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Tua Tagovailoa went down with a rib injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. Without him, the Miami Dolphins laid a total egg Sunday, losing to the Buffalo Bills, 35-0, in their home opener at Hard Rock Stadium.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Dolphins’ blowout loss in Miami Gardens:
1. Tagovailoa goes down. It ultimately might wind up being all that matters from this loss and it dictated the way everything went Sunday. The Dolphins’ offense didn’t do anything while Tagovailoa was on the field, but it didn’t do anything after he left, either, because...
2. The Dolphins failed inside the 35 over and over. In the first half, Miami made four trips inside Buffalo’s 35-yard line and didn’t score a single point. The Dolphins got two takeaways in Bills territory and wasted both of those chances, too.
After Miami went three-and-out on Brissett’s first possession, Miami’s defense forced Buffalo running back Zach Moss to fumble and took over at the Bills’ 42. A taunting penalty eventually pushed the Dolphins to the 30 before Brissett threw an interception to waste Miami’s first good scoring chance.
The Dolphins’ next possession was their best of the game. Brissett led Miami from its own 21 all the way into the red zone before wide receiver Jakeem Grant fumbled at the 6-yard line as he tried to fight for a first down on third-and-6.
The Dolphins got another turnover to start their next drive at Buffalo’s 24 and this time running back Malcolm Brown only picked up 1 yard on fourth-and-2 from the 16. On Miami’s final drive of the half, Brissett again led the Dolphins down to the Bills’ 31 before he got called for intentional grounding to push Miami out of field goal range. Miami badly missed Tagovailoa in the red zone, which is where he’s at his best.
3. The offense let down the defense. Buffalo’s two touchdown drives in the first half went for 46 and 52 yards. The Dolphins came up with two takeaways and totaled 10 yards on five plays off of them. The Bills had 152 yards at halftime — star quarterback Josh Allen only had 62 through the air — and 46 of them came on a single rush by Buffalo running back Devin Singletary.
Miami’s defense was so good it kept the Dolphins in the game until the fourth quarter, even though they got shut out. The Bills had only 245 yards at the start of the fourth and finally put away Miami on a touchdown by Buffalo running back Zach Moss to go up 28-0 with 13:38 remaining.
It was another touchdown after a failed fourth-down conversion, too. The Dolphins went 0 of 4 on fourth downs and the Bills scored touchdowns off two of them. As for why the offense struggled, there were two obvious reasons.
4. The offensive line is a problem. Even before Jesse Davis exited with a knee injury at halftime, Miami’s offensive line was abysmal. The return of tackle Austin Jackson, who didn’t play last week after missing a week of practice with COVID-19, didn’t help.
The line got Tagovailoa hurt when Buffalo defensive end A.J. Epenesa got through untouched to hit Tagovailoa and injure his ribs, and the Bills already had two sacks before that when a pair of defensive backs got through untouched on disguised blitzes.
Miami allowed six sacks and 12 quarterback hits. The run blocking didn’t fare much better: The Dolphins averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, failed on a fourth-and-2 run and didn’t even have the confidence to run the ball on their other two fourth-and-2 attempts.
With Tagovailoa now dealing with injury concerns, the Dolphins need to figure out what to do with this group quickly or it could derail their season.
5. The wide receivers cost Miami points. Just look at the Dolphins’ fith drive: They were down 14-0 and Brissett actually had them driving to potentially score. From the 33, he heaved a pass right into DeVante Parker’s outstretched hands, but the wide receiver dropped the touchdown in the end zone. Four plays later, Brissett made another good throw to Albert Wilson on a curl and the wide receiver dropped a sure first down. On the very next play, Grant fumbled and Miami blew its best scoring chance of the game.
6. The wide receivers could get better, though. Rookie Jaylen Waddle should keep improving and fellow wide receiver Will Fuller V could still rejoin the team at some point, although the Dolphins have been cagey when discussing the personal issue that kept him inactive Sunday.
Speaking of Waddle...
6. Waddle looked like a rookie. Yes, he led Miami with six catches and 46 receiving yards, but Waddle also dropped multiple passes and muffed a punt. He’s not the difference maker the Dolphins hoped he would be — at least, not yet.
7. The penalties were uncharacteristic. Another example of how much went wrong for Miami: The Dolphins committed nine penalties for 83 yards — the worst marks of coach Brian Flores’ tenure.
8. The Bills still own Miami. This is now six straight losses for the Dolphins against Buffalo. Last year, the Bills routed Miami to keep the Dolphins out of the playoffs and now they’ve made a statement when Miami had a chance to take an early two-game lead. Buffalo has outscored the Dolphins, 91-26, in the last two.
10. Tagovailoa’s diagnosis is what really matters. Brissett was fine, but this team proved it can’t compete with the Bills without Tagovailoa. In the end, the results of Tagovailoa’s impending tests will be much more important than the results on the field Sunday.