In a thrilling 34–31 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card round, the Buffalo Bills squeaked through. Read on to find out what we picked up from watching the Bills.
Allen’s Two Facedness
Josh Allen takes away as much as he gives. There were times when the Bills’ star quarterback looked invincible, and then there were times when he looked human and erratic. The three interceptions he threw on Sunday brought his career total to three in the playoffs, up from one before the day.
To help the Bills jump out to an early 17-0 lead, Allen completed 9 of 11 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. But the offense made a series of errors, some of which were Allen’s fault and some of which were not, and the results were nearly disastrous.
When asked about the day’s performance, the quarterback admitted, “Thought we did some nice things, I did some awful things today, so there’s stuff to fix up and some things to learn from.”
On a play almost similar to the one on which he scored last week, Allen tried to find John Brown deep downfield in the second quarter, but he was off target and Dolphins CB Xavien Howard made the interception. After Allen threw his second interception, it went off of Cole Beasley’s chest and into the clutches of a Dolphins defender.
First play back from halftime, the Dolphins had a free rusher right in front of Allen. Because Allen fumbled, Miami scored a touchdown. It was 24-20, with the Dolphins in the lead.
I thought their front did a fairly good job, maybe shutting off some of the running lanes, they were playing press man, they were spying on me, and they were doubling Stef,” Allen explained.
While Allen did make some strange moves, he also demonstrated in the fourth quarter why he’s still a top player. The Pro Bowler was responsible for two third-quarter touchdown drives, one that went for 6 yards to Cole Beasley and another that went for 23 yards to Davis.
His pass to Davis, which put the Bills ahead by two touchdowns, was a pinpoint throw to the back corner of the end zone, where the WR caught it on the toes of his feet.
Allen praised Davis, saying, “He’s been so reliable for us.” To paraphrase, “we just gave him some chances to make some plays, and he came up with some big ones tonight.”
Allen, despite his inconsistent effort, broke a tie with Jim Kelly for the Bills record with four postseason performances of 300 passing yards or more (3). He is the only player in postseason history to have at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes in each of the first three games, joining QB Matt Ryan in that exclusive club. Defensively, the Bills are able to restrict big plays and ignite a comeback with an interception.
There will be a 31 point deficit on the scoreboard, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of how effectively the Buffalo defense played, especially considering the challenges it faced.
According to a close examination of the numbers, Buffalo’s defense played a key role in this contest.
The Bills held the Dolphins to only 3.3 yards per play, 231 total yards, and 4 for 16 (25%) on third down conversions. Two of Buffalo’s linebackers, LB Matt Milano, and defensive ends Boogie Basham and Ed Oliver each had a sack in this game, giving the Bills their most sacks in a playoff game since their 2020 Divisional Round matchup with Baltimore.
Also, CB Kaiir Elam and S Dean Marlowe picked off Dolphins QB Skyler Thompson, who started in place of Tua Tagovailoa (concussion).
Only one Dolphins drive gained more than 50 yards, while the team’s two best wideouts, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, combined for less than 70 receiving yards. Multiple attempts were made by Miami to get the ball downfield to Waddle, but either Waddle dropped the pass or the secondary broke up the pass.
McDermott speculated that the team made “one, maybe two” noteworthy plays. Simply put, “the secondary did a fantastic job of holding them in check and we did the best we could.”
Although the Bills’ defense wasn’t great, they were put in tough spots by Allen’s turnovers in the second and third quarters.
The Dolphins had the ball in Bills territory at the 48-yard line after Allen’s first interception. The defense was able to limit Miami to only 18 yards and a 48-yard field goal on that drive. The Dolphins’ special teams unit got a huge return off a punt from the Bills and moved the ball to the edge of the red zone. Repeatedly, Buffalo’s defense held Miami scoreless and resulted in a field goal.
After Allen’s second pick-off, the Dolphins drove down the field to the Buffalo 18-yard line and scored to make it 17-17 late in the second quarter.
For those keeping score at home, that’s three games in a row where the Dolphins have opened up with a field position inside Buffalo territory and have allowed exactly one touchdown.
Punt, punt, interception, punt, touchdown, punt, turnover on downs: that was Miami’s offensive output in the second half.
Rookie CB Kaiir Elam made an interception in the second half, and the Bills scored on the subsequent drive to take the lead. The rest of the game, Buffalo never trailed.
Allen remarked of Elam’s play, “That absolutely helps us out, bails us out.” I have no words to express how appreciative I am of our defensive unit’s performance.
Debuting rookies perform admirably in the postseason
The postseason is all about seeing who can perform under pressure, and sometimes that means contributions from unlikeliest of sources. The Bills received a significant lift from their rookie class, which included three important contributors.
Plays by running back James Cook, cornerback Kaiir Elam, and wide receiver Khalil Shakir helped swing the momentum of the game.
The team is depending on them,” McDermott said. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t like this at all. In the past, only your first-round draft pick was expected to have an immediate impact, but in today’s NFL, even the youngest players are expected to contribute right away.”
Cook scored on a 12-yard rush to finish the Bills’ second scoring drive of the afternoon, and the rookie celebrated in style by leaping into the stands. In his first career playoff game (against the Miami Dolphins on December 30, 1995), he made history by becoming the first Bill since Darick Holmes and Tim Tindale to score a running touchdown.
Elam made a big play in his first playoff game, picking off Thompson to set up Buffalo’s offensive at Miami’s 33-yard line after their offense had taken a plunge and the Dolphins had taken the lead.
Khalil Shakir’s sure hands caught a 31-yard laser from Josh Allen late in the fourth quarter, keeping the chains moving as the Bills clung to a 34-31 lead on a vital third down play.
“Really impressive haul there. We put a lot of faith in him. His hands are deft, “To quote McDermott: