Splat went the playoff hopes.
Splat went the idea of Tua Tagovailoa ending the 2020 season in style.
Splat went the Dolphins’ top-ranked defense as Buffalo scored its most points since 1966 — against the expansion Dolphins.
Splat, too, went the Miami Dolphins’ best chance for the postseason with a 49-13 loss at Buffalo.
Yep, the probable finale to the Dolphins season was as ugly as all that. Here are 10 thoughts on the day:
1. The Dolphins went from having a chance for their greatest day in regular-season history (or so I wrote before the game) by earning a playoff spot and gaining the third-overall pick to ... their worst game of Brian Flores’ era. So what happened to the two main rewards Sunday could (still) bring)?
* With the loss and wins by Cleveland and Baltimore, the Dolphins’ playoff chances are down to 10-5 Indianapolis losing to 1-14 Jacksonville in the 4:25 p.m. game. Enough said about that?
* Their top draft pick (from the trade with Houston) still comes down to 10-5 Tennessee playing at 4-10 Houston at 4:25 p.m. Some good news? Their original first pick moves from the 23rd they entered Sunday to the high-teens depending on other outcomes.
2. About Tua Tagovailoa’s Sunday: He struggled. Talk about the drops, talk about not passing downfield, but ... Buffalo didn’t have its top two pass rushers and top cover guy in Tre’Davious White and Tua didn’t do much. In the first half, he was 12 of 19 for 89 yards — a miniscule 4.7 yards per attempt. For the game, as the Dolphins threw and threw in the second half, his day’s numbers were: 35 of 58 passes for 361 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Drops? Yep, they were there. So was the struggle to make plays we‘ve seen much of his rookie season. Was it to protect Tua? Was it the little support? Was it play-calling? Something’s wrong. This has been a well-coached team and it sees Tua every day in practice, so I’m hesitant to just point that finger at coaches like the Tua-fan base is doing. But one of the problems with not throwing the ball downfield was how Buffalo defended the Dolphins on Sunday. They squatted on routes, waiting for a Mike Gesicki to cut in or a DeVante Parker to cut out. They didn’t fear them running by them and, thus, the short-passing game was made even more difficult. Bottom-line: The Dolphins front office has a decision to make on just what they think about Tua.
3. Think Josh Allen knows the Dolphins are the top-scoring defense? He completed 18-of-25 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns and an interception in his half of work on Sunday. In six quarters against the Dolphins this year, he completed 42-of-60 passes for 639 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. That’s a 136.7 passer rating. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers entered Sunday leading the league with a 119.4 rating. Something says he remembers the Dolphins letting the Bills trade up to draft him — and, in effect, passing on him. No? Players use that motivation all the time. Dan Marino remembered every team that passed on him his entire career.
4. The good of the defensive backfield: Xavien Howard intercepted his league-leading 10th pass to tie Dick Westmoreland (1967) for the franchise record and Byron Jones had his second interception this season — and second in five years. The bad: has been one of the players who made progressive strides of development this year. But not Sunday. He ran into Isaiah McKenzie’s big day. McKenzie, who attended American Heritage Plantation High, beat Nik Needham for Buffalo’s opening two touchdowns and then returned a punt 85 yards to make it 21-3. Needham, just for effect, was beat by Gabriel Davis for a 56-yard touchdown to end the scoring, too.
5. Sundays like this make you think everyone’s gotten ahead of the praise of this rebuild. You see good news, sure. Questions? There are plenty, too, heading into Phase III with this year’s draft. Look at Buffalo’s rebuild, which was two years ahead of the Dolphins and was masterful. They traded off players for draft picks in their first year (2017) — and still made the playoffs. They traded up ahead of the Dolphins in the 2017 draft to take Josh Allen. They added pieces, steadily improved, won the AFC East and right now are Kansas City’s top competition to win the AFC. The Bills have beaten their past six opponents by double digits.
6. Scratch Oregon tackle Penei Sewell off the draft list. Sure, you can always use a top offensive tackle. But this team has so many other offensive needs — and the left tackle isn’t the problem. They’ve drafted offensive linemen in the first, second, third and fourth round in the past two years. If they can’t develop an offensive line from that, the greater rebuild has no hope. And, again, as Sunday showed, you need greater talent at playmaking positions.
7. In the first half, DeVante Parker had one catch for eight years. On the opening drive of the second half, he had four catches for 61 yards and drew the pass interference to put it at the 1-yard line. Myles Gaskin scored from there. Is it that simple? Throw the ball to Parker? Well, the second drive started with a throw to him, but he slipped down and Josh Norman had a pick-6 to make it, 35-13.
8. In its pregame show Sunday, ESPN’s Matt Hasselbeck analyzed Tua’s final play against Oakland. He had an easy check-down pass over the middle available to a wide-open Salvon Ahmed. He instead floated to his left and into a sack.
“Where he’s really struggled is sacks,” Hasselbeck said. “Nine sacks in the last three games, that’s one of the worst in the league. And there’s just no reason for it. He’s young quarterback. He’s still learning, I get it …
Breaking down the play, Hasselbeck points to the open Ahmed and Tua moving toward left tackle Austin Jackson.
“Your left tackle is like, ‘Dude, I’m blocking perfectly, stay in the pocket,’ " he said. “A lot of young quarterbacks, when they’re not seeing the field well, they run to the dominant side of their arm. For Tua, it’s running left. That’s the play coach of the year Brian Flores said he’s not seeing it.”
The next play, on third-and-18, Tua handed off on a draw. He was then taken out of the game. Hasselbeck’s cohort, Rex Ryan, had another thought on Tua not passing to Ahmed that was equally as perplexing.
“The guy is so small. … It was clear to me he couldn’t see the check-down (Ahmed),” he said.
That wasn’t the toughest words. Those came in the ESPN pregame show from …
9. ... Tedy Bruschi, the former Patriots linebacker: “I think this is a big game for Tua Tagovailoa to show, ‘I can win a game without my binkie.’ That’s Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
10. Next week: Home for the playoffs? They had good regular season — notice, good, not great. We won’t know if it was great until next year when you look at how all the young players developed. Leaving Sunday, the question is about he quarterback. Same as last year. And the year before. And ...