ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Down but not defeated. And definitely not done.
Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins believe they’re still taking positive steps toward making the playoffs despite being in the midst of a three-game skid following a 32-29 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.
“I am a very optimistic person,” Tagovailoa said. “I would like to look at all the good that our team has displayed tonight against a really tough divisional opponent.”
Miami (8-6) remains in the the playoff hunt after entering the weekend the AFC’s sixth-seeded team in its bid to clinch its first playoff berth since 2016. In blowing a 29-21 fourth-quarter lead, the Dolphins squandered an opportunity to sweep the season series against Buffalo for the first time since 2016, and dropped three wins behind the Bills (11-3) in the race for the AFC East title.
What encouraged the Dolphins was an improved offensive performance from previous losses against the 49ers and Chargers, and taking a lead into the fourth quarter against the AFC-leading Bills.
“That is night and day from the football we have played since the bye,” coach Mike McDaniel said. “Had we played like that for the whole season, we would be feeling a lot different because it wouldn’t be the third in a row.”
The Dolphins erupted for 405 yards offense and 20 first downs against Buffalo, after combining for 527 yards and 28 first downs in their previous two outings.
With running back Jeff Wilson sidelined by an hip injury, Miami established its running game early, with Raheem Mostert gaining 101 of his 136 yards rushing in the first quarter. Salvon Ahmed added 43 yards with an 11-yard touchdown run.
“It started with the running backs,” McDaniel said. “They knew it was their time. They wanted to carry the load. They had the right mindset. And it’s a credit to the offensive line for really going after a team that plays hard, that if you don’t after, they make you look pretty stupid, pretty fast.”
The ground attack opened passing lanes for Tagovailoa, who finished 17 of 30 passing for 234 yards, with 67-yard touchdown toss to Jaylen Waddle, and a 20-yarder to Tyreek Hill that gave the Dolphins a 26-21 lead in the third quarter.
“I am really proud of the way our leaders stepped up in this game,” Tagovailoa said. “In crucial moments of the game, our leaders made big plays. Our team is taking a step in the right direction.”
On a cold night with snow falling throughout the fourth quarter, the Dolphins believe they defied those who doubted their ability to play in adverse conditions.
“After this performance, we are able to put that to rest,” Tagovailoa said. “That we can’t play cold-weather teams, that we can’t compete with cold-weather teams.”
Miami has still lost its past nine when the temperature is below 40. And they fell to 2-8 in their last 10 visits to Buffalo in December.
The game was stopped briefly in the second quarter when officials warned fans to stop throwing snowballs onto the field.
“Their fans are electric,” Tagovailoa said. “Thank god I wasn’t hit by a snowball. But there were some near misses on the sideline.”
McDaniel was mostly upbeat about the way his team finished its three-game road trip.
“Perspective is important,” McDaniel said. “There is stuff to learn from it. It’s a gut check, for sure. But I know the guys aspire to be great. Well this is one thing that only great people can do. To really go all in, really invest, spend a lot of time, do everything right, and still come up short. That’s football. That’s what happens when you play really, really good football teams on their home turf.”
Going into the final stretch of the season, McDaniel would like to see the Dolphins show better resolve in the face of adversity.
“There is no such thing as a season without adversity,” McDaniel said. “I saw heads down frustration that I don’t want to see. People are going to make plays. Especially good teams. You have to get used to really wanting to win and dealing with the consequences.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.