New year. Different players. Same result.
The new-look Dolphins played like the same-old Dolphins Sunday. And the Bills sent them home with a familiar parting gift — a 29-10 drubbing that was as demoralizing as it was familiar.
The loss is Miami’s third game in a row to the Bills, and eighth in its last 10 trips to Western New York. And it came with a cost: Knowshon Moreno suffered a dislocated left elbow on his first carry and is expected to be out the next four to eight weeks.
“I feel like we are built to beat some of the teams in the division,” linebacker Philip Wheeler acknowledged. “Take the Patriots: I think we are built to beat the Patriots.
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“I think the Bills are built to beat us.”
It doesn’t help that Dolphins (1-1) slept-walked through the first half, and then self-immolated late.
Jim Kelly, the star Bills ex-quarterback and cancer survivor, fired up an already raucous Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd before kickoff.
“Squish the Fish!” he shouted.
Buffalo’s current players complied. They were the sharper team from the opening kick, a fact not lost on Mike Wallace, who was beside himself with frustration in the losing locker room.
His team came out flat, Wallace said angrily, and couldn’t match the electric atmosphere. When Bills players talked trash, too often Dolphins responded with diffidence.
“We weren’t close to their intensity,” Wallace said. “That’s why they won the football game.”
And when the Dolphins return to practice Tuesday, Wallace plans to tell his teammates just that. If he wants to get into specifics, special teams would be a great place to start.
The Dolphins, to put it kindly, were historically atrocious. And it probably cost them the game.
The Bills (2-0) blocked a punt — the first time that’s happened to the Dolphins since 2010.
Miami allowed a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to C.J. Spiller — immediately after it kicked a field goal to get back into the game.
And Jarvis Landry dropped a punt with the Dolphins down two scores in the fourth quarter.
“Just took my eyes off the ball,” Landry said. “... I’m expected to make plays. That’s my team expects me to do.”
Quipped punter Brandon Fiends: “You can’t win with all the mistakes we made on special teams. ... I just had a bad day.”
Added Jason Trusnik, the Dolphins’ special teams captain: “It doesn’t matter what side of the ball — defense, offense, special teams — you can’t turn the ball over. Big plays and turnovers will get you beat in the National Football League, and that’s what happened today.”
No play was bigger than Spiller’s kickoff return. The Dolphins had finally gotten on the board and had a bit of momentum. The crowd had been subdued.
Then Spiller went berserk. He received the kick two yards deep, and had a glide path to the end zone. Spiller barely made a cut the entire way. Didn’t need to. His blocking was perfect. His speed did the rest.
“All I know is he hit it,” said Jamar Taylor, a key Dolphins special teams contributor. “C.J.’s one of the fastest dudes in the league. You have to be able to hit him right away.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, winless now in three trips to Buffalo, agreed.
“We didn’t protect the punter,” Philbin said. “... It didn’t look like we really got a hand on Spiller on the kickoff return. We dropped the ball. I don’t know if there’s much more to say.”
How about this: The Dolphins offense didn’t do much to help.
Ryan Tannehill was uninspiring for the second time in eight days. He horribly threw a pass short to Wallace on what should have been a touchdown. (The two did connect for a score in the second half, a 7-yard completion.) Tannehill’s 49 pass attempts resulted in just 241 yards. And he took four sacks, including two on consecutive plays.
Now, the Dolphins’ offense must get it together without Moreno, arguably its most valuable — and intense — player.
“We missed that out there today,” Wallace said. “We needed that but we have to find it, all the time.”