Sal's Sticks: Bills at Dolphins

The Bills come up just short, falling to 4-8 on the season

Sal Capaccio
December 02, 2018 - 8:34 pm

Photo: Jasen Vinlove - USA TODAY Sports

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The Buffalo Bills fell to 4-8 on the 2018 season after a heartbreaking and frustrating loss to the Miami Dolphins, 21-17 at Hard Rock Stadium.

As always after a loss, we start off with the negatives of this game:

 

BEHIND THE STICKS

  • Penalties

Far too often this has been an issue and written on this side of the Sticks this season. No doubt there were several calls that were questionable, to say the least (see below), but even with that said, 13 penalties for 120 yards is just unacceptable, and several of those were critical blows to either the offense or defense.
 

  • Officiating

The officiating in this game was some of the most inconsistent and poor as I’ve seen in my five years as a sideline reporter, and those inconsistencies and poor calls went both ways. Both teams had gripes at various times. The Bills were flagged 13 times for 120 yards, while the Dolphins had eight penalties for 89 yards go against them. A total of 21 penalties for a total of 209 yards called in the contest. Several of the more questionable ones were huge that had big impacts on the game at those times. Roughing the passer. Pass interference. Unsportsmanlike conduct for, what seemed like, a simple celebration. It wasn’t the kind of performance the league office will use as a positive example for others on how to call a game, that’s for sure.
 

  • Stephen Hauschka

This may be the first time “Hausch Money” has appeared on the negative side of the ledger. He’s often on the positive side because he’s been so good this season, but he was off Sunday, missing an extra-point after the first touchdown, and then a 55-yard field goal attempt (not an easy kick for anyone of course) later that, if he had converted, would have allowed the Bills to kick another field goal to win the game instead of having to go for a touchdown.  
 

  • Dolphins' first drive

The Bills won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half, so they essentially chose to start the game on defense, wanting to set the tone and get the ball back right away. Neither happened as they allowed Miami to march right down the field and score a touchdown on a 75-yard drive that included five first downs.
 

  • Run blocking 

Not good enough. Again. The Bills’ rushing numbers were terrific statistically, gaining 198 yards on 31 carries as a team for an average of 6.4 yards a pop, but quarterback Josh Allen accounted for most of that and mostly on scrambles. Outside of Allen, the Bills ran for a total of 63 yards on 22 carries. LeSean McCoy had his share of nice runs, but overall there just wasn’t much room to run the ball.
 

  • Allen-Jones miss

It turned out to be a big play in the game. Facing a 3rd-and-6 at the Dolphins’ 14-yard line, Allen saw wide receiver Zay Jones break free in the end zone. He expected Jones to settle down in that open spot and threw it there, but Jones expected Allen to throw it to where he was going, hitting him on the move. The miscommunication cost them a would-be touchdown and the Bills had to settle for a field goal instead.
 

  • Red zone defense

The Dolphins were inside the Bills’ 20-yard line three times and converted on each one of those trips into touchdowns. Holding them to a field goal on just one of those red zone trips would have given the Bills a chance to win the game with just a field goal of their own on the final drive.
 

  • First half passing game

Whether it was Josh Allen being inaccurate, the offensive line not protecting well enough, or receivers not getting open, the passing game in the first half was mostly non-existent for the Bills. Allen finished the first 30 minutes only 5-for-11 for 52 yards, including one touchdown and one interception. He started the game completing only one of his first six passes for negative-6 yards.
 

  • The last offensive play

There’s been a lot of debate since the game ended about the last play and exactly what happened and who was to blame. From my perspective, Allen didn’t have to run around the way he did, but considering how good he is at extending the play, buying time, and giving his receivers a chance to get open, I also understand him wanting to do that. He threw a pass that wasn’t terrific, but certainly gave tight end Charles Clay a chance to catch it. Clay didn’t come down with it after diving forward and extending his arms instead of just corralling it and making sure he had possession. There was a lot that happened on the play, and it just wasn’t good or clean from the start.

 

AHEAD OF THE STICKS

  • QB Josh Allen

He wasn’t perfect, and the way he started the game it looked like he was headed to the wrong side of this column. However, after a 1-for-6 start for negative-6 yards passing, Allen then went 17-for-27 for 237 yards, including a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Of course his running is, again, what made headlines, taking off nine times for an eye-popping 135 yards, breaking his own franchise record set just last week for yards rushing by a Bills’ quarterback in a single game. The rookie still took off too early at times instead of seeing the play develop and making a pass, and he missed a couple throws he arguably should have had. However, he made several “money” throws and displayed incredible athleticism throughout the day the way he was able to get away from defenders and keep plays alive.   
 

