MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – I could just hear the Bills fans during this one. How many times had they been through this kind of game before? The Bills seem to have a game in hand, and everyone was looking ahead to the big showdown next week against New England.
Then, as had happened so many times in the past, it began to get away from them. The Bills had a 17-6 lead in the third quarter and came totally unraveled, allowing an average Dolphins offense to score three touchdowns to escape with a 28-25 victory at Hard Rock Stadium.
When Tyrod Taylor hit Marquise Goodwin with a 67-yard bomb in the third quarter to give the Bills that 17-6 lead, I figured it was over. Turn out the lights, I tweeted at that point. No way Miami gets back in this one, the way the Bills' defense has been playing in the red zone.
In fact, it seemed like the Goodwin touchdown brought the Dolphins to life. Jay Ajayi, who had his second straight 200-yard rushing day, exposed the Bills' defensive front by rushing for 214 yards on 29 carries.
Ajayi was magnificent, popping a number of big runs to keep Miami's offense afloat. He scored on a 4-yard touchdown run just before the end of the third to bring the Dolphins back to life. Then the Dolphins converted a two-point conversion pass to cut the deficit to 17-14.
At that point, fatalistic Bills fans must have heard the ghosts of horrible losses past, reciting past horrors from the archive of regret.
Ajayi wasn't done. He broke a 53-yard run from his own 2 early in the fourth quarter, tilting the field at a time when the Bills desperately needed to regain control. The Dolphins had to punt, but Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo offense did very little in the clutch and Miami soon had the ball back.
The Dolphins marched to the go-ahead TD, getting a big 14-yard run from Ajayi and a 12-yard touchdown jaunt from Damien Williams, who appeared to carry half of the weary Bills defense over the goal-line.
Taylor, who hasn't led a fourth-quarter comeback in more than a year, and the offense had no answers – aside from a late garbage TD and two-pointer. Playing without a legitimate No. 1 receiver finally caught up to them. So did the fact that LeSean McCoy was a shadow of his usual self. McCoy played with his weak hamstring, but had only eight carries for 11 yards. Why they played him in that condition is a mystery.
Ryan Tannehill, who was his typically ordinary self for much of the day, hit Kenny Stills with a 67-yard TD bomb to put the game out of reach. It was painful watching Taylor try to bring the Bills from behind in the late going.
So instead of a fifth straight win for the first time since 2004, and the prospect of playing the Patriots for first place in the AFC East next week in Orchard Park, the Bills are suddenly 4-3 – 1-3 in the conference.
Things can turn around in a hurry in the NFL. Bottom line: The Bills finally ran into a team that could stand up to them on both lines of scrimmage, and they weren't up to it. In the Florida heat, when the issue was decided, they got their butts whipped.
This one might not rise to the level of top 10 road losses in the playoff drought, but it's in the conversation.