1. Defense holds the fort
In a game that was going to be tighter than most Bills fans anticipated, the Buffalo defense held firm to keep the game tied in the first half. With Buffalo's offense sputtering and lacking rhythm, the Bills defense kept Miami's offense under wraps.
After Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders missed a 36-yard field goal attempt to leave Miami without any points on their opening drive, Buffalo held its division rival to just a field goal on their next seven possessions covering the next two quarters.
Third down stops proved critical over the second and third quarters. Following a Mario Addison sack on a 2nd-and-15 that set up a 3rd-and-20, Ed Oliver got pressure on Tua Tagovailoa to force an incompletion and ultimately a punt.
Oliver and Hyde combined on a tackle for loss on Myles Gaskin to drop him for a loss on a 3rd-and-2 to force a 51-yard field goal attempt to keep the game tied at three early in the second quarter.
"When sudden change happens, our offense has to punt or something like that, we just answer the call," said Oliver. "We go out there and play. You don't get that many series with an offense like ours. It's the ebbs and flows of the game. Stuff like that is going to happen, so it's just how you play through it, and how you react and stuff like that. I don't feel like it was any pressure or we panicked or anything. It was just like, you've got to go play defense. That's what they pay us to do. So we went out there and played."
Late in the half Buffalo did get some help. Backed up on their own 12-yard line on a 3rd-and-5, Miami TE Mike Gesicki in-motion right to left crossed behind the center as he snapped the ball and it caromed off his leg into the left flat. Micah Hyde recovered the loose ball and returned it 16 yards with 11 seconds left in the half. It kept points off the board for the Dolphins when they appeared poised to take their first lead of the game.
"That was huge to come up with a takeaway in that moment of the game," said Poyer of Hyde's fumble recovery. "Really in that situation, field goals and takeaways are what we are thinking about. Obviously if they got a field goal, they get the ball coming out in the second half up 6-3. But us being able to get that takeaway there late in the [first] half, really killed a lot of the momentum that they thought they had. And we made adjustments at halftime, came out in the second half, and played well."
Buffalo's defense carried that effort into the second half when they forced Miami's offense three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half. AJ Epenesa was able to track Tagovailoa down on a scramble to stop him a yard short of the marker on a 3rd-and-7 to force another punt. Coming up empty on back-to-back possessions bridging the first and second half proved costly.
Miami was off the field with a pair of three-and-outs on their next two possessions that followed with Matt Milano breaking up a pass for Gaskin on a 3rd-and-2 late in the third quarter after Buffalo had taken a 10-3 lead.
It was 17-3 before the Dolphins were able to stage a touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game (17-11), but that would be as close as Miami would get.
Jordan Poyer would seal the defensive effort picking Tagovailoa off on a late throw over the middle in Miami territory.
"I just think we calmed down a little bit, made some adjustments at halftime," said Hyde. "Then went out there and played our ball. Offense was able to move the football, defense got some three-and-outs. Finally got a takeaway toward the end of the game. And that's our football."
2. Beasley provides lift
Buffalo's offense was having difficulty finding its groove through the first two quarters of the game on Sunday, due largely to a multi-faceted game plan by the Miami defensive staff. A less experienced team might have panicked after going one-for-six on third downs in the first half, managing just 122 total net yards and just five first downs.
But the Bills turned to one of their more reliable options in the passing game to pull them out of their inconsistent execution and he delivered.
Cole Beasley pulled in eight passes for 89 yards in the second half, including five receptions that moved the sticks and kept Buffalo drives alive.
"He hadn't had a lot of opportunities in the last few weeks and teams were kind of keying on him and playing funnel to try and force him inside," said Josh Allen. "Finally he got some opportunities and he made some plays for us, huge plays that helped us move the ball. Move the chains and allowed us to get the ball in the end zone there."
The biggest came on a 3rd-and-14 at the Bills 21-yard line midway through the third quarter. Allen found Beasley underneath on the left side and he eluded Miami CB Nik Needham and S Jevon Holland to lunge past the first down marker for 15 yards.
"With that down and distance, we were kind of thinking that they would be in zone, and the route I ran, I think this might be the first time I've ever gotten any man coverage," Beasley said. "It's not like it's a bad route for man coverage, but the route I ran, I'm just really good about getting behind the backers and finding windows and Josh is really good about manipulating guys and finding me, but they ended up playing man. It worked out. I got open. I should have kept running out. I ran the wrong way. Even on the good plays, you still have those regrets, but it worked out for us."
