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.
“Nobody wants to get beat like that,” said Dolphins star cornerback Xavien Howard, who pulled his 10th interception this season in the game.
Added Tagovailoa: “The feeling of losing never feels good. The emotions of not just me but a lot of the guys in the locker room, it’s a bitter taste in our mouth. That’s not the way we wanted it to go down.”
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.
“We didn’t play well as a team. We didn’t coach it well, we didn’t play well. So, I’m not going to sit here and put it on one player. It’s a team effort,” Flores said.
“There’s a lot of things here and that includes Tua. He’s got to play better as well, but everyone’s a part of that.”
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 fairly reliable game manager. But without veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who tested positive for COVID-19 this past week, Tagovailoa had to fend for himself.
If the Dolphins season is over, he’ll enter 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 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
“I don’t think I have control over any of those things,” Tagovailoa said when asked if he is confident he’ll be Miami’s starter next season.
“I think all I can do is continue to grow, get better, and this offseason get with a good amount of the guys and see what we can do from there going into next season.
With not much happening offensively, the Dolphins (10-6) grew more demoralized as the game continued.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen — an MVP candidate along with Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes and Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers – completed 18-of-25 passes in the first half for 224 yards with three touchdowns.
Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who won a state title at American Heritage Plantation High 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 (13-3) rested their key playmakers for the second half but running back Antonio Williams scored two rushing touchdowns to balloon the final score.
“It’s always tough to come into play this team,” starting offensive lineman Jesse Davis said. “Putting ourselves down early didn’t help. Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be. We kept fighting. We showed we could fight this season.
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 — the fifth in a row Miami has lost to Buffalo — 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 Baltimore Ravens and a 43-0 loss to the New England Patriots where its 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 past 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.
“I’m about what’s in front of me and right now. I try to stay in the moment,” Flores said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t play well. That’s where I’m at.”
This story will be updated.