Dolphins lose to Bills on Tua’s late interception, miss out on division title and travel to Kansas City in playoffs

MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins missed out on a chance at their first AFC East title in 15 years and to be at home for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Dolphins offense came up empty in the second half against the Bills, and two fourth-quarter touchdowns led Buffalo to a 21-14 win Sunday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

Miami, which held a three-game lead in the division with five weeks remaining in the regular season, ends with an equal 11-6 record to the Bills. Since Buffalo swept the season series, it wins the tiebreaker.

The Bills won the division for the fourth consecutive season. They get the No. 2 seed in the AFC and host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins drop all the way to No. 6 in the conference, and that means a trip to frigid Kansas City for a date with the defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs in the wild-card round. Kickoff from Arrowhead Stadium will be at 8 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s very frustrating to all parties involved that care about the Dolphins, whether you’re a Dolphins player, support staff, coaches, fans,” coach Mike McDaniel said as Miami finished with three losses in its past five games. “But the season hasn’t ended. Right now, we’re 100 percent moving forward to the next game, which we did earn.”

The Dolphins are spending little time sulking, and they have little time before the playoffs. After Sunday night’s late finish, they prepare for a short week with travel to Kansas City leading them to a Saturday night wild-card game.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen showed his worst early and best late. He took over the game toward the end and finished 30 of 38 for 359 yards, two touchdowns and 69 huge rushing yards. His negative actions also kept Miami in the game, with two interceptions and a fumble lost.

Behind Allen and his knack for sustaining drives, Miami was outgained, 473-275, while losing time of possession, 38:07-21:53.

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“I think he made his money on keeping the offense out on the field and earning long drives with some third-down plays,” McDaniel said. “There are not many people that do some of the things he does. He played like he usually plays.”

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was intercepted by Bills safety Taylor Rapp on Miami’s final chance. It was one of two interceptions for him, as he finished 17 of 27 for 173 yards.

“Any time we lose it’s never a good feeling,” Tagovailoa said. “The stakes are high every time we play, so we understand what was at stake tonight and we just didn’t come through and it started with me.”

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill, in a tumultuous week where his home caught fire, finished with seven receptions for 82 yards and caught Tagovailoa’s touchdown pass.

Running back De’Von Achane had a 25-yard rushing touchdown among his 56 rushing yards. He and Jeff Wilson Jr. combined for 101 rushing yards, but 94 of those came in the first half. The Bills devoted an extra defender in the box in the second half, and with the run game neutralized, Miami had three three-and-outs in the second half. The team finished 4 of 10 on third downs.

The Dolphins led by a score to start the fourth quarter, but punt returner Deonte Harty’s 96-yard touchdown after fielding a punt at his own 4-yard line turned momentum Buffalo’s way.

“That was a huge momentum swing that hurt us,” McDaniel said. “Points were at premium at that point in the game, so it was a gut punch for sure.”

As Miami went three-and-out on three of its first four drives of the second half with just one first down on those series, the Bills then scored again to take the lead. They went 74 yards in eight plays, capping the drive with a 5-yard touchdown from Allen to tight end Dawson Knox.

“Just weren’t able to get first downs and sustain drives to get more plays, more reps, more opportunities,” Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead said.

Protecting the 21-14 advantage deep into the fourth quarter, Bills coach Sean McDermott opted to sneak Allen up the middle to convert a fourth-and-1 from Buffalo’s own 35-yard line and run more clock. Allen then rumbled to scramble for a first down on third-and-13 to further extend the drive, but Miami got the ball back with 1:53 remaining at its own 37-yard line needing a touchdown as Tagovailoa threw the final interception looking for wide receiver Chase Claypool in double coverage.

“They played two-man. Tried to anticipate the throw and throw and that was the result,” Tagovailoa said.

Miami took the 14-7 lead with 1:43 left in the first half as Tagovailoa found Hill at the pylon, winning on a simple out move against Bills cornerback Christian Benford.

The Bills were driving to finish the first half, but like the way their 2022 visit to Hard Rock Stadium ended, they ran out of time with an Allen passing to running back Ty Johnson in the middle of the field. He was stopped cold by linebacker Jerome Baker at the 1-yard line, and Buffalo had no timeouts to stop the clock.

The Bills were on the move again later in the third quarter, but defensive tackle Christian Wilkins had an impressive strip-sack on Allen where he came up with the football in one motion.

Buffalo had drives of 6:45, 5:04 and 7:30 that came up empty Sunday, plus the missed attempt right before half.

The Dolphins struck first after a scoreless opening period. Achane took a pitch to the right, cut upfield off a seal block by tight end Durham Smythe and juked safety Jordan Poyer as Armstead was up the field for the last block he needed for a 25-yard touchdown.

The Bills answered later in the second quarter. An Allen pass that was tipped by the goal line by outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel ended up in the hands of Trent Sherfield, a Dolphin last season, in the back of the end zone.

The Bills’ first two drives ended in Allen interceptions in the end zone, although they were very different from one another.

His first interception spoiled a 12-play, 79-yard drive where there appeared to be a miscommunication on a route between he and wide receiver Gabe Davis. It resulted in Allen throwing a pass right to cornerback Eli Apple, who dove for it in the end zone and decided to take it out of the end zone when he had better field position accepting the touchback.

On Buffalo’s second series, Allen threw to the end zone on a fourth-and-2 at the Miami 35-yard line, and safety DeShon Elliott, playing through a calf injury sustained in pregame warmups intercepted it in the end zone. The Dolphins sacrificed field position there, too, 15 yards by not knocking down the fourth-down pass.

Miami’s first possession also resulted in an interception. Tagovailoa took a deep shot on third-and-7 near midfield, and Benford came over from the other side of the field to pick it off, working similar to a punt for the Dolphins.

The Dolphins, already thin on the edge, lost Van Ginkel during the game to a foot injury. Cameron Goode, another outside linebacker, exited on the Harty punt return touchdown to a knee injury.

That left Miami, with Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips out for season, with Melvin Ingram and Emmanuel Ogbah as edge rushers for the remainder of the game. Ingram had a sack on Allen earlier in the game and split another sack with defensive tackle Zach Sieler.