In my opinion

Armando Salguero: Miami Dolphins allow Buffalo Bills to trample over playoff hopes

 

asalguero@MiamiHerald.com

Before this terrible day dawned the Dolphins got an idea things might not go exactly as they planned when fire alarms went off at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Buffalo where they were staying overnight. That unexpected wake-up call came between 2 and 3 o’clock and was both a prank and a minor nuisance.

What happened next was more serious but just as unexpected.

The Buffalo Bills, a team with five wins in 14 games, played with urgency and motivation and fire. The Bills trampled the Dolphins beneath a stampede of sacks and rushing yards that suggested they — and not the Dolphins — were interested in making a playoff push.

The Dolphins, with the playoffs beckoning, played like their season ended weeks ago. They showed no emotion or passion. They offered no fight.

The Dolphins played like they hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and whose season deserves to be over.

19-0?

One hundred and three total yards gained?

Are you kidding me?

“We picked a helluva day to kind of go out and lay an egg,” defensive end Cameron Wake said.

“You wake up in the morning you don’t see that happening to you,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “It’s surprising. But it happens like that sometimes. It’s unfortunate it happened this time of the season but you can’t dwell on it.

“It happened. Being mad about it is not going to take the game back. We have to stay positive.”

Fine, let’s be positive.

That was positively a terrible job of game planning offensively.

That was positively a terrible job of playing run defense.

That was positively a dagger of a penalty by Phillip Wheeler in the second half when he was flagged for illegal hands to the face. (Wheeler’s penalty gave the Bills a first down after their drive had seemingly stalled at their own 10 yard line. The Bills eventually drove 92 yards in 9:16 to take a 13-0 lead.)

This is positively the worst pass-protecting team in franchise history.

That was positively Brian Hartline’s worst game of the season.

And to lose to backup quarterback Thad Lewis for the second time this season … I’m positive no team qualifying for the playoffs has done that.

“I want to give credit to the Buffalo Bills,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “They clearly deserved to win the football game; absolutely outplayed us from start to finish and they deserved to win the game.”

The Bills deserved to win this game because they had a better plan than the Dolphins and then executed that superior plan better than the Dolphins executed their inferior plan.

The Bills, for example, played to their strength. They came to this game the NFL’s sack leaders. And they counted on that strength and, indeed, broadened it. Not only did Buffalo get pressure from the front four as they have all season, but they added slot blitzes and safety blitzes that the Dolphins were unable to solve.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, were facing the 26th-ranked run defense in the NFL and a team that rushes the passer really well.

So they passed the ball.

And passed the ball.

And passed the ball. Miami decided the best way to beat a great pass-rushing team was to pass. They threw the ball 33 times to only 12 runs.

“We really thought they were going to come in here and run the ball, given the elements and everything like that,” Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes said. “We really thought they’d try to test our run defense early.”

When they did run, the Dolphins were predictable. Five of Miami’s nine first-half runs came on first down.

Third-and-two?

Passing down for these Dolphins.

The Dolphins showed little to no interest in running the football in the second half. They trailed only 13-0 until 6:43 was left in the game but Miami ran the ball only three times in the second half.

Sure, the failure of the running game came in that it wasn’t working very well when offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was calling it. But also, he didn’t really call it very much to give it a chance.

“How many attempts did we have in the first half?” tackle Tyson Clabo asked. “Do you know? We need to do a better job all around.”

The disaster on defense, meanwhile, was mostly on players.

The Dolphins couldn’t have possibly expected Lewis to beat them. The only way the Bills were going win this game was by running the football.

And, guess what?

They did exactly that. Buffalo rushed for 203 yards on 51 carries. It averages out to only 4-yards-per-carry but the quantity was more important than the quality.

Unlike the Dolphins, the Bills ran the ball on third down.

They ran the ball in passing situations.

They ran the ball even when the Dolphins stacked the tackle box and offered them easy throws.

“We overloaded the box. We pressured. We moved our line,” Philbin said. “We did all types of things. Not as successful as we’d like but certainly we didn’t stay in the same defense.”

When it was over, the Dolphins were a picture of defeat.

Ryan Tannehill, knocked from the game once when he injured his left knee on a sack, was pulled a second time because there was no sense submitting him to more abuse. As he jogged off the field a man wearing Bills garb got up close and started mocking Tannehill about wiping tears from his face.

Yes, it was a bad day from start to finish.

Read more Armando Salguero stories from the Miami Herald

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