Not that long ago, scoring a touchdown was a small victory for the Dolphins.
They were last or close to last in a whole batch of offensive stats, including points.
The first half of the season was an exercise in futility and frustration, with Adam Gase going so far as to call his offense “garbage.”
Oh, how times have changed.
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They have been on a bit of a tear the last six weeks, scoring 24.5 points per game over that stretch, and are out of the basement in most major offensive categories.
And so when first-year Bills coach Sean McDermott threw bouquets at the Dolphins’ way Wednesday, it was more than your run-of-the-mill coach-speak.
“I think they’re operating at a high level,” McDermott said. “I think that the backs, [Kenyan] Drake in particular, have been phenomenal. He runs hard and he’s playing at a high level much like their entire offense.
“I think they’re probably a very diverse offense,” he continued. “They spread the ball around, they’ve got a lot of weapons. Obviously with [Jarvis Landry], they’ve got receivers and tight ends that are playmakers. They’re big-name guys and they do a great job. You’re looking at also, like I said, with Drake coming out of the backfield not only his running game but also the passing game they’re playing at a high level, and you saw that Monday night.
The Dolphins are playing their best football of the season, and will need that to continue if they have any hope of reaching the playoffs.
Particularly with the news Wednesday that Tyrod Taylor, who has a 121.2 career passing rating against the Dolphins, will likely play when the teams meet Sunday.
He has been dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of the Bills’ Week 14 win against the Colts. McDermott said his quarterback situation was “day-to-day,” but Taylor will play if healthy.
“Tyrod is a guy that can win with his arm, he can win with his feet so he’s obviously diverse in his skill set so he makes it challenging at times for people to defend,” McDermott said during a conference call with Miami reporters.
He was the starter for both emotionally charged meetings between these teams in 2016, slugfests that gave this long-running rivalry new juice.
The blood was bad even before Landry’s high block on Aaron Williams that ended the Bills safety’s career. One could now argue that the Bills, not the Patriots or Jets, are the team Dolphins players dislike the most. The feeling is probably mutual.
McDermott wasn’t part of that rivalry until now, but he knows the history.
“We try to play up to a certain standard regardless of our opponent, with all due respect,” he said. “We start off every week with a healthy respect for each and every opponent. And I want to know our players understand what’s expected when they take the field. It’s to play within the rules and play a good physical game and I’m sure that they on their end expect to do the same.”
Landry will likely see his old LSU teammate Tre’Davious White in coverage. White, a rookie first-round pick, was a freshman when Landry was a junior. Sunday will mark their first of likely many meetings in the NFL.
“Those guys are good players,” McDermott said. “Obviously, Landry been around a little bit longer than Tre’Davious has. So we’re going to have to make sure we put in our film study this week.”
Landry and the Dolphins are playing with a new level of confidence after back-to-back wins that have put Miami back in the playoff hunt. But the Dolphins (6-7) have zero margin for error. A loss Sunday would all but end their season. The Bills (7-6) have playoff aspirations of their own; they have not reached the postseason since 1999, the longest drought in the NFL.
“When I signed my name on the dotted line I owned it,” McDermott said. “So even though I wasn’t here I understand as much as I can for not being here what goes along with that in 17 years. That said, as our team, the 2017 version of the Buffalo Bills goes, we have to focus on what we’re doing and how we’re moving forward to move towards our vision as a football team. That’s really what we’ve focused around this year.”