Bills vs. Dolphins score, takeaways: Buffalo overcomes costly mistakes, survives Miami's bid at historic upset

The Miami Dolphins, playing with seventh-round rookie and third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson, gave Josh Allen and the second-seeded Buffalo Bills a scare in the third quarter, but the preseason Super Bowl favorites recovered for a 34-31 victory on Super Wild Card Weekend to advance to the AFC divisional round. They blew an early 17-0 lead, but they bounced back to take a 34-24 edge before forcing a critical turnover on downs with 2:22 left in the game. 

The Dolphins faced a third-and-one from their own 48 following a 14-yard completion from Thompson to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. They proceeded to run up the middle for no gain, and then mayhem broke loose. Miami struggled to get lined up as the play clock wound down, but the whistle to blow the play dead came a beat after Thompson snapped the ball. He got a heave off to Tyreek Hill, which was an overthrow for an incompletion. However, the play never counted, and Thompson's pass on fourth-and-6 was ripped out of tight end Mike Gesicki's hands, thwarting Miami's chance at what would have been tied for the second-largest playoff upset in the Super Bowl Era based on the spread. The close win made Buffalo the first favorite of more than 10 points in the wild-card round, since 1978, to not cover the spread. 

The Bills entered the game Sunday as 14-point favorites, the largest in wild-card round history, and they looked like it early as they rattled off 17 consecutive points: an Allen touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox, a 12-yard rushing score from running back James Cook and a 33-yard field goal by kicker Tyler Bass. The second touchdown came after an interception of Thompson by safety Dean Marlowe, filling in for the injured Damar Hamlin. 

However, after that run by Buffalo, the Dolphins put together a 17-0 run of their own to tie the game right before the half. The bulk of those points came thanks to two interceptions that Miami was able to force off Allen. After a ball bounced off Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley's chest and landed into the arms of Dolphins safety Jevon Holland, Thompson was able to connect with tight end Mike Gesicki for a touchdown that helped tie the game along with a Tyreek Hill two-point conversion. As we've seen with this Bills offense before, however, you can't leave it any time. After Miami tied the game with 33 seconds left in the half, Buffalo marched 54 yards down the field and retook the lead, 20-17, thanks to a Tyler Bass field goal. 

After a Dolphins three-and-out to begin the second half, Allen was overrun by the Dolphins' blitz, and he was strip-sacked by Miami safety Eric Rowe, causing the football to roll down near the goal line. Defensive tackle Zach Sieler scooped up the loose ball and stumbled into the end zone for the score. That sequence gave the seventh-seeded Dolphins the 14-point underdogs, their first lead --24-20 -- after trailing 17-0. Sieler's fumble return touchdown was the first one in Dolphins playoff history.

That lost fumble marked Josh Allen's first game with three turnovers -- two interceptions and a lost fumble -- since Week 10 against the Vikings, a 33-30 overtime loss. The Bills entered Sunday 29-1 in Josh Allen starts, including the playoffs, when leading by 17 or more points. That lone loss was that same home game versus the Vikings in Week 10. However, thanks to Allen, that record improved to 30-1. 

He eventually got up off the mat and bounced back to throw consecutive touchdowns, a six-yard score to the recently reacquired Beasley and a 23-yard strike to Gabe Davis that put the Bills on top 34-24. Allen finished with 352 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 23 of 39 passing, which gave him his fourth career playoff game with over 300 yards. Everyone else in Bills history has combined for four such games. An impressive effort for the preseason NFL MVP favorite since the Dolphins had one of their best defensive outings of the year, tying their season-highs in sacks (five) and takeaways (three). 

Thompson led the Dolphins on one more scoring drive after going back down by 10 points: an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Jeff Wilson Jr. Thompson, the 247th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, ended his playoff debut with 220 passing yards, the seven-yard touchdown pass to Gesicki, and two interception on 18 of 45 passing. While those numbers aren't anything to celebrate on the surface level, the rookie garnered praise for his efforts from Allen -- the desired end result for any young, mobile quarterback with a cannon for an arm but could use some improvement in the accuracy department. 

"I thought he played pretty well," Allen said of Thompson, per "He gave them a shot to win the game and that's all that matters."

