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7 observations in Bills loss to Dolphins: Injuries and missed opportunities galore


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When the Bills entered the season with heavy expectations for 2022, they quickly reminded everyone that teams go through adversity each year. The adversity comes in many forms, but most commonly, it’s tied to players missing time due to injury.

Even with the knowledge these tough times would hit them, the Sean McDermott Bills have never seen anything like the monsoon of injuries and players impacted by the heat for Week 3. With injuries affecting almost every position on their roster, the Bills still managed to give themselves a chance to win.

They ultimately fell short to the upstart Dolphins 21-19 and surrendered the AFC East lead to Miami in the process.

“Adversity like this truly reveals character,” defensive end Von Miller said. “I’m excited to see how we respond.”

But the Bills’ loss wasn’t only injury-induced. The Dolphins sufficiently took advantage of opportunities the Bills simply did not. So where did it go wrong, and where do the Bills go from here?

Here are seven observations from the Bills’ first loss of the season.

1. Injuries aside, the Bills were defined by way too many missed chances to claim the game

In a game like this one, with as many injuries as they suffered, the Bills had a prime opportunity to pull off one of their more impressive regular season victories under McDermott. The win against a good Dolphins team would have been a way to send a message to the rest of the NFL that even without their best players available, they can still pull off a victory. And they nearly did so. But they didn’t, and a huge reason for that was not just the injuries and the adverse effects of the heat, but the self-inflicted mistakes that robbed them of a 3-0 start. Throughout the game, there were six different moments in which the Bills denied themselves of the points that would have put them over the top. Some were direct scoring opportunities, while others directly impacted the Bills’ ability to score a few plays later. So here’s the chronological list that will surely have the majority of Bills fans nodding.

  • Play 1: 2nd quarter, third-and-3, 0:03 remaining — The spike that wasn’t. With a tie game and a clear opportunity for points at the end of the first half, all the Bills had to do was get to the line, snap the ball and have Allen spike it into the turf to stop the clock. The chance came after quarterback Josh Allen and receiver Stefon Diggs connected for a 7-yard gain, setting up for a would-be 52-yard field goal attempt for kicker Tyler Bass. Instead, as it’s been happening the last two games, the exchange between backup center Greg Van Roten and Allen wasn’t clean, the ball went through Allen’s hands and hit his chest, then dropped toward the ground where Allen barely caught the bobble. By rule, without a clean exchange, had Allen clocked it, it would have been an intentional grounding penalty with a subsequent 10-second run-off, so Allen had only one choice in his mind. He tried to make something out of nothing, and nearly got picked off. Potential points lost: 3
  • Play 2: 3rd quarter, 2nd-and-goal from the 11-yard line, 3:55 remaining — The Bills were in the process of delivering a soul-sucking drive to the Dolphins after taking a drive from their own 2-yard line to the brink of a touchdown. On the drive’s 18th play, Allen feathered a pass into receiver Gabe Davis, who rose up over the defender and snapped the ball out of the air while getting two feet down in bounds in the end zone. But while getting his feet down, Davis did not secure the ball tightly to his body, which gave the defender a last-ditch effort to break up the play. It succeeded, as Davis watched his touchdown get ripped from his hands. The Bills had to settle for a field goal on the drive. Potential points lost: 4, total points lost: 7
  • Play 3: 3rd quarter, third-and-2, 2:16 remaining – With the Dolphins facing a quick third down after the Bills’ big drive, Tagovailoa motioned receiver Tyreek Hill to his left and threw a quick slant immediately after taking the shotgun snap. Tagovailoa mistakenly stared down Hill the whole way, allowing Bills linebacker Matt Milano to jump the pass. Milano read the play so well that the ball hit his hands at the Dolphins’ 35-yard-line while almost in full stride, only for the ball to go through his hands and hit the ground. The Dolphins didn’t keep a back to block for Tagovailoa, so only the quarterback would have had a chance to prevent Milano from scoring a touchdown. But with the linebacker’s head start, it most likely would have been a touchdown and a 10-point Bills lead. Potential points lost: 7, total points lost: 17
  • Play 4: 4th quarter, fourth-and-4, 14:12 remaining — After a stalled drive, the Bills wanted to salvage some points and sent the usually reliable field goal unit out to give the Bills a 20-14 lead. The attempt was partially tipped at the line of scrimmage, leading to a wobbly miss wide left. Potential points lost: 3, total points lost: 20
  • Play 5: 4th quarter, fourth-and-2, 1:49 remaining — Down 21-17, the Bills were at the Dolphins’ 2-yard-line and on the 17th play of a nearly nine-minute drive. Isaiah McKenzie broke open to the front right corner of the end zone, only for Allen to have the ball slip. The ball one-hopped toward McKenzie, turning it over to the Dolphins on downs. The route was a clear win by McKenzie, and with an on-target throw, it’s likely the game-winning touchdown. Potential points lost: 7, total points lost: 27
  • Play 6: 4th quarter, 2nd-and-10, 0:22 remaining — Down only 21-19 thanks to the Dolphins’ safety, the Bills already found themselves at the Dolphins’ 43-yard line, in range for Bass. All the offense needed was a slight gain, and either to get out of bounds after the catch, or to run up and spike the ball to stop the clock. Even an incompletion would have brought on a third down and another chance to gain some yardage. But on the second down, backup right tackle David Quessenberry was beaten to the outside by pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. Rather than allowing the sack, Quessenberry grabbed Ogbah from the front of the jersey for an obvious holding call. The Bills lost both time on the clock and were sent back to their own 47-yard line. If Quessenberry maintains his block, the Bills at least get an attempt to kick the game-winning field goal. Potential points lost: 3, total points lost: 30

