Rex Ryan arrived in Buffalo rambling about his defense to a desperate fan base that couldn’t get enough. The Bills had one of the NFL’s best defenses, and he vowed to make it better. They were coming off a 9-7 season, and he insisted he would end their dreadful playoff drought.
If Ryan gets sent on his way after the season or sooner, and all indications show that he will, he will look back and see his underachieving defense ultimately led to his downfall. His defense failed him again Saturday against a Miami team that was playing a backup quarterback in Matt Moore.
The Bills had a franchise-record 589 yards of total offense Saturday, and it still wasn’t enough to beat the Dolphins. Their defense buckled and allowed a game-tying field goal with six seconds remaining. Jay Ajayi gashed them for 206 yards rushing, including a 57-yard run in overtime.
Andrew Franks gave the Dolphins a 34-31 victory with a 27-yard field goal, eliminating the Bills from the playoffs for the 17th straight season and pushing Ryan another step toward the door.
You have to give the Bills’ credit to some degree. They had every reason to grab their belongings and start the holiday season, not to mention the offseason, when they fell behind by two touchdowns in the third quarter. Instead, they rallied around Ryan and put themselves in position to win the game in regulation.
The Bills had a 31-28 lead after Tyrod Taylor hit Charles Clay with a 7-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 remaining in regulation. The Dolphins had a good return on the ensuing kickoff, moved into Buffalo territory and rushed kicker Franks onto the field for a 55-yard field goal to force overtime.
For a while, anyway, as the Bills mounted to their comeback from a 28-14 deficit, the energy was palpable in New Era Field. The same fans who were angry or indifferent were engaged when Buffalo took possession at its own 11-yard line and started its 89-yard drive for the go-ahead score.
Taylor was far from spectacular Saturday, but he played well enough to win. He completed 26 of 39 passes for a career-high 329 yards and three touchdowns. He lost yet another game when throwing more than 30 times, but this one wasn’t his fault. He came through in the fourth quarter.
The Bills’ defense failed.
Buffalo’s tackling has been atrocious during the season, and it was directly responsible for Miami’s first three touchdowns and contributed to its fourth.
In the first two cases, they appeared to have the Dolphins bottled up only to see running backs Jay Ajayi and rookie backup Kenyan Drake bust loose for scores. On the third, Nickell Robey-Coleman failed to wrap up DeVante Parker, allowing him to bust free and turn a short completion into a 53-yard TD.
Stephon Gilmore missed another tackle in the flat, sending Damien Williams on a 44-yard gain that set up Moore’s short – and easy – touchdown to Kenny Stills. The massive breakdowns gave Miami had a 28-14 lead.
The Bills can thank LeSean McCoy for staying alive in the playoff hunt until the second-last game of the season. He was terrific again Saturday and the biggest reason Buffalo was in the game. He had 128 yards rushing and scored on a great run from the 19-yard line after slicing through the Miami defense.
Drake’s score was particularly unsightly considering he was going nowhere before he reversed field. Jerry Hughes was caught inside, and Drake turned the score and ran untouched down the sideline for his second career touchdown. The former Alabama back had only 113 yards rushing in the first 14 games.
Buffalo vowed to lock down Ajayi after he trampled the defense in the first meeting, but he did most of the work on their first scoring drive. He had earlier runs of 20 and 19 yards to get the Dolphins’ running game in gear. He ran for more than 200 yards in both games this season.
Overall, it was a continuation of the recent past.