Why Miami Dolphins' third straight loss isn't cause for panic | Opinion
The Miami Dolphins will leave a snowstorm in Western New York with a disappointing 32-29 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
But there’s much more they can take away from their third straight loss, heading into the final three games of the season:
First, the Dolphins can compete with the Bills. A moral victory may not be what the Dolphins or their fans want to hear after Saturday night’s performance. But Miami has closed the gap on Buffalo this season, and the Dolphins will be able to embrace that thought much more than they have in years past.
“It’s a result-oriented business. But there’s good and bad from it,” coach Mike McDaniel told reporters after the loss. “We had a very good performance against a very, very good team. We almost did it.”
The Bills clinched a playoff berth with their victory Saturday night, and will likely win another division title by season’s end. But there’s a chance both teams could meet again, perhaps in the second round of the playoffs this year.
The Dolphins have three more games to crack their postseason drought. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2016.
But Miami, knowing it was a field goal away from beating the Bills in Buffalo on a wintery night, has a morale boost it can be proud of.
The Dolphins are still in contention for a playoff spot, and will be a tough out for any AFC team when the postseason begins because of their fluid offense and opportunistic defense.
“I think perspective is important, and I think there’s stuff to learn from it,” McDaniel said. “But I know the guys aspire to be great.”
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Second, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can play in the cold after all. He finished 17 of 30 for 234 yards with two touchdowns against Buffalo in the fourth cold game of his career.
Tagovailoa threw a 67-yard breakaway touchdown to Jaylen Waddle, and a 20-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill during the third quarter, when Buffalo’s offense punted the football four times.
And kicker Jason Sanders kick his third field goal to make it 29-21 Dolphins with 11:56 left in the game.
It was a statement by Miami after allowing star Bills quarterback Josh Allen to throw a touchdown pass to running back James Cook in the final seconds of the first half to take a 21-13 lead at halftime.
But the Dolphins could not stop Buffalo’s comeback after taking an eight-point lead.
Tagovailoa’s record may have fallen to 0-4 in cold games, but he was not affected by the elements, as much as he was affected by the Bills defense close to the line of scrimmage and questionable play calls in short distance late in the second half.
“I’m just really proud of our guys,” Tagovailoa said. “They came out, and the environment was electric. The atmosphere was crazy. A little chilly. But regardless of that, we played a great game.”
Added McDaniel: “We do play football in a warm-weather city, but I think we can put that to rest.”
Finally, the Dolphins might have found their groove again offensively.
A renewed commitment to the run opened up a sluggish offense coming off two lackluster performances against the 49ers and Chargers in California. Raheem Mostert finished with 136 yards rushing, and topped 100 in the first quarter, while backup Salvon Ahmed’s 11-yard touchdown run made it 14-13 with 2:59 to go.
“We really wanted to establish ourselves in the run game this game. Really, that was the game plan,” Tagovailoa said. “And we built off of that during the game.”
When the run game got going, and the Bills crowded the box with eight or nine defenders, the Dolphins were able to rely on their greatest weapons, Waddle and Hill, early in the second half.
But the Dolphins will regret their early opportunities that resulted in field goals, where Tagovailoa delivered catchable balls to receivers who were unable to come up with the big touchdowns Miami needed in this game.
“We had opportunities and we didn’t execute the way we wanted to on all our drives,” Tagovailoa said.
Allen put the game away after Sanders’ field goal, throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Dawson Knox and reaching over the goal line on the two-point conversion to tie the game at 29. And in the final minutes, Allen led the Bills all the way down the field to set up a game-winning 25-yard field goal by Tyler Bass.
“A loss is a loss,” Tagovailoa said despite his optimism.
Ice in his veins! 🥶#MIAvsBUF | #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/FacJadbh8f
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) December 18, 2022
Now, it’s a three-game season for Tagovailoa, McDaniel and the Dolphins.
They’ll host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Christmas Day, must visit the Patriots in New England on New Year’s Day, and will end their season against the Jets on Jan. 8.
Their performance against the Bills provided the luster their two-game trip in California lacked, and sets the stage for a finish that could see Miami reach the postseason for just the third time since the start of the 2002 season.
McDaniel, in his first season, wants to see his players and coaches approach their final stretch with resolve and determination.
“I’m pretty confident we’ll see it from our team,” McDaniel said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dolphins have plenty of positives to take away from loss to Bills