Can the Dolphins still make the playoffs? The short answer is yes. Absolutely.
I’m never ever one to candy-coat losses, but I somehow feel surprisingly optimistic after this particular loss. No blowout, no cold-weather letdown, no ineffective Tua. Just a hard-fought game vs. a superior opponent on their own frozen turf.
Coming into the game, I was more concerned with how we shook off the California losses. I figured we’d lose to the Bills, but would Tua look like his September-November self? Yes! Would the defense roll over? No. Somehow, some way, the defense stopped Josh Allen much better than they stopped Mr. Irrelevant.
When the Bills jumped ahead with 14 quick points, I was looking ahead to Aaron Rodgers carving us up next week. No Packer defense and no WRs, but still it’s Aaron Rodger playing in perfect weather. I feared that for a few minutes. But now I’m more confident. As long as we bring the same A-game we showed last night, we can win out the next 3. That’s not something I was thinking last night at halftime.
We were close last night. Agonizingly close. Imagine if Trent Sherfield didn’t drop that perfectly placed TD pass that Tua sent his way. Imagine if Tua didn’t trip over his own two feet on his way to an easy first down. Imagine if the refs didn’t flag us 4 times in one series….one two separate series! Imagine if Jevon Holland didn’t get hurt right before the Bills last few plays’ before halftime, when the Dolphins were playing with literally their 5th and 6th string safeties back there and you could see confusion all over the place.
The main thing that needs to improve is Mike McDaniel. His rookie mistakes continue to show his inexperience, and it is costing us dearly.
I’ll start with his incorrect decision to go for 2 points early in the second half. We were down two. Whether we tie it up with a conversion or else kick the XP and be down one point, we still needed to score, with a lot of game left. Kick the one sure point and keep the momentum.
As soon as we failed on that conversion, I wrote in our live chatroom what would happen, because it always happens. We ended up going up by 5 points, and then a long Sanders FG put us up by 8. Still a one score game. But if McD would have kicked the XP, we’d be up 9. That is a gigantic difference. Especially psychologically to the Bills, since Allen tends to press and make mistakes when he’s trying to play from behind. (Remember the strip sack when the Bills were behind)?
No, unless there was 0:01 on the clock in the 4th quarter and we were down by two, you kick your extra points. Might not have mattered in the long run, but I do believe in getting into the opponents’ head, especially a Bills team full of bullies. A 9-point lead disheartens them. An 8-point lead merely encourages them. McDaniel’s fault.
We faced NUMEROUS third-and-short during the game, and McD’s play calls were horrible. He ran the same play twice–once to Waddle and once to Hill, where they ran a quick out pattern while blanketed by defenders. Another was a lob pass to Smythe. The 2-pt attempt was another dud. All of these short-yardage plays were designed to go to one player, and Tua had no other options nor checkdowns. If you want to hit Waddle on the quick out, then at least use play action or a fake handoff.
Better yet, why not a REAL handoff? On a night when Mostert and Ahmed were gliding through the defense with ease, why bench them on these crucial play calls?
Also, on a side note, this is something I’ve said for years and I said it a thousand times in our live chatrooms during the game…The Dolphins MUST improve their effort on 2nd down. Why do we face sooooo many third-and-shorts each week? It’s because on second down, the guys lose focus and effort. Say we rush for 5 on first down, and now it’s 2nd and 5. Invariably, a Dolphin will run a 4-yard route. Their thinking (or perhaps it’s McDaniel) is “Close enough. We can easily pick up another yard on third down.” It doesn’t work that way usually. Not for us.
Or else on that same 2nd and 5 play, we run it up the middle, and our guy gets tackled after 3 or 4 yards. Those are the plays where they must be taught to fight. Pretend your 2nd and 5 plays are really 4th and goals. Fight for that extra yard instead of thinking “Third-and-manageable is good enough.”
McDaniel’s inexperience also shined last night with his lack of leadership and knowledge of the rules. I admit, I don’t know the rule about those Buffalo animals throwing snowballs, but McDaniel should. You don’t politely ask the ref “What are the rules about fans and snowballs?” NO! Instead you pull your team off the field and demand (don’t ask) for 15 yards. Make a statement, McDaniel!
In Miami, they stop games for a single raindrop because the players’ union is afraid of nonexistent lightning. But when our Dolphins are being pelted by actual snowballs, our head coach doesn’t know the rules, and NFL Rules apologist Mike Pereria comes on and smiles makes jokes about the snowballs, while our guys are behind hit with flying ice. McDaniel showed zero leadership last night. Play strategy was adequate, but leadership was sub-par and sub-missive. He is not a lieutenant anymore; he is the supreme general.
He also blew it big time on a play when Josh Allen threw a ball to his offensive lineman. It’s either grounding or illegal touch, take you pick. Five yards and loss of down. Somehow, remarkably, the refs pretended not to see it. That’s fine. The refs clearly wanted Buffalo to win, so they looked the other way. but the cameras don’t lie.
McDaniel needed to challenge that play and back them up. How does he miss that?