ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five takeaways from the Buffalo Bills’ 21-19 loss against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium:
1. The sting of the outcome will make this hard to accept, but the Bills did not take any sort of backward step from their stature as the team to beat in the NFL.
True, they no longer share the top spot in the AFC East. The 3-0 Dolphins have it all to themselves.
But with a laundry list of injuries that wiped out their starting secondary, two of their better defensive linemen and starting center, along with the oppressive South Florida heat causing more players to exit the game (they were without three O-linemen by the end of the game), the Bills deserve immense credit for being able to battle until the final play.
The game never produced the scoring frenzy that so many people anticipated. Nevertheless, Josh Allen was, in a word, incredible. He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for a game-high 47 yards.
Yes, he missed a wide-open Isaiah McKenzie in the end zone for what could have been the winning touchdown with under two minutes remaining. Yes, he lost his cool when a Dolphin defender apparently delivered a low blow in a pile, costing the Bills 15 yards earlier in the drive.
No, he couldn’t get the Bills close enough to attempt a game-winning field goal before time expired. That drive was set up by one of the many crazy moments from this game: After Allen bounced a throw to McKenzie from the Miami 2, the Dolphins not only failed to get out of their own end of the field, their punter kicked the ball into the behind of his personal protector, resulting in a safety. That gave the Bills 1 minute, 33 seconds to try to win the game, but time ran out.
That said, in a game that was all about the grit and heart of both teams, slugging it out like heavyweight boxers going the distance, Allen was still a beast and nearly was able to carry the team on his shoulders to victory.
2. Even with all Allen tried to do to overcome the many challenges the Bills faced, let’s give Buffalo’s defense a whole lot of credit for largely keeping the Dolphins’ explosive offense in check.
Tagovailoa threw for only 186 yards and a TD. Granted, he was taken to the dressing room with two minutes left in the first half after falling hard on the back of his head due to a shove by Matt Milano, who drew a personal-foul penalty for the contact. But Tagovailoa’s speedy targets, Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, combined for only six receptions for 135 yards (102 by Waddle) a week after they torched the Baltimore Ravens. The Dolphins finished with a mere 212 yards of total offense, while the Bills (well, mainly Allen) had 497.
The Bills were missing two of the better safeties in the NFL, Micah Hyde (gone for the season with a neck injury) and Jordan Poyer (inactive with a foot injury) and one of the league’s best cornerbacks, Tre’Davious White. Their secondary consisted of two rookie corners, Christian Benford (who temporarily left the game with a hand injury) and Kaiir Elam, and a pair of young safeties, Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin.
The Bills’ defensive line was missing two of its better tackles, Jordan Phillips and Ed Oliver, both of whom were inactive with injuries.
Given how the Dolphins’ offense performed in the first two weeks, the expectation that it would put up 30, if not 40, points was a no-brainer. The Bills had other ideas.
3. Give the Dolphins’ defense credit, too.
Despite Allen’s staggering production, it managed to take away the deep routes, forcing Allen to make numerus check-down throws. Running back Devin Singletary caught a game and career-high nine passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Still, all those dink-and-dunk plays allowed for the Bills to have a substantial edge in time of possession (40:40 to 19:20). That wore down the Dolphins’ D, but also members of the Bills’ offense. Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, McKenzie and offensive linemen were in and out of the lineup with heat issues.
The bottom line is that the Bills, who scored a combined 72 points in their first two games and had a seven-game winning streak against Miami while averaging 32.1 points per game in that stretch, were held to under 20 points.
And how about Tagovailoa? After looking clearly woozy and wobbly after the Milano shove, he somehow managed to return for the second half. It’s no surprise that, soon after the game ended, the NFL Players Association put word out that it is looking to initiate a review of league concussion protocols.
4. The Bills had problems that went beyond injuries and the heat. Consider:
Besides losing a fumble (that could have been deemed an incomplete pass), Allen showed a clear lack of composure with the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he drew after the low blow he received in the pile. The Dolphins got exactly what they wanted there in tapping into Allen’s fiery nature. The quarterback needs to be better than that.
There was a baffling sequence of plays on the Bills’ second possession. After two Zack Moss runs went nowhere, Allen, facing a facing an all-out blitz without protection accounting for the extra rushers, got strip-sacked to put the Dolphins at the Bills’ 5. That led to a Miami touchdown to make it 7-7.
The Bills had an ugly end to the first half. After a bad snap on an attempted spike to stop the clock, Allen picked up the ball and threw outside to Diggs, who went out of bounds after time expired. The pass was nearly intercepted.
Besides the roughing-the-quarterback penalty he drew, Milano also dropped what would have been his second pick-six in as many games.
Tyler Bass was wide left on a 38-yard field goal.
Gabe Davis dropped a TD pass.
5. Again ... there’s still so much to like about the Bills.
They’ll have to continue to overcome injuries, but that is something they’re built to do. With Allen, they can cover a whole lot of blemishes, even ones that he creates.
The key is not to be swept up into any sense of panic, even with the sky-is-falling crowd generating noise that the Dolphins have caught up or (gulp!) surpassed the reigning division champs. It is only Week 3. Injured players will return to action.
There is plenty of season to go.