So, while you have to credit the Dolphins for taking advantage of their opportunities, you can’t help but think the Bills beat themselves repeatedly in this contest. They had ample chances to put more points on the board but fell woefully short almost every time it mattered. Regardless of who was missing, the Bills will likely watch the film and think about this game as one that got away.

2. Allen played the part of a horror movie villain to the Dolphins

Although the Bills blew plenty of chances to win the game, you can’t help but be impressed by how Allen constantly refused to allow the game to get away from them in the second half. Outside of his mistake that missed McKenzie in the end zone, Allen continued to keep drives alive even when it seemed like the Dolphins were finally about to get him off the field. It was quite reminiscent of a stereotypical horror movie villain. Regardless of all the times a viewer thinks the villain had perished — even in the most definitive of ways — the main character would turn around to see the villain standing right behind them, waiting to strike once again. Unfortunately for the Bills, that villain script remained accurate right to the end, as eventually Allen and his team fell short and lost.

It was a remarkable performance by Allen, and one deserving of a victory in most games. Despite three separate offensive linemen leaving the contest due to injury, Allen was mainly unflappable against the Dolphins’ pressure. He threw for 400 yards and rushed for 47 more. Allen converted on eight separate third downs in the second half alone, and all eight were by his doing. The running game, outside of a random 43-yard gain by Zack Moss, was inoperable for long stretches of the game. Allen completed a pass to 11 different Bills receivers, the full amount of running backs, receivers and tight ends the team made active for the game. Heck, it even looked like he was injured at one point, only for him to come back on the field for the final offensive series and got into Dolphins territory in five plays. And while the Bills had a rotating cast of characters almost everywhere on the field, Allen remained the constant all day.

Now it certainly wasn’t perfect, and there were a couple of questionable throws from Allen during the day, this loss does not fall on him. He did almost everything he could for a win. To help Allen, the team needs to figure out what’s going on with their rushing attack and how they fell short so many times during the contest. But one thing is sure, Allen is a special player who nearly served up a Bills victory despite an unusual number of injuries around him. If he plays anywhere close to how he did against the Dolphins most weeks, the Bills will have an opportunity to win every game they play this season.

