ORCHARD PARK - No matter how productive their offense had been coming into Buffalo, Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins still find themselves trying to keep pace with the Bills in the AFC East.
A week after enjoying one of the most productive offensive outputs in NFL history in a 70-20 win over Denver, the Dolphins were thoroughly outplayed in a 48-20 loss to Buffalo on Sunday.
"It's very humbling," Tagovailoa said. "To be able to have the highest high, and then you lose in a manner like this."
The Dolphins (3-1) not only squandered an opportunity to open a season at 4-0 for the first time since 1995, but once again ceded the division lead to the three-time defending champion Bills. The Dolphins are 2-12 in their past 14 meetings with the Bills and lost their eighth consecutive game at Buffalo since 2017. That includes a 34-31 defeat in a wild-card playoff game in January.
"I think the Buffalo Bills proved why they are the team our whole division is trying to beat," coach Mike McDaniel said.
Miami came in leading the league in nearly every statistical category on offense. The Dolphins continued their momentum early in the game, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives on rookie De'Von Achane's 3- and 10-yard runs.
But with the Dolphins trailing 21-14, Tagovailoa hit a wall on their third drive. Miami closed the half with three three-and-outs while its other possession ended with running back Raheem Mostert losing a fumble.
"You have two drives, that's cool, but you're going to punt, and they are going to make plays, too," McDaniel said. "What you can't do is have self-inflicted wounds."
Miami opened the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown drive to cut Buffalo's lead to 31-20. But the Dolphins' chances of catching up all but ended on their next drive, when Tagovailoa sailed a pass over the head of Robbie Chosen. Micah Hyde made the easy interception.
Tagovailoa finished 25 of 35 for 282 yards with a touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios and the one pick. The Bills sacked Tagovailoa four times after he took just one sack through the first three games.
Tagovailoa noted the crowd noise at Highmark Stadium while taking blame for "communication errors" that disrupted the Dolphins' pre-snap motion and offensive flow.
"That's what you want to hear from the starting quarterback of your franchise, because you are hoping not to have finger-pointers, especially from the leader of your team," McDaniel said. "But Tua's teammates need to know the ins and outs of their responsibilities, and Tua can't be in charge of getting everyone aligned. So there's a lot of stuff that goes on with that."
Defensively, the Dolphins unraveled, allowing Buffalo to come away with points on eight of its first nine possessions.
The Bills essentially beat the Dolphins at their own game with a high-tempo, efficient offense and an opportunistic defense. Buffalo turned two turnovers into 10 points.
Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver said he and his teammates were motivated after spending the entire week listening to how good the Dolphins were. Maybe it was time for Buffalo to make a case for itself.
"We're trying to wake everybody up and make people talk," Oliver said. "We want everybody to know that this defense is for real. And we got special guys."
McDaniel said he does not believe the Dolphins were overconfident after last week's explosive performance.
"But if they were, if anybody was, I think the lesson has been learned quite literally," McDaniel said.
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