The Miami Dolphins cannot be denied.
They just won’t surrender.
The Dolphins beat the Bills 34-31 in overtime Saturday. This wasn’t so much a game as a Hollywood epic. They won a bout for the ages. And they have Jay Ajayi and Andrew Franks to thank.
Franks kicked a 27-yard field goal late in overtime, which along with his 55-yarder in the final seconds of regulation, saved the Dolphins’ season.
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He rushed for over 200 yards for third time this season, and second time against the Bills. Ajayi finished with 206 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.
The Dolphins improved to 10-5. The Bills fell to 7-8. The Dolphins’ playoff ticket? It could be punched Sunday.
They can clinch Sunday night if the Broncos lose to the Chiefs. Or with a win next week at home against the Patriots.
If this was the win that ends Miami’s long playoff drought, it’s fitting. Saturday was the Dolphins’ eighth win in 10 one-possession games, their second overtime triumph of 2016, and they won for the second time in three weeks with points on their final possession.
“It’s that one play,” said Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who’s on the verge of his first playoff appearance of his career. “That’s the thing though… you never know when that one play is going to be.”
For the Dolphins on Saturday, there were about 10 of those plays.
Miami would not have won Saturday without:
▪ Kenyan Drake reversing field to break off a 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
▪ DeVante Parker turning a short crossing route into a 56-yard touchdown.
▪ Ex-Dolphin Dan Carpenter missing field goals in regulation and overtime.
▪ Spencer Paysinger breaking up a pass in the end zone (perhaps with an uncalled interference) that ended a late Buffalo drive.
▪ Drake returning the Bills’ final kickoff 39 yards to give Franks a chance to tie the score.
▪ Matt Moore completing two passes in the final 71 seconds to get Franks close enough to try.
▪ Franks barely clearing the crossbar on his 55-yarder with six seconds left — after missing from 46 yards earlier in the game.
▪ The beleaguered Dolphins defense, which allowed 589 total yards (and points on all four Buffalo second-half possessions), getting stops on both of the Bills’ overtime drives.
▪ And Franks powering through the game-winner.
But more than anything, the Dolphins would have had no chance if Ajayi didn’t put together another all-timer. He needs to apply for state registration. Because he owns the Bills. He’s gone over 200 in both meetings with the Buffalo.
Ajayi became just the fourth player in NFL history to have three 200-yard games in the same season. Others: Earl Campbell, O.J. Simpson and Tiki Barber.
Last time around, when Ajayi had 214, he killed the Bills with the cutback. Saturday, he simply hit the hole and exploded.
And he did so despite Buffalo pledging beforehand not to let him run wild again.
“It’s a division rival game, a December game, a lot is on the line so tensions were high today,” Ajayi said. “We knew [they] were going to give us their best shot, they’re gonna get our best shot, and it was going to be a physical game.”
And yet, Bills coach Rex Ryan didn’t believe in the Dolphins offense. He gambled that the Bills would make one last stop in overtime. Instead of going for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 41 with 4:09 left in the extra period, he punted away.
The Bills would not get the ball again.
Reporters in the post-game news conference hammered Ryan, who could lose his job because of this loss, about that decision.
“I believe we’d get them stopped,” Ryan explained.
In the end, the Bills couldn’t stop Ajayi, who saved his best for last.
Ajayi flipped the field and set up Franks’ winner with one run, a 57-yard sprint down the left sideline that put the Dolphins in the red zone.
Ajayi later left the game with what appeared to be a minor shoulder sprain, but was confident he’ll be fine.
He needs to be. The Dolphins’ championship hopes depend on it.
Ajayi now has 1,213 yards on the season — despite sitting out the opener. Even if he doesn’t play in the regular season finale, which could be a meaningless game, Ajayi will finish no worse than fourth in the franchise’s single-season rushing list.
“When we had 200 yards earlier in the season, I don’t think we ever thought we were going to do it again,” Gase said. “It’s not an easy thing to accomplish.”