After three consecutive wins and most recently a triumph over the division-leading New England Patriots that seemingly symbolized the turning of the tide for the franchise, the Miami Dolphins were a mere two wins away from their first playoff berth since 2008. Two wins against two teams with a combined 11 wins at that.
A simple path to a successful season was laid out for the team and it was coming together, galvanized by righting the ship on a previously tumultuous season. Then 19-0 happened. Then 390-103 total yards happened.
The Dolphins were thoroughly dominated on both sides of the ball by the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon in western New York. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a season-high seven times, which headlined one of the most pathetic offensive displays in franchise history (third-worst by yardage gained).
Miami’s defense conceded 203 rushing yards to an offense that was obviously going to make running the football a priority with a third-string quarterback at the helm. The coaching staff failed to adjust to the Bills’ blitz packages or neutralize their ferocious pass rush with a balanced attack.
Overall, it was the Dolphins’ worst 60 minutes of football of the season, and not just of the season, but in arguably several years. It couldn’t have come at a worst time. The organization and its fans, so desperate for a return to the winning ways of yesteryear, were so close to the euphoric feeling of success again. It’s a feeling that hasn’t been present, excluding the anomaly of 2008, in quite some time for the Dolphins.
Few could have imagined that the team would have delivered such a flat, horrendous performance given the opportunity that was present. Quite frankly, the Dolphins choked. Not in the fashion many near contenders do by making a crucial mistake near the end of the game, but by getting utterly dismantled in every aspect for 60 minutes.
That is an unforgivable offense for a team that appeared to be on the verge of cementing their status as a contender two days ago. The Dolphins aren’t ready to be a contender, nor do they deserve to be a playoff team after laying an egg when the stakes were at their highest.
But luckily for Miami, the AFC is astonishingly forgiving. The Dolphins entered Week 16 as the favorites to land the conference’s final wild card spot. They’ll enter Week 17 as the favorites to do the same.
Joining the Dolphins in the fight for the AFC’s sixth seed are the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Miami can eliminate San Diego and Pittsburgh by beating the New York Jets at home on Sunday — the same Jets it beat 23-3 on the road earlier in the month. The Dolphins will be heavy favorites.
If Miami takes care of business, all it would need is either the Ravens to lose on the road to the Cincinnati Bengals, who haven’t lost a home game all season and will be playing for a potential first-round bye, or the Chargers to win at home versus the Kansas City Chiefs, who might rest starters as the only AFC playoff team whose seeding is set in stone entering the final week.
There’s a strong chance the Dolphins will get the help they need if they can simply beat the Jets. They’ve already proven they can do so. That 20-point win in the Meadowlands on December 1 could have been even more one-sided, as the Dolphins out-gained the Jets by nearly 300 yards and missed out on three scoring opportunities in the game’s first half.
But these Dolphins don’t make anything easy, as evidenced by the current position they’re in. Beat the Bills, an AFC bottom-dweller, once in two tries or the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in Week 10, or finish double-digit leads they relinquished in losses to the Patriots and Carolina Panthers, and the Dolphins would likely already have a wild card spot in hand.
Instead, they’ll need a win and some help, which is a position they are fortunate to be in but not one they had to be in.
Miami’s playoff hopes are still somehow alive and well. It doesn’t deserve to the favorite to land the AFC’s sixth seed, but it is. The Dolphins can thank the forgiving AFC for that, because their fans may have never forgiven that effort on Sunday without it.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.