For one, brief shining moment it shimmered there like Camelot. It suggested everything the Dolphins plotted in sacrificing last year and guaranteeing $250 million to new players this offseason would materialize Sunday.
Actually, it was longer than one moment — it was a five minutes and 13 seconds drive where Ryan Fitzpatrick’s offense grabbed a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter in a way that said, “It’s OK to sit another week, Tua Tagovailoa.”
It also said, “Go earn your big money, defense.”
So what happened? Nothing happened. Nothing at all. No pass rush from all those new, pass-rushing names against Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen — just as there hadn’t been all game.
No interception by cornerback Xavien Howard on a ball that went right through his mitts and would have effectively ended the game. (A tough catch? This is the big leagues, folks.)
No one on this defense made a play like Buffalo rookie receiver Gabriel Davis did on a pretty-enough-to-frame 6-yard touchdown catch to give the Bills the lead, 24-20.
Finally, there was no coverage again from Howard on Buffalo’s John Brown, who slipped behind him for a game-sealing 46-yard touchdown. The Bills went on to win, 31-28.
We have met the enemy — and again it was the very unit expected to carry the Dolphins. There’s no defense for this defense through two weeks — and don’t say it’s only two weeks. They’re 0-2. Their supposed strength is a weakness.
It’s not just the losses. It’s the script. The first Sunday, it was New England running for 217 yards on this rebuilt defense. This Sunday it was Allen passing for 417 yards and four touchdowns while being sacked once. Once! And he was taking his time, scanning the field, feet planted like corn, throwing deep in the deepest parts of the game.
In a seven-minute span in the fourth quarter — with the opponent supposed to be gassed in this brutal heat — Allen passed for 152 yards with the game on the line. That’s winning, folks.
“They had time to throw it,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “We didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback. I don’t want to put it all on the coverage guys. It’s a team game, but it starts with me, and we’ve got to do a better job of putting them in positions to cover them better. We struggled there for sure.”
There was some nutty second-guessing of why Flores didn’t have Howard on Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs. Yes, Diggs had a big game — eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown — with a lot against rookie Noah Igbinoghene.
How about Howard make the plays there to make? That’s the second guess. He was the first, expensive piece in this rebuild. Remember? A $72.5 million contract last year before going out hurt. So this was really the first time he’s been asked to do something since the contract and had a dropped, game-changing interception and blown, game-cementing coverage to show for it.
“We have to do our job,” Howard said. “Coaches put us in position, we’re the ones out there playing.”
The Dolphins offense has problems, too. That’s obvious. They started slow. Preston Williams dropped a touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the third quarter (don’t go second-guessing that call — you should go for it there). They either don’t have a real running back or aren’t using what they have properly.
Still, the defense was supposed to win games. Everything was upgraded, right? And, even if the curse of the Dolphins continues as cornerback Byron Jones left early in his second Dolphins game with a groin injury after playing 79 of 80 games in Dallas — well, sorry, that’s not cutting it.
The Bills offense had no cheap points. Their scoring drives were for 97, 84, 73, 75 and 71 yards. If the Dolphins get a pass rush in the fourth quarter, they win. If Howard makes either of two plays, they win. If the defense just takes the lead and does its job, the Dolphins win.
All credit to Allen and Diggs. The Bills go as far as Allen takes them. And through two games he has taken them to 2-0 with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He’s got ice water in his veins,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said. “There’s no moment too big for him.”
Week 2 against a defense with zero pass rush won’t be the measuring stick of that. But the day’s winners get to say whatever they want, and the day’s losers have to say, as Flores did, “We’ve got to play better across the board.”
The board shows they’re 0-2. The board shows they go to a 1-1 Jacksonville on Thursday. The board also shows it’s time for this defense to start playing like they’re paid to or this season is going down — and quickly.
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