially an ESPN headline regurgitation machine.
Ajayi ran with power, speed, dreadlocks, everything that inspired the name of this blog when I fell in love with Ricky Williams. He forced broken tackles, he found the creases and shot through them with decisiveness and conviction. His vision was on point always finding the correct lane and limiting negative runs.
Four times this season, a running back has rushed for 200 yards. Le’Veon Bell, Jay Ajayi, Jay Ajayi and Jay Ajayi are responsible for those four.
The other backs contributed in huge ways as Kenyan Drake continued to show elite speed on that 45-yard touchdown scamper while Damien Williams forced a missed tackle on a huge third down catch and run.
It’s a good thing the running game was cranking because the quarterback hampered the Dolphins for most of the game.
If this team is to have any chance to make some noise in the playoffs, Ryan Tannehill has to come back. There are far too many things that he can do that Matt Moore simply cannot.
The most obvious area is in the intermediate level. There are calls that offenses will make where it’s not about scheme or design, it’s just the receiver winning a route and the quarterback is expected to squeeze a window or throw with the right arc and zip.
When the Dolphins fall behind the sticks (a hold, sack or any loss of yardage) with Moore, they simply toss a tunnel screen and try and get Jarvis Landry to break some tackles. In this game, it worked. Most of Matt Moore’s yardage came from receivers turning into full-fledged running backs down the field.
With Ryan Tannehill, the option to throw a slant, dig or deep out to cut the yardage in half on second down and long is in the playbook whereas, with Moore, it’s not.
The end of the first half was as bad of a string of plays as any quarterback in the NFL has had this year. After the Dolphins defense stuffed the Bills on 4th and one, they took over at their own 39-yard line with a 14 point lead and 8 minutes to play in the second quarter. Jay Ajayi had a three yard run and then Moore missed wide open throws to Kenny Stills and Devante Parker.
The Bills then scored and Miami took back over. Landry bailed the offense out on a 2nd and 18 and set up a 3rd and 3. Then Moore had Damien Williams wide open for a first down and threw behind him forcing a punt.
Miami gets the ball back at the Buffalo 40 and Moore woefully undershoots Stills again. After a big run by Ajayi, Moore lobs up a gift for the Buffalo secondary that is intercepted in the end-zone.
Between the offense being limited and his mediocre arm talent, the only chance the Dolphins will have in the post-season without number 17 is if Ajayi continues to pile up 200 yard games.
There’s one thing Matt Moore does much better than Tannehill and it’s his ability to quickly recognize pressure. Hopefully watching from the sideline has rubbed some of that ability off on Tannehill because if he improves even more in that area, he’s a bonafide top 10 quarterback.
Moore had fantastic protection all day. No sacks allowed and very few pressures afforded Moore the time to get the ball out and allow his guys to make the plays.
Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James had difficult days in the ground game although Albert walled off his edge on the 57 yard Ajayi run that set up the winning kick. James was often standing around blocking air on Saturday, especially in delayed type of plays (screens and draws.)
The interior line played their asses off making real estate easier to come by all day. Jermon Bushrod was fantastic. He and Laremy Tunsil erased Kyle Williams from this game and Tunsil hit the big block that sprung Ajayi on the aforementioned big run.
Kraig Urbik was a poor man’s Mike Pouncey getting to the second level and played with better power than the all-pro can achieve.
Dion Sims didn’t have his best day in the ground game and wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game either. He did take a couple of tacklers with him across the first down marker on a pivotal third down.
The unbalanced lines were back in this game with Sam Young missing more blocks. Marqueis Gray was consistently getting it done in an expanded role in the ground game and had a long pass reception on the first drive of the game.
All three receivers had big games. Landry and Stills didn’t have the big stats but Juice made all of his yardage after the catch breaking ankles in the process. Stills’ touchdown was a well run out route on the goal line and he was missed a few times when he was wide open. He also had the big reception on the Franks field goal drive to get the Dolphins out passed midfield.