3. But you can’t brush off the injuries too much

While it’s true that the Bills left a lot of potential points on the field, the number of injuries they incurred before and during the game is uncanny.

Bills injuries vs. Dolphins
Injured Reserve
Left Game in 1st Q
Did not return
Left Game in 2nd Q
Returned to Special Teams, not defense
Left game 2nd Q
Did not return
Left game in 3rd Q
Missed 11 straight plays
Left game in 3rd Q
Missed 11 straight plays
Left game in 4th Q
Did not return
Left game in 4th Q
Did not return

The group accounts for nearly 25 percent of the team’s active roster, but it doesn’t even account for all the different players that they had to keep rotating due to the heat. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs looked especially exhausted, was cramping up and had to keep taking plays off to regenerate. The running back rotation likely would have favored Devin Singletary far more had the heat not been unbearable. And with three in-game injuries to the offensive line, the Bills had to go through the final 22 snaps of the game without a single backup available. They were also down to an undrafted rookie practice squad cornerback in Ja’Marcus Ingram, who took 55 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. It was the perfect storm of pre-game and in-game injuries. I don’t think we’ll see anything quite like what unfolded on Sunday, and it had a legitimate impact on the game, but somehow, the Bills still almost won.

While the injuries, Allen and some of the missed opportunities will be what everyone talks about, you have to give a lot of credit to a handful of players that helped the Bills stay afloat through the ridiculous heat. Left tackle Dion Dawkins and left guard Rodger Saffold played every single snap — all 93 of them — while the other six active offensive lineman had time on the sidelines. Wide receiver Gabe Davis, who came into the game with an ankle injury, wound up playing 96 percent of the snaps due to injuries. That was likely not the plan for him coming off an injury, but he stepped up when the team needed him. On defense, the Bills basically boiled down their defensive tackle rotation to DaQuan Jones (75 percent) and Tim Settle (66). Jones is their biggest defensive tackle, but they needed him, and Settle came in recovering from a calf injury. The Bills will have to hope some reinforcements and cooler temperatures are on the way for Baltimore.

4. The Bills have a backup center issue

For the second week in a row, it was quite clear the drop-off from starting center Mitch Morse to backup Greg Van Roten is enormous. Van Roten struggled in the snap exchange for the second straight week, while also falling short in holding the point of attack adequately enough. He’s experienced, but he has been nothing more than a replacement-level player. Some wondered why the Bills didn’t put Ryan Bates at center and have someone else play right guard rather than putting Van Roten in the lineup, but the team likely wanted to avoid switching two spots for one absence like they have in past seasons. Plus, Bates has also been a bit inconsistent through the first two weeks in his new position at right guard, so they likely didn’t want to uproot him as he’s still trying to find his footing at that spot.

Regardless, the Bills have some internal questions they need to answer with that spot. We’re seeing the result of the team neglecting the interior offensive line position for two straight drafts. They valued a third defensive end and a third running back more than starting to build that interior depth internally. The Bills have mostly been able to get by to this point, but their interior depth is lacking this year far more than it has in previous seasons. When the film comes out, I’ll be most interested to see how practice squad center Greg Mancz performed relative to Van Roten, and whether the Bills may benefit by giving Mancz a full-time promotion. However, that’s just a temporary solution. They desperately need Morse in the starting lineup and Ike Boettger to return from the Physically unable to perform list sooner than later to help this dire situation.

5. Rousseau continues to shine

The Bills are certainly on to something in the early stages of the season with their pass rush, and young defensive end Greg Rousseau is showing all the signs of a breakout season. Now in his second season, Rousseau is not just the static left-side rusher he was as a rookie. He’s moving all across the line, mixing in on the left side and inside at defensive tackle. He’s varying up his moves, keeping offensive linemen off his pads and finding his way into the backfield every game. While Boogie Basham deserves a good bit of credit for taking out both the left tackle and left guard for Rousseau’s stunt to the inside, Rousseau finished the play with closing speed to Tagovailoa to secure the sack. Rousseau has also been a tremendous asset against the run, proving to be a player they can depend on regardless of the situation. It’s early into his second season, but all the signs for Rousseau are promising moving forward.

