Bills clinch fourth-straight playoff berth in 32-29 win over Dolphins

12/18/2022
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While my heart and early morning work schedule do not appreciate these last-minute wins late in the evening, it is certainly better than losing. The Buffalo Bills found a way to avenge their Week 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins in their Week 15 clash, winning on a last-second field goal from Tyler Bass, 32-29. The Bills started hot, holding the Dolphins to FGs early on and scoring 21 points in the first half before surrendering 16 unanswered points. In the end, some late-game Josh Allen heroics were enough to propel the Bills over their hated rivals and clinch a playoff spot for the fourth consecutive season. The Bills also maintain their lead in the division over the Dolphins and have now won three straight divisional games, still controlling their own destiny on the path to the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. 

Below we’ll take a look at who gave the most inspired performance, inquire about a player who needs more time on the field, examine what part of the team requires a better performance, and dig into the most irksome performance of the night. 

Inspire – Josh Allen:

Another day, another legendary Josh Allen performance. Like most legendary Josh Allen performances, it wasn’t pretty or perfect, but it was absolutely, unequivocally Josh Allen. There is simply no one like Josh Allen in the NFL, just like how there is no one like Patrick Mahomes in the NFL. These two operate on a different plane of existence than everyone else. Allen proved that again tonight with plays like rolling to his right and finding James Cook in the endzone to score a TD with no time left in the first half. He proved it with a 44-yard run to spark the Bills’ only TD in the second half. He proved it by superman diving on a two-point conversion, just barely breaking the plane of the goal line to tie the game up late. Allen is simply special. Unique. Borderline unstoppable when he’s on. And tonight the lights were all the way on for Allen. 

Inquire – Dawson Knox:

Outside of a few drops, Dawson Knox had himself a game as a receiver. The question then becomes… why has this been missing all year? The Bills gave Knox a very big, and well-earned, extension before the season started. Yet for the first 12 games of the season, he was relegated to being a blocker. It’s clear how talented Knox is, and even if he’s not in the tier of a Travis Kelce, he is still someone that can create mismatches and big plays as a receiver. The Bills have to find a way to keep getting Knox involved down the stretch because they’re clearly looking for someone other than Stefon Diggs to attack the middle of the field with. It’s so apparent how desperate they are for another option that John Brown and Cole Beasley were added in the last few weeks just to find some sort of spark. So far the most consistent player over the middle, outside of Diggs, has been Knox, and it’s time the Bills started featuring him more often. 

Require – Run defense and Tackling:

It wasn’t one play or one drive, it was all night long. The Dolphins attacked the Bills’ aggressiveness on the defensive line with how they designed their ground game, but the Bills also missed many opportunities to make tackles in the backfield or for short gains. Frankly, it should have been much worse, but Mike McDaniel insisted on throwing the ball after finding success on the ground, particularly in third and short situations. Regardless, the Bills’ run defense is an issue, both in scheme and execution. They need to figure out a few tweaks schematically, whether it’s more effective run blitzes, changing how the defensive line attacks, or simply hitting the run fits more consistently.  But more than that, they simply need to tackle better; as scheme can only do so much if you simply cannot tackle.

Irk – Special Teams and Injuries:

Coming into this game, the Bills had the third-ranked Special Teams unit by DVOA, and the Dolphins had the 31st-ranked Special Teams unit. One would have thought the opposite was true given how the game played out. Sam Martin, who has been excellent for most of the season, had an unusually bad game punting, not finding any sort of consistency in his kicks. Bass remained automatic and is actually deserving of an All-Pro nomination. The most egregious error came in the third quarter when Cam Lewis inexplicably went for a block on a Dolphins punt near midfield, came nowhere near hitting the ball, and tackled Miami’s punter giving them a first down. That first down subsequently became a quick Dolphins TD. This was a clear mismatch for the Bills, but not only could they not take advantage, but they also allowed an inferior Dolphins ST unit to take advantage of them.

The other irksome part of this game was easily injuries. Center Mitch Morse is the most concerning as he suffered another concussion during this game. Morse has had numerous documented concussions since entering the NFL with Kansas City, and while he has addressed those concerns before, it is nonetheless concerning. There may come a point where Morse says enough is enough. It’s possible that this is something mild and he’ll return in a week or two. But this is not as much speculation around a player’s availability so much as it is concern about the long-term health of a person who has as many documented concussions as he has. Hopefully this is nothing too major, but it is something to monitor moving forward.

A strong finish from the Bills gives them a playoff berth and a hold on the AFC East title race. The Bills will play again next Saturday, a road matchup with the Chicago Bears. While the Bears are certainly a talent-poor team going through a tank-like season, they are not a team that will back down easily either. The Bills need to continue to rip off wins as they pursue the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and hope to earn a much-needed bye week in the playoffs as well as home-field advantage. 

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