1 – Playoff ticket punched
It was a win-and-in scenario for the Buffalo Bills heading into their Week 15 rematch with the division rival Dolphins. It took until the final play in regulation, but Sean McDermott's team went on a 15-play, 86-yard drive culminating in a 25-yard Tyler Bass field goal as time expired giving Buffalo a 32-29 victory and their fifth playoff berth in McDermott's six seasons.
Buffalo's head coach was a bit emotional right after the victory, which not only put the Bills in the playoffs again but positions them on the precipice of another division title.
"Very humbling," said McDermott. "Just coming here moving my family here years ago, Terry and Kim (Pegula), giving me and my family an opportunity to do this for the first time and really just a product of great people, really great people around the organization. And one piece of it really and very humbling. Like I said before, glory to God for His blessings. And just happy to be a small part of it."
For the players, especially ones like Jordan Poyer, who have been here all six years of the McDermott regime, having another shot to take a run at a Super Bowl is welcomed with open arms.
"We're going to the postseason," Poyer said. "I think this is five out of six. I mean, that's pretty damn awesome if you asked me. To be able to have a chance to play in the postseason. The job is not finished."
"That's the number one thing coach McDermott preaches is playoff caliber," said Josh Allen. "You can't win the Super Bowl unless you make the playoffs. So that's goal number one down. Goal number two now is to clinch the division. That's how we'll take it. We'll take it one game at a time. Be ready for next week."
Buffalo is on the road for the next two weeks with the Bears up next in Chicago on Christmas Eve. With the Bills (11-3) three games up on Miami (8-6) with three games to play a win at Soldier Field would seal the AFC East title for a third straight season.
2 – Cashing red zone checks
The Bills' lack of execution in the red zone late in their Week 3 meeting with Miami played a big part in costing them what wound up being a two-point decision (21-19). Buffalo's offense was determined not to let that happen in their second meeting with the Dolphins.
Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey drew up some new plays and his players delivered on Saturday night reaching the end zone on each of their first four red zone possessions.
"I think attention to detail and practice, understanding our concepts and then guys making plays," said Josh Allen of their success inside the Miami 20-yard line. "We put in some new stuff this week and trusted the guys to go out there and make some plays and they did."
On their first red zone possession, Allen threw a beautiful touch pass over the shoulder of tight end Quintin Morris, who pulled it in despite tight coverage for the team's first touchdown of the game to give Buffalo their first lead of the game (7-3).
On their second red zone possession, Allen found RB Nyheim Hines out in the left flat on a swing pass and the speedy back did the rest reaching the front left corner of the end zone before any Miami defenders could corral him on Buffalo's second touchdown drive to go up 14-6 in the second quarter.
After Miami closed within one (14-13) with three minutes left in the half, Allen again led the Bills on a touchdown drive. He capped it with a four-yard touchdown pass that took the last eight seconds of the half off the clock and probably a few more before falling out of bounds after throwing a four-yard strike to James Cook in the back of the end zone at the halftime gun.
"That's either a really good play or a really stupid play," Allen said. "I'm just thankful he came back to the ball and made a play on it. I threw it and in my head I'm like, 'I know I wasted too much time. I know there are zero seconds on the clock.' And I just kind of slid on the ground. And I just waited for cheers. And thank God, cheers came because you've got to have points before the half. I shouldn't have put myself in that situation but again, found a way to make play."
After watching that eight-point halftime lead (21-13) evaporate and turn into a 29-21 deficit early in the fourth quarter, Allen and company cashed in after reaching the red zone a fourth time. Dawson Knox was matched up on Miami DB Justin Bethel and shook him with a shoulder fake underneath the goal post for a five-yard touchdown reception on third-and-goal.
"I know it was man-to-man coverage," said Knox. "I released inside to try to make him think I had an inside breaking route, gave him a little something at the top and broke out, and Josh put it on the money. Great play calling by (Ken) Dorsey, and I had a lot of opportunities this week to practice those new plays. So, when it got called in the game, we were ready for it."
Buffalo was a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone at that point and the only reason they didn't go 5-for-5 was because they were trying to kill clock at the end of the game. Devin Singletary had a good lock at a touchdown with under a minute to play, but wisely went down willingly at the four-yard line forcing the Dolphins to use their final timeout.
"Great situational awareness by Motor," said McDermott. "We've talked about it. We call it 'No Mas,' which means no more. Similar, to the Baltimore game, you're expecting them to potentially allow you to score right there just based on where the game was, where we had the ball, and their timeout situation."
Two plays later, Tyler Bass put the winning field goal attempt up and through, which made Buffalo 4-for-5 in the red zone on the night.
Over the last four games Buffalo has gone 11-13 on red zone possessions for a success rate of 84.6 percent. Even more encouraging is the fact that Morris and Hines caught their first touchdown passes for the Bills on two of those red zone touchdowns.
"That's huge when you get other guys involved in the game plan, you know sharing the wealth," said Allen, who finished with 381 of the team's 446 total net yards. "That's what makes an offense scary and dangerous when you know at any point any of these guys can catch the ball and make a play."
3 – 'D' gets third down stops in crunch time
The Bills defense had their share of troubles trying to get off the field on third down, even when they were able to force a long down and distance situation. But when Buffalo was faced with some 'got to have them' third down stops they delivered.
Shaq Lawson had a big third down stop when his sack and strip fumble forced Miami to settle for a field goal in the first quarter. They were also fortunate when Trent Sherfield dropped a touchdown pass on third-and-goal from the three-yard line leading to another field goal drive.
But Miami converted three third downs on their first touchdown drive of the game and by halftime were at a 50 percent conversion rate (4-for-8).
Come the second half, however, Buffalo's defense clamped down allowing just one third down conversion for the rest of the game though it went for a 67-yard touchdown on a pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Jaylen Waddle.
Tre'Davious White forced an incompletion on a 3rd-and-2 that led to punt in the third quarter and led the team with three pass breakups.
"It's been a process," said White as he is still settling back in to the weekly routine off his ACL injury from last season. "Still got work to do but it was good to get a win. It's good getting around the ball and make some plays for the team. So anytime we can do that it's a good day."
White's third down stop was followed by two more turned in by Taron Johnson on consecutive Miami possessions. First, he foiled a 3rd-and-3 pass from Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill in the right flat. On the very next Miami possession he dropped TE Durham Smythe for a two-yard loss as he read the play and made the tackle behind the line of scrimmage to force a long field goal and limit the damage after a Bills' fumble at midfield.
"T's been doing that since he's come to Buffalo," said Poyer of Johnson. "He's really established himself within this defense. He's really one of our key players on defense that really does everything. I think he plays probably the hardest position in our defense just because he's asked to do a lot. He's asked to cover. He's asked to tackle. He's asked to blitz. He's asked to fill the 'A' gap. And so having him play the way that he does, it's such a huge asset for us. And we're going to continue to need him down the stretch, and I'm glad he's on our team because I think he's the best nickel in the game."
Miami would have just one more third down opportunity in the game as they watched an eight-point fourth-quarter lead disappear in the final 12 minutes of regulation. On a 3rd-and-12 Tagovailoa's pass to Waddle fell incomplete and would've been negated anyway by an illegal shift penalty. The Dolphins finished the game just 5-for-14 on third down.
"Yeah, I mean, obviously we'd like to be better," said Jordan Poyer. "It's kind of been a point of emphasis all season long, but when we needed to make the stops, we did. There's some plays that we all wish we had back, but then we made the stops we had to."
Check out the best reactions from the Bills win over the Dolphins in order to clinch their fourth consecutive playoff berth.