Historic underdogs, Dolphins embrace massive Bills playoff challenge
MIAMI GARDENS — Cornerback Keion Crossen is one of only five Dolphins to have won a Super Bowl.
Nobody expects this Dolphins team to win a Super Bowl and, really, nobody expects this Dolphins team to even keep it close in a playoff game at Buffalo on Sunday.
The Dolphins are decimated by injury at quarterback, running back, left tackle, left guard, right tackle, defensive end, cornerback and safety. They are 13.5-point underdogs, one of the biggest point spreads in NFL playoff history.
But Crossen, who has five playoff caps with the Patriots, is taking a messaging cue from Miami's coaching staff - just be the best you can in each individual moment - and sharing wise words from former teammate Julian Edelman.
"Julian told me, 'Plays are made in the regular season. Careers and names are made in the postseason,'" Crossen recalled this week. "So if you want somebody to remember you, make a play in the postseason."
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Perhaps it's a good thing that so many of the Dolphins who will play a key role on Sunday have very little experience. Perhaps a bit of naivete can be helpful with everything stacked against them.
Consider that Skylar Thompson, Jaylen Waddle, Robert Hunt, Christian Wilkins, Jaelan Phillips, Bradley Chubb, Jerome Baker, Kader Kohou and Jevon Holland have a grand total of zero playoff games played.
“It’s about time," said Miami linebacker Jerome Baker, with 81 regular-season games played over five seasons. "It’s about time. This is what you dream of. This is the opportunity you always wanted."
Many of Miami's best players are young. It is very unfortunate, of course, that 24-year-old quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) won't have the chance to gain valuable playoff repetitions.
And it's unfortunate that savvy veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater (thumb) is not ready to start, either.
Some, but few, Dolphins with playoff experience
There are nine Dolphins with five games or more of playoff experience. The key contributors in that group would include Thomas Morstead (15 games), Tyreek Hill (13), Elandon Roberts (10), Terron Armstead (9), Melvin Ingram (7), Eric Rowe (6) and Crossen (5).
As a rookie head coach, Mike McDaniel has leaned on veterans all season. And this week, veterans in that group have been alerting younger players about what to expect.
None of those players are saying playoff games are like any other.
"The speed of the game is a little bit faster," Rowe said. "Everybody goes that much harder and that much faster. Details have to be that much more precise, because the margin of error is that much smaller."
"It’s all the small intangibles that can advance you or send you home," Armstead said. "Things that we were winning in spite of, we start losing because of. So we’ve got to start – I think we’ve done a really good job these last couple of weeks locking in on a lot of those things."
"Everything is that much more important," said running back Jeff Wilson, who played in three 49ers' playoff games. "A dropped ball. Lining up. Missed Assignments. Penalties. All that type of stuff you can't afford and you can't have in games like this. Everything's faster. Everybody's on their details because everything means that much more."
Perhaps extreme familiarity with the AFC East rival Bills will limit some of the intimidation factor. But Miami is about to face one of the NFL's top teams, in freezing temperature, with the motivation of a very seriously injured teammate Damar Hamlin on their minds.
Miami is walking into a potential hornets' nest. They'll need to maintain focus and discipline and nerve when the Orchard Park crowd is most frenzied. They'll need to hope they're somehow within striking distance in the fourth quarter.
Mike McDaniel: Nothing like playoff football
“We want to make this game a fun, not-stressful game," McDaniel said. "We already have had games where we knew our season was over if we didn’t win. That should help. There’s nothing like playoff football. Once you experience it it’s the only way you want to play.”
McDaniel has success in the playoffs as a 49ers assistant.
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Sunday will be only Miami's second playoff appearance in 14 years. The only Dolphin who played in a 30-12 loss at Pittsburgh in the first round following the 2016 season is cornerback Xavien Howard.
"We got whooped. That’s what I do remember," Howard said, adding, "Opportunities like this you can't take for granted."
Miami is an extreme longshot on Sunday. Players and coaches have discussed the reality of the situation.
“This one right here will mean a lot more to me because I’ve never been an underdog,” Hill said. “In Kansas City, I was blessed to be on a real good football team. Here, it’s different. I feel like right now I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and so do the rest of the guys.”
It’s even been mentioned that in 2019, when Miami intentionally designed one of the worst all-time rosters, the club somehow pulled upsets as 17-, 14-, 11- and 17.5-point underdogs.
"The beauty of this is we’re all at the same slate," the eternally optimistic Armstead said. "We all are 0-0 in this tournament. Anything can be happen.”
McDaniel, the head coach, understands why Miami is a significant underdog at Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs' Buffalo.
"It’s a really good football team that we’re playing," McDaniel said. "So we agree with people in that regard. I’m not surprised but it’s more about playing to the best of our ability. If you’re happy with the investment you can live with the outcome, whatever it is.”
Joe Schad can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills playoff game is assumed to be lopsided