No Miami Dolphins player, perhaps other than rookie Tua Tagovailoa, could be more elated about Ryan Fitzpatrick’s comeback on Saturday in Las Vegas than cornerback Byron Jones.
Before Fitzpatrick’s head was yanked to the side and his pass to receiver Mack Hollins with 19 seconds left put Miami in game-winning field goal range, Jones was on the wrong end of two crucial defensive plays that nearly dealt a severe blow to Miami’s playoff hopes.
Jones, Miami’s highest-paid player after signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal this past offseason, gave up an 85-yard touchdown to Raiders receiver Nelson Agholor that gave Las Vegas a 22-16 lead with 3:34 left in the game.
Maybe, Agholor got away with a slight push to create some separation before he caught the football around midfield and galloped past safety Bobby McCain into the end zone.
But Jones said Monday: “I’ve got to do a good job on staying on top of the receiver.”
On the Raiders’ next drive, after Fitzpatrick found running back Myles Gaskin for a 59-yard touchdown that gave Miami a 23-22 lead, Jones was called for defensive pass interference after tugging on Agholor inside the 20-yard line.
The contact may be questionable to some but was apparent enough for officials to call the penalty in a big moment.
“[The referee] said I grabbed the receiver from the front and pulled him back from his shoulders,” Jones said of the crucial mistake.
“In those situations, I pride myself on being poised in trying to go up and get the ball. So, I’ve got to be better in that way.”
Thankfully for Jones and for the Dolphins, the Raiders left 19 seconds on the clock after kicking their 22-yard field goal which gave them a 25-23 lead. Kicker Jason Sanders’ 44-yard kick with one second left propelled the Dolphins to their 10th victory of the season.
And Miami (10-5) needs a win on the road against the Buffalo Bills this Sunday to secure the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2016.
“[Those were] calls that could go either way. We were able to overcome them,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Sunday.
“I have a lot of confidence in Byron. He’s played well all year. Thankfully we were able to overcome those two situations. But yeah they were — both of them could’ve gone either way. We were able to overcome it. That speaks to the kind of guys we have on this team.”
Now, Jones turns his attention to the regular-season finale with hopes to finish this game against the Bills unlike his last time against them.
Jones sustained a groin injury during their first matchup on Sept. 20. And the Bills took advantage of his replacement, 2020 first-round cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, who was playing in his second career NFL game.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw for a career high 415 yards with four touchdowns, while top receiver Stefon Diggs had eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown to hand Miami a 31-28 loss.
Allen, the seventh pick in the 2018 NFL draft, is 4-1 against the Dolphins during his young career with each win coming in his past four games against Miami.
If Miami is going to reach the postseason, it will have to get past Buffalo — regardless if Allen plays or sits to rest with a Buffalo playoff berth already clinched.
“Both of those guys have been on tear this year, along with the other receivers on the crew, especially [Cole] Beasley,” Jones said of Allen, Diggs, and the Bills’ slot receiver.
“This is a fun challenge for us as a secondary, as a defense, and really as a team. Our destiny is in our hands. Let’s go do it. That’s the goal.”