Bills' Super Bowl window wide open after statement win against Dolphins
On the first day of the second month of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills delivered a gut punch to both the Miami Dolphins and their doubters around the NFL.
Their 48-20 win over the previously undefeated Dolphins was complete on both sides of the ball, with quarterback Josh Allen delivering a historic performance while the Bills defence stifled every attempt Miami made to climb back into a game where their vaunted offence simply couldn’t keep pace with the Bills.
That preseason narrative about the Bills Super Bowl window having closed? Shattered.
The notion that Allen is no longer in the elite tier of NFL quarterbacks? Ridiculous, after arguably the best performance of his career.
Thoughts that head coach Sean McDermott taking over the defensive play-calling was the sign of a desperate head coach trying to save his job? Well, you can trash that one as well.
The NFL world it seems is always searching for the new contender, the team that’s unlocked the game like none before and is poised to become an unstoppable force. And no team fit that bill early this season like the Dolphins.
With a healthy Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback and a balanced offence characterized by outrageous speed at every skill position, the Dolphins became the NFL’s early-season darlings with their use of pre-snap motion and other creative devices that helped them score 70 points over Denver in a Week 3 blowout.
But the Bills set the tone early on Sunday with touchdown drives on their first three possessions to open the game, the first two of which were answered by Miami to knot the game at 14-14.
The difference was Buffalo establishing the run early-on while the Dolphins were wholly dependent on Tua throwing the football, a process that got more difficult as Buffalo was able to crush the pocket, forcing hurried throws and mistakes.
McDermott had stressed the importance of communication on defence and focusing on fundamentals in the face of all the Miami offensive glitz. That seemed to serve them well as their personnel was consistently in the right places to make critical plays that helped turn the tide in the Bills favour. Four sacks on a quarterback who had been sacked just once all season, knock-downs at the line of scrimmage, a fumble recovery and an interception. The Bills defence did it all.
Meanwhile, Buffalo’s offence couldn’t be stopped as Allen played his third game in a row making excellent decisions with the football, setting a franchise mark for completion percentage by making 21 of 25 throws for 420 yards and four touchdowns through the air and another on the ground.
The change in Allen’s play since the Monday Night meltdown against the Jets is unmistakable. It was in that game that Allen’s worst tendencies surfaced on national TV — forcing throws down the field unnecessarily, taking hits when their was little to be gained and failing to manage the offence in a manner that was conducive to having a 10-point second-half lead against a team that had lost its starting quarterback.
Since then, Allen has followed McDermott’s pleas that he “live to play another down”, often giving-up opportunities to run with the ball when there is little to be gained or throwing it away when no good option is available.
Since throwing three picks against the Jets he’s thrown just one in the Bills three successive victories, that coming during garbage time in a blowout win over Washington. After running with the ball six times against the Jets, he’s carried it just 10 times since, including a scamper in which he went to the end zone untouched against Miami.
The general criticism of Buffalo’s offence coming into this season was that it tended to regress at times into either Allen running desperately with the ball or making throws aimed exclusively at Stefon Diggs. While Diggs has remained a focus of the offence, as he likes to be, he accounted for just six of Allen’s 21 completions against Miami but for 120 yards.
Defensively, the Bills have now surrendered 49 points through four games, Miami’s 20-point output being the biggest oppositional tally of the season.
Miami may have rolled on offence early against Buffalo, but couldn’t score when they had to, amassing just six points after halftime, as the Bills forced negative plays on most possessions beyond the first quarter while their offence kept piling on the points.
The loss of cornerback Tre White to an apparent Achilles injury will test their depth, which could be good or bad for last season’s first-round pick, corner Kaiir Elam, who’s been a healthy scratch through the first four games of the regular season.
And then there’s the imminent return of Von Miller, out with an ACL tear since November, that should help.
A team can’t win the Super Bowl during the first four games of the season but it can certainly change the perception of what the league thinks of them.
Both the Bills and Dolphins have accomplished that this season. But only one of them walked off the field as winners on Sunday.