By Abe Gutierrez
Going in as road underdogs against the Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins knew that escaping out of Orchard Park with a victory was going to be no easy feat. However, no one could have predicted the type of drama Sunday’s game would generated, as these old AFC East rivals needed overtime to settle their dispute.
When it was all said and done, Adam Gase’s Dolphins improved their record to 10-5 on the season with a 34-21 win in overtime. With the victory, Miami continues to control its own destiny, as the Fins hold on to the sixth and final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoff picture.
“Somebody stepped up at the right time,” Gase said. “We needed big plays from special teams and they delivered, offense did their part, then defense comes through when we need them to come through.”
Offensively, this game turned into a barnburner, as neither team was able to stop the other from racking up the yards. The Bills and Dolphins combined for an eye-popping 1083 total yards, out of which, 494 (233 passing yards, 261 rushing yards) of those yards belonged to Miami.
In a game that went back and fourth, no one shined brighter than Fins running back Jay Ajayi. The bruising back put this team on his shoulders and carried Miami to victory with 206 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown, highlighted by a 57-yard run in the overtime session.
In only his second start in five years, Matt Moore also did his part, connecting on 53 percent of his passes by going 16-for-30 for 233 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a pick to earn a quarterback rating of 87.2.
Other Miami offensive standouts included wide receivers DeVante Parker (4 catches for 85 yards, TD), Kenny Stills (3 catches for 35 yards, TD) and Damien Williams (2 catches for 51 yards).
In many ways, this was a game to forget for the Dolphins defense, as the Bills torched them seemingly in every category. Miami gave up 29 first downs (14 on passes, 14 on rushes and one on penalty), a whopping 589 yards of total offense (272 rushing yards, 317 passing yards) and allowed Tyrod Taylor & Co. to convert on 8-of-18 third down opportunities.
Nevertheless, their bend-but-don’t-break approach was good enough to get the stops when they needed them most. Registering his 11.5 sack of the season, defensive end Cameron Wake continued his remarkable play and is a prime candidate for the 2016 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Fellow Pro Bowler defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (6 tackles: 3 solo, 3 assist) also got in on the action, while defensive end Jason Jones was responsible for Miami’s only other sack of the game.
Special Teams: A
Even though Miami’s special teams unit wasn’t perfect, they’re still deserving of a good grade. After missing a field goal, Andrew Franks redeemed himself in two separate occasions. Not only did the Carmel, California native kick the game-winner in overtime, but with time running out, Franks nailed a career-high 55 yard boot that sent this game into overtime.
“I was just glad it wasn’t 60 [yards],” Gase said of Franks’ game-tying field goal. “It was close enough, I’ve seen him make them in practice all the time and he hit it just good enough.”
Kick returner Jakeem Grant also deserves to be noted, as his 41-yard return put Miami in a position to move the ball and tie things up before the end of regulation. Punter Matt Darr was also on his game. The Pro Bowl snub punted the ball five times for a average of 46 yards per kick, four that were nicely placed inside the Bills’ 20-yard line and a long of 70 yards.
Gase continued to state his case for NFL Coach of the Year, as the Fins went into a place that hadn’t been kind to them over the years and played an all-around game. Everyone was ready to go and when the going got tough, this team rose to the occasion, on every front.
Offensively, Moore was once again prepared to pull the trigger when needed, and the way Miami’s coaches utilized Ajayi in this game was simply masterful. Defensively, Miami got the stops when they needed them most, and the play of the special teams could have been the difference.
Up Next: Fins close regular season at home versus Patriots
After taking care of business in Buffalo, the Dolphins return home for the regular season finale. Standing in the way of their first playoff appearance in eight years will be none other than Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the mighty New England Patriots. This contest is scheduled for Sunday, Jan.1 at 1 p.m. ET from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.