Tua, Dolphins trounced by Bills 56-26 in must-win game — now need help to get in playoffs

Safid Deen, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins picked a bad day to have their most disappointing performance of their impressive 2020 NFL season.

With a playoff berth on the line, the Dolphins fell behind on the road by 22 points in the first half and suffered a 56-26 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Bills Stadium.

The Dolphins needed a win, or a loss by either the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens or Indianapolis Colts to reach the postseason for just the third time since 2001.

The Ravens beat the Bengals handily. The Browns beat the Steelers, too.

The Dolphins’ playoff hopes now cling on the Jacksonville Jaguars beating the Colts in the 4 p.m. afternoon slate of games to keep their slim playoff chances alive.

The Dolphins’ performance in Buffalo was a sour note to a season where NFL coach of the year candidate Brian Flores rebounded from a 5-11 record in 2019, leading Miami to 10 wins behind one of the best defenses and youngest rosters in the NFL during his second season.

But the Dolphins’ offense – spearheaded by Tagovailoa, the Dolphins’ highly touted No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft – struggled mightily toward the end of this season.

Tagovailoa completed 35 of 58 passes with career highs of 361 yards and three interceptions despite a touchdown pass to Malcolm Perry with 2:47 left.

Tagovailoa finishes his rookie season with a 6-3 record in nine starts. He had just two games with more than 300 yards passing, failed to throw more than two touchdowns in any game and did not have a completion longer than 35 yards this season.

Tagovailoa’s longest pass in Buffalo was a 31-yard pass to receiver DeVante Parker, which became his third longest pass of the season.

Two plays later, Tagovailoa threw his second interception of the game. On the next Dolphins series to start the fourth quarter, after the Bills took a 42-13 lead, Tagovailoa threw his third interception.

Tagovailoa entered the game with just two interceptions and a fumble as a reliable game manager. But without veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, Tagovailoa had to fend for himself.

And he enters an offseason that will likely be full of chatter surrounding his ability to lead the Dolphins franchise in the future, especially with Miami owning a Top 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

With not much happening offensively, the Dolphins grew more demoralized as the game continued.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen – a MVP candidate with Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes and Packers star Aaron Rodgers – completed 18 of 25 passes in the first half for xxx yards with three touchdowns.

Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who won a state title at American Heritage in 2013, caught two receiving touchdowns and returned a punt 84 yards for his third of the day. Receiver John Brown, who attended Homestead High, scored a 32-yard touchdown which gave Buffalo a 28-6 lead at halftime.

The bills rested their key playmakers for the second half but running back Antonio Williams scored two rushing touchdowns to balloon the final score.

Dolphins running backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed each scored a rushing touchdown. Parker led Miami with seven catches for 116 yards. And kicker Jason Sanders had two field goals in the first half. But the Dolphins had not much else offensively.

Sunday’s loss to the AFC East champion Bills was reminiscent of the first two losses Flores and the Dolphins suffered during their first season together.

Miami opened the 2019 season with a 59-10 loss to the Ravens and a 43-0 loss to the Patriots where their youth, inexperience and lack of continuity were on full display.

Along the way, Flores turned the Dolphins around. Miami won 10 of its last 14 games this season, and 15 of their last 21 games dating back to last season.

It may not ease the pain of their loss in Buffalo on Sunday, but Flores and the Dolphins appear to have the foundation set for a prosperous future.