MIAMI GARDENS — The lasting image of this game could have been a Dolphins punt gone horribly awry for a safety, qualifying for the blooper hall of fame.
How did the Dolphins win this thing? How did everything that was supposed to go so right not go right? And how did everything that was going wrong suddenly iron itself out in those manic closing minutes?
5 takeaways from the win: Dolphins hold off Bills 21-19 to take control of AFC
Control the clock, but not the score: Frustrating day for Buffalo Bills players and coaches fighting heat, cramps, mistakes
Take a deep breath. Forget that every statistic under the sun points to the Bills walking out of Hard Rock Stadium with a win Sunday.
Dolphins 21, Bills 19. That’s all that matters.
Check that. Three-and-0 — or, if you prefer, 3-and-oh! — that counts, too.
A Dolphins team that was supposed to be lucky to split its first four games is one win away from sweeping them. Last week, the Dolphins broke records with that wild comeback against the Ravens. This time, they outlasted the heat and the cramps and still found a way to hang on.
That must have been what coach Mike McDaniel was referring to when he said he couldn’t have written a better script. He definitely could have written a better script for the first 3½ quarters, but to know his team has been tested in three different ways this season and passed every single final exam — how precious is that?
“I learned a lot about the resolve (of the team),” McDaniel said. "You don’t know until you have it happen."
Miami Dolphins (3-0) are atop the entire AFC
Lessons learned these past three weeks will help these Dolphins down the road. As for today, the rewards aren’t bad: The Dolphins aren’t just leading the AFC East, they’re leading the entire AFC.
What’s next? Mercury Morris and his 1972 teammates in a quandary over whether it would be proper to have a champagne toast when this team finally loses?
These are three nemesises — if that’s a word — the Dolphins have knocked off. The Bills came in aiming for their eighth consecutive victory over Miami. Instead, the Dolphins chalked up their eighth consecutive win at Hard Rock Stadium, something they’d never done.
In the mere months McDaniel has been on the job, this team has grown faster than anyone had a right to expect. Or most anyone.
“No, expectations haven’t been raised, haven’t changed,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “For us, this is what we believe. We believed in each other. We believed in ourselves. It might be new to a lot of the people that are watching.”
If you want to get technical, what’s new to most of us is Sunday’s recipe for beating the Bills: Give up 400 yards to Josh Allen. Get trounced in yardage (497 to 212), number of plays run (90 to 39) and time of possession (40:40 to 19:20). And don’t worry — the list of ugly stats is way longer than that. It’s what you do with all those plays and all that possession that counts, and one sign hinting that the Dolphins survived is that despite the offense never being on the field, it managed 5.4 yards per play to Buffalo’s 5.5.
In the second half alone, Buffalo rattled off a 20-play drive. Only managed a field goal, though.
On the next possession, the Bills drove down the field before Tyler Bass missed his first field-goal try of the season. Speaking of firsts, the Bills then found themselves trailing for the first time in 2022 on the next series, which saw Miami come out of its funk and finally start to take advantage of a Bills secondary missing all four starters. Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle for strikes of 32 and 45 yards to set up a 2-yard TD run by Chase Edmonds for a 21-17 lead.
After the two-minute warning, the Dolphins were sitting pretty until Trent Sherfield felt a sting that might mean he won’t be sitting for days. Thomas Morstead’s punt out of his end zone smacked Sherfield right in his, well, end zone and awkwardly ricocheted through the end zone for a safety. Ex-Jets QB Mark Sanchez — he of Butt Fumble fame — couldn’t resist tweeting about the newest piece of comedy.
Victory wasn’t secured until a yeoman’s effort by Melvin Ingram on the final gasp of the afternoon. After just missing a sack on Allen, Ingram followed Allen’s short pass to Isaiah McKenzie, finally tracking down McKenzie 12 yards downfield. The key: Ingram made sure he tackled McKenzie in bounds, allowing the final seconds to expire.
“You can't tell me nothing bad about Melvin Ingram ever in life after seeing what he did on that last play,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “He has the ultimate respect and an 11-year pro, beating a rusher, missing a sack, then making a play 10-15-20 yards down the field. That's just a dawg mentality. That's leadership. That’s want-to. That’s will.”
Christian Wilkins: We get only 12 hours to celebrate this one
Wilkins, a team captain, famously insists teammates observe the 24-hour rule, which means after a win or a loss, absorb it for only a day and then move on.
“No 24-hour rule — it’s a 12-hour rule,” Wilkins said, mindful that the next game is a Thursday night affair at Cincinnati. It’s no secret that Thursday night games test road teams because they effectively have one fewer day to prepare.
Sounds like another test for this team, yes?
“Our goals are bigger than going through and beating the Bills,” Wilkins said. “So this is just a stepping stone to where we want to go.”
The mighty Buffalo Bills are a stepping stone to the Dolphins.
Think about that.
Think about 3-0.
And, even if the players aren’t doing it, you might want to think about resetting where you think this team can go.
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Dolphins lead AFC after win vs Buffalo Bills