The Miami Dolphins season ended on Saturday, as the shorthanded visitors suffered a heartbreaking 34-31 playoff loss to the Bills in Buffalo. The loss marks a quick exit from the postseason for Miami and continues the franchise streak of having not won a playoff game since December of 2000.
That's the bad news. The good news is: Never has a playoff loss felt more like a moral victory.
Few thought Miami had a chance to keep the Wild Card game as close as they did with Skylar Thompson at quarterback, and fewer, if any, felt they had a chance to win. The Dolphins, however, did make a game of it in Orchard Park on Sunday, taking the heavily favored home team down to the wire.
Let's dig into the most critical plays that made up a surprisingly entertaining and memorable playoff exit.
Game RecapThe Dolphins entered Sunday's tilt against the Buffalo Bills a 13-point underdog, but after a fourth-down stop of Buffalo's high-powered offense on the game's first drive, it seemed like Miami's defense might be up to the challenge.
Then came the second drive of the game, wherein Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs ate Xavien Howard's lunch on a deep bomb. Buffalo would score on the following play to go up 7-0.
One Skylar Thompson interception and a few Bills plays later, it was 14-0 Buffalo. Minutes into the game, Buffalo was covering that enormous Vegas spread.
Stefon Diggs vs. Xavien Howard:— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) January 15, 2023
Advantage Diggs 🦬pic.twitter.com/8RpsfB6Yq2
Any hopes of the Dolphins putting up a fight seemed silly at that juncture, as Buffalo was able to do anything it wanted on offense and Miami was unable to do anything at all on its possessions.
After trading field goals, the Dolphins found themselves back in the game following a Xavien Howard interception of Bills quarterback Josh Allen and a long return. Soon after, Miami would kick another field goal to pull within 17-6 late in the second half.
At this point, keeping things close for this long alone felt like a triumph to DolFans.
Unbelievably, the Dolphins huge second quarter continued. A Jevon Holland interception led to a possession deep in Buffalo territory with under two minutes left, and the Dolphins were back in business, ready to shock the world.
XAVIEN HOWARD PICKS OFF JOSH ALLEN 😮pic.twitter.com/WN26aIHwxV— DraftKings (@DraftKings) January 15, 2023
Unlike past drives, Skylar Thompson and the Dolphins would finish this one in the end zone — tie game, 17-17. Hit that Griddy, Gesicki.
After a punt to open the second half, Buffalo's first play of the ensuing drive gave Dolphins fans the play of the year, a scoop and score by defensive lineman Zach Sieler. Let's hear it for Fat Guy Touchdowns!
24-20, Miami! This is happening.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. Following an ill-advised Skylar Thompson interception deep in his own territory, Buffalo decided the Dolphins' streak of good fortune would come to an end.
SCOOP AND SCORE!!! THE MIAMI DOLPHINS (+13.5) ARE LEADING pic.twitter.com/rGh9wgFwPk— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) January 15, 2023
A touchdown from Josh Allen to Cole Beasley put the Bills back in the lead, 27-24. Just moments after a Dolphins punt, Miami would find itself down 34-24 following yet another Bills score.
We'll always have 24-20, Dolphins fans. Nobody can take that away from us.
It's not over yet! Rather than lie down and play dead like many Dolphins teams of the past, this squad continued to fight. After a successful long run executed on a Jaylen Waddle reverse, Jeff Wilson's one-yard score brought Miami back into the game.
Josh Allen with a DIME to Gabe Davis for the TD 🙌pic.twitter.com/ELMpvxs5Bh— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 15, 2023
Do you believe in miracles?! Maybe. Cautiously optimistic.
Unfortunately, that was that. While Miami's defense was able to hold Buffalo scoreless for the rest of the game, the offense was a tire fire. On multiple occasions, the Dolphins saw a crucial play get that much harder owing to a delay of game penalty, including one on its critical final drive that turned a season-deciding fourth and one into a fourth and six.
Jeff Wilson finds the end zone as the Dolphins (+650 ML) pull within one score 👀pic.twitter.com/j7NX804vQG— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) January 15, 2023
KAIIR ELAM CALLED GAME pic.twitter.com/gI8GbBYbxc— PFF (@PFF) January 15, 2023
High-Stakes OffseasonRoll the credits; the 2022 Miami Dolphins football season is in the books. A 9-9 campaign featuring some of the highest highs and lowest lows is now in the rearview mirror and offseason questions must be addressed.
As the Dolphins pack up and head home, the biggest question mark surrounding the team is the health and future of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa has dealt with concussion issues throughout the season, and it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to continue his career.
Prior to the game, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Tua would indeed be back in 2023. That, of course, could just be a formality as the team looks to increase trade leverage in the event it decides to move on to a more stable option, such as Old Tom Brady.
Those looking forward to the draft as a potential avenue to improvement shouldn't get their hopes up too much. Barring trades, the April 27-29 event doesn't promise to be all that fruitful.
Tua Tagovailoa expected back as Dolphins’ starter in 2023, per sources:https://t.co/LxvLOGzrpF— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 15, 2023
The Dolphins don't have a first-round pick this year because they lost it as a result of tampering with Brady and Sean Payton in 2019 and trading away another first-round selection as part of a deal for linebacker Bradley Chubb.