The Miami Dolphins got the start they wanted in their win-and-in Week 17 game against the Buffalo Bills, but they ended up being humbled and having to rely on outside help to make the playoffs.
Josh Allen passed for 234 yards and three touchdowns in only one half of work and Isaiah McKenzie scored three times, including on an 84-yard punt return, and the Bills routed the Dolphins 56-26 at Bills Stadium.
The loss left the Dolphins with a final regular season record of 10-6 but needing for the 1-14 Jacksonville Jaguars to upset the Indianapolis Colts to land the seventh and last AFC playoff berth. That didn't happen, with the Colts taking a 28-14 decision to make the playoffs and knock out the Dolphins.
“We didn’t play well in any phase — offense, defense, special teams," head coach Brian Flores said. "It’s a team effort. They talk about the offense, we’ll talk about the defense, we’ll talk about the special teams. I didn’t do a good enough job of getting them ready to go, so we’ll talk about the coaching as well. We win as a team, we lose as a team. Today we didn’t play well enough across the board. We lost.”
The Dolphins entered the game leading the NFL in scoring defense and shut out the Bills through their first three series, even getting an interception by Byron Jones that set up a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
But there would be few additional highlights.
Cornerback Xavien Howard tied the franchise record with his NFL-best 10th interception, but the Dolphins already were trailing 35-13 by that time. Howard became the first NFL player since 2007 to reach double digits in interceptions while matching Dick Westmoreland's Dolphins record first set in 1967.
“It was hard to get happy," Howard said. "Nobody wants to get beat like that. We came in here, we were trying to win a game and it didn’t happen, so I didn’t really get the feeling with the 10th interception that it was good enough.”
With Ryan Fitzpatrick placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, rookie first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa played the whole way for the Dolphins but simply couldn't keep up with Allen.
With the Dolphins in catch-up mode the entire second half, Tagovailoa threw three interceptions, this after coming in with only two picks all season.
One of those was a pick-six by cornerback Josh Norman, who took advantage of DeVante Parker falling while they were jostling for position and returned the easy interception.
“I think some of them were miscommunication, and then one of them, that was just poor ball playing on my part," Tagovailoa said. "But at the same time, you've got to move on from those, and we tried to finish and didn’t let that try to get into our head.”
The Dolphins' first touchdown came on a 1-yard run by Myles Gaskin to cap the opening drive of the second half and cut their deficit to 28-13. Salvon Ahmed added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins were down 49-13.
Tagovailoa threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to rookie Malcolm Perry with 2:47 remaining. It was Perry's first NFL touchdown.
Parker returned after a two-game absence with a hamstring injury to record his third 100-yard receiving performance of the season, but most of his production came in the second half.
Ironically, the big turning point of the first half was a punt after Buffalo's third fruitless offensive possession that bounced out of bounds inside the 1-yard line.
After a three-and-out, Buffalo began its next possession at midfield and then scored on its final three drives (excluding one kneel-down) of the half.
Allen connected with McKenzie on touchdowns of 7 and 14 yards before McKenzie made it 21-3 with his punt return.
The end of the first half also was damaging to Miami, which had a chance to cut into that deficit after getting a first-and-goal right before the two-minute warning.
But the Dolphins settled for a field goal and Allen then had completions of 16 and 27 yards before throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to John Brown to cap a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took only 44 seconds.
It didn't get any better in the second half for the Dolphins.
“It’s always tough to come in and play this team and putting ourselves down early didn’t help, and our execution wasn’t where it needed to be obviously," guard/tackle Jesse Davis said. "But we kept fighting and that’s what this team has shown all season, is that we can fight.”
On this day, it wasn't nearly enough.