Sunday, December 22, 2013
Dolphins fail to seize playoff destiny
By James Walker
The Dolphins couldn't protect Ryan Tannehill, allowing seven sacks by the Bills.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The look on the Miami Dolphins' faces Sunday evening told the story.
The downtrodden Dolphins were mostly quiet in the locker room following their ugly, 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The players knew they blew a golden opportunity to control their own playoff destiny.
The formula was simple for the Dolphins: Beat the Bills and New York Jets in the final two games to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Instead, Miami (8-7) laid an egg at the worst possible time and was held scoreless for the first time all season.
Now Miami needs help to reach the playoffs. The Dolphins must beat the Jets in Week 17 and hope for a loss by the Baltimore Ravens, giving Miami outright ownership of the second AFC wild-card berth. If Miami and Baltimore both win, the Dolphins need the San Diego Chargers to prevail and finish 9-7, creating a three-way tie that Miami would win.
"It's extremely disappointing," Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said. "We had it and we let an opportunity pass. But it happened. So all we can do now is go back to Miami, start over and play much better at home than we did today."
There was no indication Miami would pull a no-show in Buffalo. The Dolphins were riding high off their three-game winning streak. They also were coming off their biggest win of the season, against the AFC East champion New England Patriots, and had plenty of momentum.
But none of that momentum carried over in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills (6-9), with a chance to ruin Miami's season, clearly treated this game like their Super Bowl. The Dolphins failed to match that intensity on both sides of the ball.
"I felt very good about our preparation," said a surprised Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. "I thought our guys practiced well. [They were] ahead of schedule in the practices that we had planned. I thought our attention to detail was good."
So what exactly happened to Miami?
Buffalo proved for the second time this season it's a tough matchup for the Dolphins. The Bills' biggest strength -- their defensive line -- was dominant against Miami's offensive line, which has been inconsistent this year.
The Bills sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill seven times. Miami has allowed 11 sacks over the past two games, and actually set a new franchise record for the most quarterback sacks allowed in a season with 58.
The pressure took a toll on Tannehill and Miami's offense. Tannehill threw for a season-low 82 yards, and briefly went to the sideline with an injured knee in the fourth quarter. He sat out one series before returning and said afterward that his knee is "fine" for next week.
The Bills kept bringing blitzes from different areas, and Miami failed to neutralize them.
"I don't feel at any point we were outcoached or confused up front," Tannehill said. "We identified most of the blitzes and they made some plays like that just timing [the snap]. ... They had shown those pressures throughout the year."
It wasn't just the pass protection. The Dolphins failed to establish a running game, gaining just 14 yards on 12 carries. Miami's longest run of the day was for 3 yards. Leading receiver Brian Hartline also suffered three drops that could have led to first downs.
"It wasn't our best day on offense," Philbin explained. "That's an understatement."
The Bills completed a season sweep against the Dolphins, and both losses were among the most disappointing of the season for Miami. The Dolphins fell to 2-3 against AFC East opponents this season.
Despite not controlling their destiny, the Dolphins still have a decent shot at the postseason. But after Sunday's performance in Buffalo, there isn't much optimism the Dolphins can do much damage on the road in the playoffs if they are fortunate enough to get in.
There will be nervous times with the Dolphins next week. They must take care of business on the field against the Jets, but also get help from elsewhere. This is the scenario the Dolphins put themselves in with Sunday's no-show performance.
"It's not acceptable," Philbin said of Sunday's loss. "Those are the facts. There's no sugarcoating. We're all men. That's what happened."