ORCHARD PARK, NY (TBEN) — The injury-free Dolphins felt like few people gave them a chance to beat the three-time defending AFC East champion Bills in a wild card playoff game on Sunday.
But despite the challenges, they were almost upset.
Led by rookie third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson, and playing without several offensive starters, the AFC’s seventh-seeded Dolphins rallied from an early 17-0 deficit before falling short in a 34-31 loss.
“You could tell we couldn’t stop,” said Thompson. “When we ran away from this game, nobody gave us a chance. We had a chance to win it, and that’s what you want. It speaks volumes about the struggle in this team, the guys we have in this locker room, the people we have in this organization, top to bottom.
After losing five straight games, the Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 under first-year coach Mike McDaniel with a win against the Jets in the regular-season Finals and with help from the Bills, who beat New England.
But they entered the postseason without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is on NFL concussion protocol, and with backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater limited by a dislocated little finger.
The Dolphins were also without lead rusher Raheem Mostert (broken thumb), left guard Liam Eichenberg (hand), and right tackle Brandon Shell (knee/ankle).
“That was the situation,” McDaniel said. “That was the hand that was dealt. And that was the part of the story we were willing to complete.”
They nearly did it again on Sunday in a frenzied setting against a Super Bowl-aspired Bills team that hasn’t lost a playoff game on its home court since the 1996 season.
After trailing 17–0, Miami scored three field goals, a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion in a 7:01 span to tie the game just before halftime.
Then in the first minute of the third quarter, Zach Sieler recovered Josh Allen’s fumble, forced by Eric Rowe, and returned it 5 yards for a touchdown that gave the Dolphins a 24–20 lead.
“It was almost surreal,” Sieler, a defensive end in his fifth season, said of scoring his first NFL touchdown. “It’s something you dream about.”
Cornerback Xavien Howard and safety Jevon Holland also had interceptions from Allen in the second quarter that led to 11 Miami points. Also benefiting from a 50-yard punt return from Cedrick Wilson Jr., the Dolphins only needed to gain 82 yards on their four scoring drives before halftime.
Sieler had two of Miami’s playoff-record seven sacks.
“We had some ups and downs. But I think we’ve found our way,” Sieler said. “We made the plays when needed. We’ve reached the playoffs. That was the goal. We just couldn’t finish it today.”
After drawing within three points on Jeff Wilson’s 1-yard run with 10:53 left, the Dolphins never got over midfield on their last two possessions. Miami’s chances ended when Thompson failed to tie Mike Gesicki in fourth and sixth with 2:22 left, allowing Buffalo to run out the clock.
A season that started off with a promising 3-0 start and an 8-3 record in December ended with the Dolphins losing six of their last seven games.
They have not won a postseason game since 2000.
“We’re very aware of the drought of winning a playoff game,” McDaniel said.
“That’s something that, since I got the job, has been a huge motivating factor for me, that I really wanted to bring to the team, the organization and the fanbase,” added the first-year coach. but it was not for lack of effort, or lack of determination, or lack of intention. It’s because we didn’t get it done. We are a young team. We had to learn from it. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way.”
The Dolphins showed resilience, coming back from 21 points twice in a 42–38 win against Baltimore on September 18 and with a 14-point comeback in Detroit on October 30.
“Man, our defense played so well today,” said Thompson. “That’s tough. Because those guys gave us every chance to win. Guys made a touchdown, made turnovers, helped me a lot. And that we don’t come up with a win hurts me a lot.
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