Because I’ve been around sports for a LONG time, there’s one thing I’ve learned. The biggest upsets occur when one team is considered a lock and the other is given NO chance by anybody.
Such was the case before the Bills finally survived a valiant effort from the injury-riddled Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium, winning 34-31 in their Wild Card matchup in a surprisingly sloppy performance. The Bills, now 14-3, will obviously have to play MUCH better next weekend when they host the streaking Cincinnati Bengals.
I for one believe the Bills will do just that.
This game looked like a mismatch on paper, but they don’t….you know.
The Bills were 14 point favorites by kickoff time on a chilly but sunny January afternoon in Orchard Park. The way it started made it seem they weren’t giving enough points.
With Josh Allen sharp, the Bills jumped to a 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter and at one point had outgained the Dolphins in yardage 172-9.
Dolphins rookie qb Skylar Thompson looked overwhelmed, and star receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle had the dropsies. Thompson was forced in there with Tua Tagovailoa out, and backup Teddy Bridgewater dressed but is dealing with a dislocated pinky finger on his throwing hand. Despite a slew of Dolphins injuries, including running back Raheem Mostert, coach Mike McDaniel had his team believing they could and would shock the world.
They almost did.
After throwing 2 interceptions and losing the ball on a strip sack leading to an easy touchdown, Allen’s MVP candidacy may have expired. His wide open and aggressive style can backfire at times, but the Bills allow it because his mental toughness and drive overshadow the occasional miscues. Let me add here, that Allen’s arm now looks fully healthy, and a couple of his downfield efforts narrowly missed connecting.
So it was again. With Allen, you’re never out of the game. Sometimes he makes it more interesting than we’d like.
After the fast 17-0 start, the Dolphins were down only 20-17 at the half. After a quick 3 and out, the Bills had the ball. Oh oh. Deep in their own territory, Allen was strip sacked by Eric Rowe at the Bills 17, and eventually Zach Sieler recovered in the end zone for a gift TD that gave the underdog Fins a stunning 24-20 lead.
This was getting real about now.
But Allen kept his poise, and drove the Bills to a pair of TD’s in the 3rd quarter with a 6 yard toss to Cole Beasley and later a 23 yard strike to Gabe Davis, who made one of those toe tapping specials in the end zone to make it 34-24. Great to see Davis reemerge as a threat. He had 6 catches for 113 yards and the TD, with Stefon Diggs adding 7 catches for 114 yards.
Allen, despite the 3 turnovers, finished with a career playoff high of 354 yards (23-39), 3 TD’s and 2 int’s. He was also sacked 7 times as the Dolphins variety of blitz packages did cause some disruption. The Bills were without Isaiah McKenzie, giving Beasly a chance, and rookie Khalil Shakir added 3 catches for 51 yards. Shakir made some clutch grabs in traffic as the Bills coaches show more and more faith in him.
The Dolphins did keep Allen from a big rushing day – 4 carries for 20 yards – but Devin Singletary had 48 yards on 10 carries and James Cook added 39 on 12 trips. Singletary actually sealed the game with a 3rd and 7 run late in the 4th quarter, where he carried tacklers the last 5 yards to gain the first down and effectively end the game.
Defensively, the Bills clamped down on the Dolphins running game, in part because Raheem Mostert was out, allowing just 42 yards on 21 carries. That’s just 2 yards per carry. Thompson completed only 18-45 for 220 yards and was sacked 4 times. The rookie did show a lot of mobility and a strong arm, and Hill was held to 69 yards and Waddle 44.
Matt Milano celebrated being named All-Pro with a couple sacks and 2 tackles for loss, while Tremaine Edmunds made plays all over the field.
One highlight of the game, as fans continue to honor Damar Hamlin with their #3’s being worn in different ways, was an interception by Dean Marlowe, who is playing in Hamlin’s safety spot. Hamlin actually made a trip to visit the Bills at practice earlier in the week.
So why was this game so close? Should we just assume the Bills aren’t as good as we thought?
The Bills won’t use this as an excuse, but you just can’t convince me the emotional ups and downs of the past few weeks didn’t play a part. The early 17-0 lead probably didn’t help.
But with no significant injuries we’re aware of, the Bills are exactly where they want to be. The defending AFC Champion and almost Super Bowl winning Cincinnati Bengals are right here. They’ve gone from cocky to just plain arrogant, with QB Joe Burrow stating right out the Bengals are a Super Bowl legacy team.
We’ve been waiting all year for the Bills to put an entire game together, and next weekend will be the opportunity to continue the dream.
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