Beasley would register three more receptions on the team's first touchdown drive of the game all in succession to move the Bills into Miami territory. Seven plays later Allen avoided the rush on a 1st-and-goal at the eight-yard line escaped the pocket and found a wide open Gabriel Davis for an easy touchdown pass and a 10-3 advantage late in the third quarter.
On the Bills ensuing possession, Beasley would convert a 2nd-and-10 with a 17-yard catch and run to help push Buffalo's possession into the fourth quarter. He then pulled off an improbable conversion on a 3rd-and-13 when he got 14 yards on a catch and run again eluding Needham.
Two plays later Allen found Stefon Diggs on a 19-yard post for a score early in the fourth.
But head coach Sean McDermott thought Beasley's most critical conversion was on a 3rd-and-11 at the Buffalo 44 after Miami had made it a one-score game (17-11). Beasley streaked across the middle and Allen hit him in stride for a 20-yard pickup.
"He made huge plays," said McDermott. "I think the one third down in particular, in the fourth quarter over the middle there, just getting open. The line had good protection and then Josh just made a great throw over the middle on a third and long. So it was really good to see. He's a good football player for a reason. He has a good feel and Josh knows how to find him."
That conversion kept a critical fourth-quarter drive alive that resulted in a 39-yard Tyler Bass field goal to again make it a two-score game (20-11) and more importantly took more than six minutes off the clock.
Beasley finished as the game's leading receiver with 110 receiving yards on 10 receptions, his fourth in a Bills uniform with 10 or more catches and the 10th 100-yard receiving day of his career.
"We have a lot of weapons, so it makes it a lot easier to stay patient, because you know you've got other guys that are capable," said Beasley. "When they start doing some things to kind of take you out of it, it opens up things for other guys. When you have a team with so many weapons, eventually it always comes back around. Knowing that, it's easier to stay patient."
3. Run game gains traction late
The Bills wanted a more effective run game this season to keep defenses honest and not put the entire burden of scoring points on Josh Allen and the passing game. On Sunday, the run game was a struggle through the first two quarters.
Aside from a 34-yard scramble by Allen, the rushing attack was sorely absent. On Buffalo's seven other carries through the first half the Bills gained eight yards. Miami's defensive front mixed up personnel groupings, often deploying smaller, faster linebackers at the line of scrimmage and they compromised Buffalo's blocking schemes, by getting penetration and initial contact behind the line of scrimmage.
"I think we were spinning the dial a little bit trying to find answers and give Miami credit they had us a little bit off balance there in the first half," said McDermott. "They did some things, quite honestly, that they had success with in that first game, but didn't do them as much in that first game as they came out (Sunday) and did. But again, we eventually found the answer and found the rhythm and I give Brian Daboll credit as well as the entire offensive staff."
The Bills offense along with their coaching staff was able to regroup at halftime and net some positive gains over the final two quarters.
"The first half was just slow," said Dion Dawkins. "We didn't come out on fire and you could see it. But we came in the locker room and made our adjustments. We started that fire up and went out there and played that Buffalo Bills ball in the second half."
The ground game performed more consistently starting with the team's second drive in the third quarter. Zack Moss got things going with seven and 10-yard gains on the first two plays from scrimmage on that possession, but both were nullified by Miami and Buffalo penalties.
Moss got right back to work on a 1st-and-20 to pick up six. After Beasley converted a 3rd-and-14, Moss followed with a four-yard run. Allen later converted a 3rd-and-1 with a five-yard scramble. Moss added a seven-yard carry. Motor Singletary subbed in with fresh legs for a 13-yard rip to move the offense into the red zone.
A two-yard carry by Singletary put Buffalo on the Miami 14-yard line where the passing game took over and reached the end zone on Gabriel Davis' eight-yard touchdown reception.
Buffalo's ground game averaged six yards per carry on the scoring drive as they found some traction late. For the game they averaged 4.4 per carry, which was helped a great deal by Allen's 34-yard scramble in the first quarter, but the players realize there's work to do to keep defenses honest going forward.
"We know the first half – that's not up to our standard," said Allen. "We had to find a rhythm and get into it and do some of our core stuff to get us going. To that point we have to get that going earlier and find a way earlier."
"Just playing with a little bit more energy and passion," said Dawkins. "And just showing that we're not lax. Just playing with that urgency and not moseying around and just jogging. We're flying to the football and being us."
Lots of smiles and emotion from the Bills after the team completed another season sweep of Miami.