6. The single-biggest backbreaking defensive play

The Bills kept giving themselves chances to win the game, but the one play that let the air out of the balloon is when the Dolphins converted their third -and-22 opportunity to Jaylen Waddle right down the middle of the field. It’s the one play where the inexperienced secondary, who had played good team defense for much of the day, showed their youth. The Bills dropped back enough to keep everything in front of them, just as they always do in third-and-long situations, but the play was well-schemed, and one receiver took safety Damar Hamlin’s attention to the deep left.

That left Jaquan Johnson effectively alone in the deep middle, and he got caught staring just a touch too long, enough for Waddle to split the safeties for a 45-yard gain. The Bills were still leading at that point, had just sacked Tagovailoa and stopped a run for no yards on back-to-back plays. Despite the missed field goal on the previous drive, it felt like if the Bills could get off the field, they would be able to finish off the game. Instead, the Dolphins executed and used the Bills’ inexperience against them.

7. Signing multiple DBs should be the early week priority

The Bills likely never expected the sheer number of injuries they had to one group in a matter of six days, but that’s the situation they’re facing now. With Hyde done for the year, and Poyer’s foot injury leaving his status uncertain, the Bills have nothing behind Johnson and Hamlin at safety. Cam Lewis served as the team’s backup safety, but he only began playing the position for them in the second preseason game. Even with Lewis, the Bills need another player to add to the system. They did not have a practice squad safety working with the team through the first three weeks but expect that to change. An obvious candidate to sign to the active roster might be Josh Thomas, who is currently on the Cardinals practice squad. Thomas spent all the past two seasons with the Bills, but the team did make him one of the early cuts in August. It could make them want to look elsewhere and trust their pro personnel department to fill the void at safety. The same goes for cornerback, where they cannot trust the likes of undrafted rookie Ja’Marcus Ingram to play legitimate snaps moving forward. It would not be a surprise to see the Bills go after an experienced cornerback to get by at least until Tre’Davious White is ready to play.

Bills MVP: QB Josh Allen – He did almost everything for the Bills, and nearly helped them win a game where the odds were against them.

Bills LVP: Injuries – Since I began covering the team in 2010, I haven’t seen a Bills team be decimated by injuries this much in one week, and it certainly impacted the game’s outcome.

Up Next: The Bills (2-1) hit the road again to take on the Ravens (2-1) on Sunday, October 2.

Final Thoughts

Although the Bills faced an uphill battle in many different ways, their overall performance was impressive despite losing the game. They were their own worst enemy at times, and very well could have flipped this game enough to claim a 3-0 record. But, whether it’s due to self-inflicted errors, the injuries up and down the roster or a combination of the two, the Bills get to learn a valuable lesson from this one. Their season is not derailed, and they aren’t ceding the AFC East to the Dolphins despite the temporary setback. And though it is a slight concern that they haven’t won a one-score game since Week 8 in 2020, I don’t think this specific outcome against the Dolphins is indicative of an organizational flaw to win close games.

What this game indicates more is that this Bills team nearly pulled off a game that, on paper, should have had no business winning. The Dolphins are a talented team and one that will likely contend for the playoffs this season. But the Bills, despite all of their injuries and errors, were a few yards from stealing a win on the road, on a short week and in unbearable heat. It’s a weird thing to be impressed by a loss, but that’s exactly what Sunday represented. It all comes back to Allen, who gave the Bills a gargantuan effort. He is the best quarterback in the league right now and nearly delivered a win that fans would have talked about for a long time. Most of the injuries will heal and they won’t be this injured forever, but if Allen keeps this level of play up, the Bills can beat any team, regardless of the situation.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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