  • WR Zay Jones

The second-year wideout had his best day as a pro. He had good, not great numbers, hauling in four catches for 67 yards, but added two touchdowns and a two-point conversion catch and run, becoming the first Bills pass catcher to have two touchdowns in a game since Clay did it in December of 2016. Jones made a great play to keep both feet inbounds on his first touchdown. He then caught a dart over the middle and turned upfield, running through a couple tackles for his second touchdown. He had a great effort on a back-shoulder throw on the Bills’ final drive, but the catch on the field was ultimately overruled by officials, who said the ball touched the ground before he could secure it. The above miscommunication not withstanding, Jones is starting to become a legitimate No. 1 option for Allen as the two are developing very good chemistry together.
 

  • P Matt Darr

Darr’s debut in a Bills’ uniform was a good one. His first punt was a boomer, hanging high in the air and traveling 53 yards to the Miami seven-yard line. He averaged 45.8 yards on four punts, pinning the Dolphins inside their 20 on half of them. In fact, following punts, the Dolphins started drives at their own 13, 13, 22, and 23-yard lines.
 

  • Defense after first drive

As noted above, the Dolphins went right down the field on the Bills on the opening drive of the game. After that, the Bills’ defense really put the clamps down, holding Miami to a total of only 100 yards the rest of the game, including sacking Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times for 22 yards in losses. The Bills out-gained the Dolphins 415 to 175 for the game.
 

  • Third down defense

Miami converted only two third downs the entire game, going 2-for-9 overall (22%).
 

  • Run defense

After getting gashed last week by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Bills defense had a terrific bounce-back performance, holding the Dolphins to a total of 60 yards rushing and only 2.6 yards a carry.
 

  • Bills’ safeties

The Buffalo coaching staff must have seen something on film they felt they could take advantage of because they really got their safeties involved in this game from the start, including lots of blitzing from the group. At the end of the day, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Rafael Bush combined for 12 tackles, including two for losses, a sack, two quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, and an interception.  
 

  • LB Matt Milano

The second-year linebacker was all over the field for the Bills, continuing his excellent season. Some of the plays Milano made won’t show up in the stat sheet, like reading the pulling guard, filling the hole, and causing the running back to cut back to other defenders for no gain, but he also finished as the team’s leading tackler with eight stops, including two for losses, and added a quarterback hurry, as well.
 

  • DE Trent Murphy

Murphy, once again, proved that, when healthy, he can have a big impact on the game. He harassed Tannehill several times, collecting a sack, two quarterback hurries, and one of his two tackles was for a loss.

 

THE BIG PICTURE

This was a pretty frustrating game for Bills fans to watch from the inconsistent and poor officiating, including several big, questionable calls that hurt their team, to the final offensive play they could have made for the win. It was also a game that they can continue to be more excited by what they saw from their rookie quarterback, Josh Allen, especially in the second half, and even more specifically in the fourth quarter when the Bills needed him most.  

Maybe it’s because I’m on the sidelines at field level and see things a bit differently than most. Maybe it’s because I just have so many other past quarterbacks in my head that I remember and automatically (for right or wrong) compare him to, but from my vantage point, Allen was generally really good throwing the football once again, building on his performance from last week against the Jaguars. Of course there were mistakes. He ran too early sometimes. He threw a few errand balls. Just remember he started his seventh game ever as a pro, and it looks to me like he’s just getting better and better, and the team is trusting him more and more.

The goal of the team and organization is to win every game, but for many Bills fans, they got the best of both worlds Sunday. Their young quarterback took another positive step and they didn’t hurt their draft position with a “meaningless” win. For some, Allen still didn’t do enough and missed too many plays for them to be optimistic about him. Many of those people made up their minds about him a long time ago and won’t move off that position, or will take a long time to do so. I liked what I’ve seen for two straight weeks now, and if the rest of this season is “All About Allen”, there are a lot of positives to come away with Sunday.

If nothing else, Allen is giving us something to look forward to, watch, and talk about leading up to each week and then every game. He’s exciting. He’s still polarizing both locally and nationally. He also led the Bills offense to 400 yards on the road, which is only the second time this season they passed that mark and the first with Allen as their quarterback.

The playoffs most likely weren’t happening for this team before Sunday. They probably had to win out and get help along the way. It’s almost a certainty now with this loss. So a lot of the attention will start being placed on what their draft position will be and watching young players the rest of the season. There are a lot of them who deserve our attention these last four games, but it’s Allen who’s starting to captivate our attention. He has four more games to show the organization and fans what he can do and give everyone an indication of what the team may or may not have in their hopeful franchise quarterback.

When I started writing this column, I was still frustrated with how that game was called and the ending for the Bills. Now, as I just wrote those last few paragraphs, suddenly I’m not any longer. I’m already excited and looking forward to the next game, at home against the New York Jets next Sunday.

That’s because of Allen.

Consider this your invitation to join me on a fun ride the final month and seeing what it holds for him.
 

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