Why the Bills won

Josh Allen made the key throws when they needed him to in the end. Losing the turnover battle, 3-2, is usually a recipe for disaster, but Allen didn't panic. It took a little while, Buffalo's first two drives after going down 24-20 were punts, but Allen leading consecutive touchdown drives to end the third quarter settled his teammates and Bills Mafia down. Going back up 34-24 allowed the Bills defense to get back to teeing off on Thompson. The Bills' composure defensively when the Dolphins were making their final attempt at the go-ahead score was also huge as Miami couldn't get lined up properly when it mattered most.

Why the Dolphins lost

The Dolphins' offensive procedural failures led to two wasted timeouts and a delay of game on the most important play of the game, a fourth-and-1 that turned into fourth-and-6. All of those mistakes came in the fourth quarter and snowballed into a heartbreaking loss for a team that was initially thought to have no business competing with the high-powered Bills score for score. 

Thompson's second interception midway through the third quarter unofficially killed the upset for Miami as Buffalo was in the end zone for the first of Allen's two touchdowns in a row five plays later on a 6-yard touchdown to Cole Beasley. That sequence lost the Dolphins the lead for good. 

Turning point 

Thompson's second interception mentioned above serves as Sunday afternoon's turning point. The Dolphins led 24-20 and had the opportunity to stretch the lead to 11 or seven points at the very least with another score. The broadcast cut to a deflated Josh Allen sitting on the bench. Then, Thompson looked like a seventh-round rookie is expected to in their playoff debut, and he made a killer mistake, underthrowing an open Trent Sherfield. 

Play of the game

The Dolphins' strip-sack, scoop-and-score that gave them a 24-20 lead, their only one of the game, to begin the third quarter stands as the play of the game. Following a Dolphins three-and-out, it felt like the Bills were going to score another touchdown to go up double-digits and put the game out of reach early in the second half. However, a safety blitz by Miami led to Eric Rowe catching Allen by surprise, which allowed him to knock the football free. Defensive tackle Zach Sieler scooped up the loose ball and stumbled into the end zone for the score, marking the first touchdown of his career as well as the first playoff fumble recovery touchdown in Dolphins history. This play set the tone for the rest of the game that Miami wasn't going to just roll over and that the Bills would have to come and take the victory from them. 

What's next

With the win, the Bills are in wait-and-see mode in terms of who their next opponent will be in the divisional round. If the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens knock off the third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals Sunday Night, the fourth-seeded, AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars will head to Buffalo. 

However, should the Bengals take care of business against the Lamar Jackson-less Ravens, they will face the Bills in the divisional round next week. The Dolphins are still searching for their first playoff win since the 2000 season, the second-longest active drought ahead of only the Detroit Lions, who have been waiting since the 1991 season. 

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With the Bills surviving Super Wild Card Weekend, they will now either play the Jaguars or Bengals in the divisional round. If Baltimore upsets Cincinnati, Jacksonville will travel to Buffalo and the Ravens will play the Chiefs. If the Bengals win, they'll visit the Bills and the Chiefs will host the Jags.


And that'll do it. The officials say Singletary met the line to gain, so Buffalo will escape with a win. 


This is going to be a close spot. It looks to my eye that Singletary got there. 


Buffalo has a major stop on fourth down and it looks like the Bills may survive a wild game at Highmark Stadium. 


Simple unawareness of the play clock has been an issue all game long for Miami and it just reared its head at the WORST time. 


Jaylen Waddle is starting to show up big. After going without a catch for most of this game, he now has three grabs for 44 yards. 


Skylar Thompson was 0-11 passing 15+ yards downfield prior to Jaylen Waddle's 25-yard catch.


Wow! Waddle comes down with a tremendous catch on third-and-10. Officials ruled that he made a football move before going out of bounds so that bobble out of bounds need not apply. 


Tyreek Hill saved what would have been another pick by Elam. 


Josh Allen almost with another killer turnover. Bradley Chubb forces a fumble off Allen, but the Bills were able to recover. Buffalo punts the ball away back to Miami. 


Tremendous catch by Shakir for 33 yards on third-and-1. Eliminates a potential three-and-out by Buffalo and keeps the clock churning in favor of the Bills. 


Oh man! Buffalo just bailed out the Dolphins by calling that timeout on fourth down. 


That's Waddle's first catch of the day and the Dolphins find themselves facing a fourth down situation. 


Three-and-out that lasted less than a minute?!? Can't have that. 


What is Buffalo doing with these play calls? Two deep shots? You have the lead. Run the football and bleed some clock. 

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