The Dolphins offense spent large portions of Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Bills in self-destruct mode, but one bright spot was the play of slot receiver Brandon Gibson, who caught two of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s three touchdown passes.
In all, Gibson hauled in five passes for 40 yards.
“Good production,” coach Joe Philbin said of Gibson. “He came up with some big plays today.”
Gibson was responsible for the most highlight-worthy play of the day, soaring over the goal line on a 13-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown late in the first half.
Gibson was lined in the slot as part of a bunch formation on the right side and ran a “jerk” route, a short double move where the receiver fakes inside and then outside before continuing inside.
The route itself was devastating.
The Bills were in zone coverage, but rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso was the only defender in the area, essentially leaving him one-on-one against the athletic receiver. Gibson’s double move left Alonso helpless and made the rookie look like he was running in Marshmallow Fluff.
Tannehill accurately delivered the short throw over the middle, allowing Gibson to turn up field at full speed from the 10-yard line. Gibson launched himself toward the end zone from the 4-yard line. He leapt over a would-be tackler, safety Da’Norris Searcy, and spun over the goal line while he absorbed hits from safety Aaron Williams and Alonso.
“He made a heck of a play getting into the end zone,” Tannehill said. “I actually looked up and saw it on the Jumbotron as I was on the ground. It was pretty fun to watch.”
Gibson’s score sent the Dolphins into halftime down just three points and was one of the most memorable plays of the afternoon.
Then again, Tannehill’s worst pass of the day was also in Gibson’s direction.
On the Dolphins’ first drive, the offense called two runs on first and second down, and they faced a third-and-6. Gibson was lined up in the left slot and ran a “pivot” route — a quick inside move followed by an outside run toward the sidelines, 3 to 5 yards deep.
Bills cornerback Nickell Robey cut in front of the pass, intercepted it and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
Gibson said the play was neither his fault nor Tannehill’s, and he credited Robey, a rookie, for making a great play.
“It was on film plenty of times,” Robey said.
Despite going undrafted, Robey has been one of the league’s best pass defenders in the slot. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a passer rating of 57.0 when throwing toward a slot receiver defended by Robey.
In addition to the pick-six, the rookie broke up three more passes and hit Tannehill once on a blitz.
Receiver Mike Wallace said the Bills regularly changed how they matched up against the Dolphins receivers, giving Tannehill different looks.
But it’s no coincidence that when Robey left the game briefly with a shoulder injury, leaving Searcy to defend the slot, Gibson was able to convert for his second touchdown of the game, a 4-yarder in the third quarter.
Gibson’s two scores were his first two as a Dolphin, and he’s now second to Brian Hartline for the team lead in catches at 29.
Despite Gibson’s big day for individual accolades, however, he was hardly cheery in the locker room after the game.
“It’s frustrating because you dig your way back and fight and fight,” the fifth-year receiver said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of finishing. That’s the bottom line.”