By Andrew Kahn
In a critical AFC East showdown last night, the Dolphins emerged with a 22-9 victory, scoring the game's final 19 points in the last 18 minutes. Miami is now 6-4 with favorable home games against Baltimore, Minnesota, and the Jets, while Buffalo is 5-5 and a longshot to make the playoffs.
The beginning of the end…
Buffalo led 9-3 late into the third quarter. That's when the wheels slowly started to come off. Miami used a nine-play, 80-yard drive to score the game's first touchdown with 2:18 left in the third. On the next possession, a penalty and a negative play forced a third and 24 for the Bills at their own six yard line. Under pressure immediately, Kyle Orton fired off his back foot towards the sideline. The intended receiver, Sammy Watkins, was slow to break into his double-move, and by the time the ball landed, he wasn't close enough to avoid an intentional grounding penalty. Since Orton was in the end zone, it was ruled a safety.
…and the end
The Dolphins handed Buffalo a nice gift on the ensuing free kick, as rookie Jarvis Landry fumbled, giving the Bills possession at Miami's 39. But the offense stalled after just four plays (and one first down) and former Miami kicker Dan Carpenter's 47-yard field goal attempt was wide left. The Dolphins moved the ball down the field, aided by a terrible pass interference call that moved them from Buffalo's 37 to the 13. Two players later, Landry totally redeemed himself with an eight-yard touchdown grab, shaking a defender on his way to a score. Buffalo couldn't muster anything on its final three drives—a total of 13 plays for just 33 yards—and Miami held on.
Tannehill dinks and dumps
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was an impressive 26 of 34 for 240 yards last night. He spread it around—eight guys had between two and five receptions—and didn't take unnecessary risks. The Dolphins killed Buffalo with short passes on crossing routes or come-back throws, taking advantage of the extra cushion from the Buffalo secondary. Give credit to Miami's receivers, too, who showed nice elusiveness after the catch. The quick-hitting throws were clearly part of the game plan against Buffalo's superior pass rushers. And the Bills did get to Tannehill, sacking him five times and forcing a fumble on a scramble just beyond the line of scrimmage. But it wasn't enough to stop the methodical passing game and effective rushing attack (5.2 yards per carry).
Red zone woes
Buffalo wasted little time on Thursday showing why it is last in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, failing to reach the end zone in either of its first two drives despite getting to Miami's 15 and 3. Factoring in those fails, Buffalo has scored a touchdown on just 38 percent of its red zone trips this season, six percentage points behind the next worst team and half as effective as the Raiders (80 percent) or Broncos (77). This was an issue for the Bills last year as well, and is a big reason why they can win the turnover battle 2-0, as they did last night, and still lose.
Entering Thursday's game, Football Outsiders gave Miami a 41 percent chance to make the playoffs and pegged Buffalo's odds at just 18 percent. Those numbers will move even further apart after Miami's win. In addition to the aforementioned home games, the Dolphins visit Denver, the Jets, and New England. Buffalo has the Jets, Brown, and Packers at home and travels to Denver, Oakland, and New England. It looks like Buffalo will miss the playoffs for the 15th straight year, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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