Dave Hyde: From fun to frauds, Dolphins offense has chance to change script in Kansas City

MIAMI GARDENS — The worst part wasn’t hearing Buffalo Bills tackle Dion Dawkins say afterward, “Miami is our city,” or hearing one Hard Rock Stadium employee tell another, “See you next season.”

The worst part wasn’t the zero-degree forecast in Kansas City for Saturday night’s playoff game or the fact the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs are 11-2 at home in the playoffs.

The worst part is this feeling we’ve been had this season. Tricked. Catfished even, considering The Greatest Show on Surf seen earlier this season wasn’t again recognizable while watching The Three-Plays-And-Punt Show in Sunday night’s 21-14 loss to Buffalo.

“I don’t think it’s a funk,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said of his team’s 1-5 record against winning teams. “It’s reality.”

There was this odd inversion Sunday night: Buffalo’s defense decided at halftime to dare Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins passing game to beat it. That’s what the Dolphins want, right?

“They played some more single safety to stop the run, which we were kind of anticipating,” McDaniel said.

Stop there for a moment. The Dolphins had 107 yards rushing on 17 carries for a 5.9-yard average in the first half. But rather than talking about tackling better or executing the game plan, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott wanted to stop running back De’Von Achane and open it up for Tagovailoa?

You saw what the Dolphins did against certain defenses playing single safeties this season. Zing! Hill ran past Washington for two deep touchdowns. Zing! He ran by the New York Giants for another.

Zing! The joke’s on any of us (raising my hand) who thought what the Dolphins did against bad defenses this year might translate against good defenses. Here were the Dolphins second-half possessions against Buffalo with the season on the line: Punt, punt, punt, punt, interception.

“It was just herky-jerky when you have some — we had two different penalties and then we just had misfires,” McDaniel said. “There was an incompletion that was a throw issue. There was a drop. It seemed like take a turn each drive.

Related Articles

“We weren’t able to really get the momentum of the drive going, which is what happens when myself as a play-caller decides to pass, anticipating that we have an advantageous look.”

So, this offense isn’t the Broadway show it once seemed. It’s a bully. You can sweep up what the Dolphins did against bad defenses into one pile that shows a 35.4-point average and confirms why Tagovailoa passed for a league-high 4,624 yards.

Now sweep what they did against winning teams into another pile. The Dolphins average just 17.5 points against them. Tagovailoa passed for seven touchdowns and six interceptions against them. Buffalo confirmed that again as Tagovailoa completed 17-of-27 passes for 173 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, and Hill had seven catches for 82 yards.

“We just didn’t make the best out of those opportunities when we had them,” Tagovailoa said. “Missed throw, miscommunication on some plays. You just can’t do that.”

Not having receiver Jaylen Waddle hurt the offense. No doubt. But has no other receiver developed to be a healthy part of this offense? Tight end Durham Smyth had three catches for 30 yards to be the second-most productive target Sunday. Braxton Berrios with two catches for 9 yards was the only other receiver with more than one catch.

Besides, injuries hurt this Dolphins defense more, and the defense did its part Sunday night against the best player on the field. Bills quarterback Josh Allen was a one-man game in throwing interceptions, fumbling the ball, running for first downs, throwing touchdowns and putting his fingerprints all over the night.

Allen kept both teams in the game until Buffalo’s 96-yard punt return gave him the chance to win it. And he won it. Then he ran for first downs to drain the clock until giving the ball to Tagovailoa with just under two minutes left at the Dolphins’ 37-yard line. Plenty of time to save the season, right?

It merely confirmed everything we’ve seen across the regular season. Tagovailoa threw the kind of game-ending interception a veteran quarterback shouldn’t. He’s not a finished product in his fourth season. But the Dolphins saw franchise quarterbacks the past two weeks in Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Allen. Can Tagovailoa get to that level?

“Four more,” Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs said afterward to Allen, referring to four wins to the Super Bowl.

That’s how Buffalo is thinking after a 6-6 season turned into an improbable fourth consecutive AFC East title.

The Dolphins have one more game to change back into the team they once appeared to be. It won’t be easy in Kansas City. It’s not a great Chiefs team, but it’s a tested one in a tough place to play. It will be a cold night, too, but nothing compared to the winter awaiting the Dolphins if their five-year rebuild ends up with no playoff wins.

This offense once was defined by one f-word used rarely in football: Fun. Now it has one game left to avoid being defined by another: Frauds.