Bills survive Dolphins, eek out Wild Card win to advance to Divisional round.
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Monday, January 16, 2023
Despite a valiant effort from Miami's third string quarterback Skylar Thompson, the Buffalo Bills survived an injured Dolphins squad to advance to their third straight Divisional round.
ORCHARD PARK NY – The Buffalo Bills looked playoff built in the first quarter of Sunday afternoon’s Wild Card round against the Miami Dolphins.
Breezing off to an easy 17-0 lead by the early second quarter, it seemed as if the Bills were headed for an easy blowout win to secure a spot in the Divisional round for the third straight season.
But if Saturday night’s thriller between the Jaguars and Chargers wasn’t enough evidence that nothing is ever that easy in the playoffs, this certainly helped its case.
Miami scored 17 consecutive points in the second quarter to pull within three headed into the break before an absolute shootout of a second half that saw the Bills pull out what can only be described as a muddy 34-31 victory to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.
The Bills came out guns-a-blazing on their first offensive possessions of the contest. Following a turnover on downs to open the game, their following three possessions consisted of touchdown, touchdown, and field goal to go up comfortably early.
But there was a shift in the tide that could almost be felt throughout a packed Highmark Stadium late in the first half. Following a Josh Allen interception on the previous possession, Allen aired one downfield for rookie wideout Khalil Shakir who appeared to reel it in for a 54-yard pickup. It was exactly the play needed to remain in control for a team that, despite scoring the first 17 points of the game, had allowed Miami to stay alive with two field goals. But there was a collective sigh of disappointment as the refs determined the ball hit the ground, ruling it incomplete.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the second half picked right back up where the first left off. Miami got the ball to start the third and despite a five-and-out for the ‘Phins, Allen fumbled the ball on their first offensive play of the half for a Miami defensive touchdown.
Just like that, the Bills were down.
But it was the play from rookies that helped the Bills stay alive.
Gabe Davis and Stefon Diggs led the way for receivers. Both with 100 yard games, but rookie Shakhir had some crucial plays late. Determined to make up for his first half drop, Shakhir made his presence known with vital catches, none more important than his fourth quarter grab through traffic. Facing 3rd and 1, Allen looked Shakhir’s way as the rookie extended for an acrobatic contested grab to move the sticks. Despite the Bills being unable to capitalize on the possession, it allowed the offence to kill some more time, and gave them better field position on their ensuing drive.
Down to the final five minutes of the game, Miami needed to move the chains on a 4th and 5 in order to keep their hopes alive. The last ditch effort wouldn’t materialize with Miami quarterback Skylar Thompson failing to hit Mike Gesicki for the conversion. The Bills took over and were able to run the clock down to escape the scare.
After the game head coach Sean McDermott praised his team’s adversity, specifically the standout play from their three top rookies.
“They adjusted," McDermott said. "Kaiir, James, we're counting on those guys, and it didn't use to be that way when you're a young player. ... Now the day and age of the NFL, these young players are going to be counted on to play and contribute."
When asked specifically about the play of Shakhir, both McDermott and Allen were full of praise.
"That was a big catch, and we got a lot of trust in him," McDermott said. "He's got good hands, he's a good football player. ... I think he wanted that one from earlier in the game back."
“I know he’s a rookie, but we’ve got a lot of faith in him," Allen said.
Shakhir finished the afternoon with a total of 51 yards on just three receptions as Allen was a busy man throughout the contest. The fifth year signal caller finished 23-for-39 for 352 yards accompanied by three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Despite the shaky victory, Buffalo will look to apply their short-term memory as they now face a much tougher opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals in a rematch of the game that never happened. The Divisional round kicks off with the No.1 seed Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Jaguars on Saturday afternoon. The Bills and the Bengals will go head-to-head sunday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.