The Buffalo Bills have secured the No. 2 seed in the AFC after a convincing 56-26 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Bills Stadium. While this win now gives Buffalo the opportunity to host multiple playoff games, this loss for Miami -- coupled with wins by Cleveland and Baltimore -- drastically hurt its chances of making the postseason and no longer controls its destiny as it closes out the 2020 regular season.
While this game ended with a combined 82 points scored, points were hard to come by at the start as the Dolphins were only able to manage a field goal through the first quarter. The second, however, was where Josh Allen -- who became the single-season passing yards leader for the Bills on Sunday -- and the offense really popped off. Buffalo totaled 28 points in the second quarter that effectively left Miami in the dust.
In one half of action, Allen completed 18 of his 25 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing an interception. Two of those passing touchdowns fell into the arms of receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who had three total scores on the day and in the opening half. The other came courtesy of an 84-yard punt return that helped put Buffalo up by 18 points with just over five minutes to go prior to the half. Matt Barkley ended up relieving Allen in the second half, but Buffalo's B Team continued to pour it on the Dolphins, outscoring them 28-20 over the final two quarters.
With no Ryan Fitzpatrick to come in and save the day, Tua Tagovailoa was the man under center throughout Sunday's loss for the Dolphins. For the first half, Miami seemed to limit him from throwing down the field, which is largely why they were held to just six points throughout the first two quarters. He finished with 361 yards passing, one touchdown pass, and three picks.
For a deeper dive into how this game unfolded, check out our takeaways below.
Why Buffalo won
The Bills didn't start this game off as you'd want, but they ended up with one of the more well-rounded wins of the year. They ran 16 plays, recorded just three first downs, threw an interception, and scored zero points in the opening quarter. However, Buffalo jumped into lightspeed in the second, rattling off 21 unanswered points and 28 total before the break. That explosion in the second quarter was enough to give Buffalo a comfortable lead and would have been enough to secure the win even without the mirroring 28 points in the second half.
The reason why this was such a well-rounded victory for Buffalo was that they were able to produce points in all three-phases. Along with Josh Allen and company lighting up the scoreboard, Isaiah McKenzie was able to take a second-quarter punt 84-yards to the house. Meanwhile, Josh Norman recorded the third pick-six of his career in the third quarter, snagging a pass intended for DeVante Parker at the Miami 11 yard line. Defensively, the Bills were able to give Tua Tagovailoa fits and were able to take advantage of a couple of poor throws and notch three interceptions. In all, Buffalo scored 28 points off four Dolphins turnovers.
As for those 56 points scored, that was the score most in franchise history.
Why Miami lost
Brian Flores and his offense seemed to limit Tua Tagovailoa to just short throws underneath and screen passes for the majority of the first half. Even as they got into spitting range of the end zone, that conservative play-calling with their rookie quarterback produced just six points. What was apparent as early as the first drive of the second half was that they should have gotten receiver DeVante Parker involved sooner. He caught just one pass for eight yards over the first two quarters but proved to be a key weapon for the Dolphins beginning in the third quarter, totaling six receptions for 108 yards in the second half. Parker also drew a DPI penalty in the end zone that set up a Miami touchdown.
While missing the Parker mismatch out of the gate was a rough blow, Tagovailoa didn't do his team any favors. The pick-six to Norman wasn't really his fault as Parker fell while running his route, but the other two turnovers were on passes that were sailing over his receivers' heads. As we noted above those turnovers proved costly as the Bills capitalized tremendously with strong field position. While this defensive unit, which was ranked as the No. 1 scoring unit in the NFL entering Week 17, was able to create at turnover to begin the game, they had no answer for Josh Allen when he was in nor the Bills' B Team with Matt Barkley under center.
Miami started the game failing to convert on any of its 10 third-down attempts and was able to secure one first down on two fourth down tries. When you're turning the ball over and not able to extend drives, it's the ideal recipe for a loss. Even if they do get into the playoffs, I'm not sure any AFC club will be particularly nervous going against them.
Let's give the punter some love! As we noted earlier, the Bills offense started this game pretty sluggishly. After a three-and-out on a drive that lasted just over 90 seconds, however, punter Corey Bojorquez booted one of the better punts of the season, falling out of bounds at the Dolphins' half-yard line.
What made this punt so impactful was that it pinned Miami in its own end zone and couldn't do anything offensively thanks to it. Tua Tagovailoa tried to run up the middle to give the Dolphins a bit more breathing room but that went nowhere, Myles Gaskin did the same thing on second down, and even as Tagovailoa completed a seven-yard pass to Lynn Bowden Jr., it was well short of the first down. Miami then punted the ball away, the Bills started with great field position and began what proved to be four-straight touchdowns drives that include an 84-yard return by McKenzie.
That positive momentum and field position created by Bojorquez's punt shouldn't go unnoticed.
Play of the game
I mean, the first half was completely dominated by Isaiah McKenzie. Prior to this epic return, he had two receiving touchdowns on the afternoon, giving him three total scores in Week 17. This 84-yard return extended Buffalo's lead to 18 points, which would only be added to prior to the half when Josh Allen completed a 32-yard pass to John Brown. Meanwhile, McKenzie finished his day with six receptions, 65 yards, and two receiving touchdowns.
According to the Bills PR staff, McKenzie is the sixth player in team history to score on offense and via return, joining Max Anderson, OJ Simpson, Greg Jones, Robb Riddick, and CJ Spiller. He's also the first NFL player with a punt return touchdown and two receiving scores since Tyreek Hill in 2018.
From here, the Bills will wait and see how the rest of the AFC playoff picture shakes out, while the Dolphins will be hoping the Jaguars upset the Colts to get them into the playoffs.