Devante Parker made a couple of clutch catches including the 56-yard touchdown reception where he bounced off a would be tackler and sprinted for pay dirt.
The game plan was great, the execution was better and this could’ve been a 50 point output if the quarterback would’ve played better.
There isn’t a lot of nice things to say about this side of the ball. The Bills plan was terrific taking advantage of the Dolphins inability to set the edge and get the linebackers on ice skates using misdirection.
The pass rush was invisible and the high rep count didn’t help matters. The Miami offense was simply scoring too quickly and the rotation had a lot of sub-par players on the field for too many snaps.
Cameron Wake and Mario Williams had awful days on the edge defending the run. Wake’s pass rush got home once but he was mostly ineffective in that role as well.
Andre Branch had a most-important backfield disruption when the Bills inexplicably went to Reggie Bush on an end around play in overtime but he was bad in this game as well.
Jordan Phillips and Richie Incognito had a great battle that went in favor to the former Dolphin but Phillips got the best of Incognito a few times as well. I thought Earl Mitchell had a better day than Phillips.
Ndamukong Suh’s tipped pass on third down of the Bills final drive may have saved the day. What else would we expect from a guy that has been dominant all year, just as he was Saturday.
Nick Williams got a lot of snaps in place of Suh and might not have a job after this performance. He was consistently washed out in the running game.
Kiko Alonso, Donald Butler and Spencer Paysinger were awful. We will just leave it at that.
Neville Hewitt had a big game. He’s got a quick trigger and when he gets it right, he blows up plays in the backfield. He missed a couple of tackles on LeSean McCoy, but everyone else did much worse in that regard.
Michael Thomas and Bacarri Rambo got roasted all game. On the first Sammy Watkins touchdown, the Bills ran a simple double vertical route to separate the two deep coverage and Thomas found himself covering air. Howard had trail technique and it looks like he blew the assignment, but it was certainly on Thomas.
Thomas was also annihilated by Charles Clay on the touchdown that we all thought ruined this magical season. Michael Thomas is phenomenal on special teams, but the front office needs to make sure they find someone that can take all of his defensive reps for 2017 away – he’s bad in most areas.
Rambo is supposed to be the guy to take those reps, but his flaws were on display all day. He plays well in the box but he was constantly late to get to his spot down the field and made Howard look like the victim plenty of times. Many of the big passing plays for the Bills were Rambo’s fault.
I don’t know if he began to play back more because of his lack of help, but Xavien Howard started giving up plays underneath to Watkins as the game went on. It wasn’t his best day, but Howard continues to tackle as well as any corner in the NFL.
Tony Lippett started strong but had a rough game. He’s never going to be able to man up someone as skilled as Watkins.
Bobby McCain was exceptional in this game. All the Bills damage was done on the perimeter as McCain locked up Robert Woods and anyone else that challenged him inside all day.
The Dolphins tried a number of guys in man coverage on Clay and Isa Abdul-Quddus didn’t have any more luck than any of the others. He had a bad game that ended even worse when he was knocked out with a neck injury. The Dolphins need him back in the worst way.
Special teams deserve some love. Andrew Franks missed what was going to be the most important kick of the season until he made what ultimately became an even bigger one from 55 yards to send the game to overtime.
Kenyan Drake’s big kick return to set up that field goal was just as important as his long touchdown run.
Hosting the Patriots next week figured to be an irrelevant game when the schedule came out and it is – but for an entirely different reason. Gase says the Dolphins will play to go “1-0” and I think that mentality is commendable as he sticks with his season long moniker.
I’d prefer Miami spent two weeks game-planning Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. And maybe they are. But Adam Gase would be sending a conflicting message to the locker room if he said that so I understand the notion that they will attack this game with the same intensity they have all year.
10 wins, a young roster, a coach that isn’t even 40 years old – this team is set up for some sustainable long term success.