Kaiir Elam’s sensational play helps Bills fend off Dolphins in NFL Playoffs

01/16/2023
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Buffalo Bills rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam has had an up-and-down season, but in the team’s 34-31 win against the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round, he stepped up and made a huge impact when it mattered most. Buffalo traded up to select the Florida defender in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but it was a fellow rookie, sixth-rounder Christian Benford, who earned the starting role opposite Dane Jackson when the regular season began.

Elam saw the field in limited spurts throughout the regular season and was a healthy scratch in multiple contests. But when Jackson went down in the first half against Miami, Elam rose to the occasion and proved just why Buffalo invested so heavily in him. Against a Dolphins team that boasts two of the NFL’s most explosive receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Elam surrendered just one reception for two yards on five targets.

His biggest play came at a pivotal moment during the game. Miami was on a 24-3 run and faced a huge 3rd-and-19 while backed up in their own territory. Skylar Thompson aired out a pass to Trent Sherfield, but Elam showed off fantastic body control, elevating to high point the ball and nab an interception.

The play put the Bills’ offense back in the driver’s seat, and Josh Allen found Cole Beasley for a go-ahead touchdown five plays later.

Tremaine Edmunds noted just how heavily that interception helped swing the game while talking to reporters in the locker room after the game.

“The crowd was going crazy before that play. Just to get that pick, I know it felt good for him. It definitely was a momentum change and a big time play for the defense and the team,” said Edmunds.

“I see a young player that’s been studying and doing his film work and he knew what was going on,” Buffalo defensive end Shaq Lawson said of Elam’s interception. “He jumped that route. I’m proud of my guy. I tell him, ‘Shoot, you’re a first-round pick. Walk like you’re a dog. I’ve been preaching that. And I was proud when he got that pick because buddy studies. He’s a rookie, but he studies like he’s been in the league three or four years.”

The interception wasn’t the only play that Elam made a difference, though. Late in the fourth quarter, Elam played sticky coverage on Tyreek Hill and managed to disrupt his route just enough to force an incompletion – nearly intercepting a second pass in the process.

Then, with the game on the line, Elam made another huge play. Miami faced a 4th-and-6, trailing 34-31 with 2:26 remaining. Elam played tight man coverage, running back and forth across the field before finally diving to break up a pass intended for tight end Mike Gesecki.

The pass breakup gave Buffalo the ball back and sealed the win for the Bills.

A major narrative that came out of the victory was centered around Buffalo’s offense and the questionable play-calling by offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. But it was Elam’s sensational play that helped the team emerge victorious and fend off the surging Dolphins, who found life in the second quarter.

“Kaiir, he’s such a student of the game, just the way that he attacked the week – coming in on our off days, catching balls,” veteran cornerback Tre White said after the game. “So, him catching that pick is something that he’s been waiting on. But he’s a student, man. He really wants it. His desire to be the best that he can be is just next to none, the way he prepared, the way he comes in and takes care of the body as a rookie, man – the success that he had today is not a surprise.”

Buffalo faces a Cincinnati Bengals offense that features what many believe to be the top receiving corps in the NFL  in the Divisional Round next week. After Kaiir Elam’s play yesterday, the team and fans alike should have a bit more confidence in the defense’s ability to limit Jamarr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

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