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The Miami Dolphins continue to make their push toward the playoffs, earning a critical 22-9 victory over the visiting Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. After falling to Detroit last week, the Dolphins’ win gives them sole possession of second place in the AFC East, and more importantly a leg up over division rival Buffalo. The Bills, on the other hand, have dropped two in a row and now face an uphill climb back into the AFC Wild Card race.
The Dolphins proved they are going to be a force in this AFC Wild Card race, but the upstart club still has their work cut out for them in a very competitive conference. The Bills, meanwhile, remain very much in playoff contention at 5-5, but need a couple of fellow competitors to catch some tough luck in order to stay within reach.
Here are five takeaways from the Dolphins win (and Bills loss) on Thursday night.
Tannehill growing before our eyes
Ryan Tannehill was nearly benched after Miami’s second loss of the year. But since then, the third-year pro has led the Dolphins to a 5-2 mark, throwing 13 touchdowns compared to 5 interceptions with four games with a passer rating better than 100.
With a growing confidence as a passer and using his athletic ability to help his offense move the chains in critical spots, we’re beginning to see the former college wide receiver figure out how to be an NFL quarterback. Thursday night, Tannehill faced one of the better defensive fronts in football and was forced to shake off five sacks and six more hits, and managed to come through with two late touchdown drives to get his team the do-or-die win to salvage the season.
Miami O-line vulnerable without Albert
The Bills entered their Week 11 contest with an NFL-leading sack total, then feasted on the Dolphins’ injury ravished offensive line which was without starting left tackle Branden Albert, who was lost for the season with a knee injury last week.
But while the Bills were able to muster five sacks against the newly shuffled offensive line, Tannehill continued to overcome the constant pressure to finish with a passer rating of 114.8.
The question now is whether Tannehill can — or continue to — absorb this much pain and continue to keep getting up. Ahead on the Dolphins’ schedule is Denver, New York, Baltimore, New England, Minnesota and again New York, all of which are extremely stout up front. Miami’s offensive line is in for a major challenge, and consequently, so is the quarterback.
Bills face an uphill climb for AFC Wild Card spot
With the loss, Buffalo dropped to 5-5 on the season, into third place in the AFC East and (as of Friday morning) 11th in the conference standings.
Buffalo has little time to regroup. Up next are a pair of home games against a Jets team that just defeated the Steelers and the Browns, who lead the tough AFC North. Then the Bills take to the road to take on the defending AFC champion Broncos before games against Green Bay, at Oakland and at New England.
Pending the outcome of the Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Kansas City and Cincinnati games, the Bills surely have an uphill climb ahead them, one that’ll involve not only a legitimate win streak but that’ll also include a lot of good luck. It’s not impossible, considering how unpredictable the AFC has been this year. But let’s consider Thursday’s outcome basically a win-and-advance sort of game.
Lazor effect: good and bad?
There’s no doubting that first-year Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has revitalized the offense. However, it appears it may have come at a price.
Last season under Mike Sherman, the Dolphins ranked 26th in total offense, averaging 19.8 points per game. Under the watch of former Eagles coach and Chip Kelly disciple Lazor, the Dolphins have ascended to the 15th-ranked offense averaging a shade under 25 points per game.
But according to NFL Media’s Jeff Darlington, there’s a rift between some of the Dolphins’ offensive players and their coordinator. Entering Thursday night’s game, it was reported that Lazor has “a rocky relationship” with some of the players, and some starters have “worn thin” on the inconsistencies in the team’s offensive identity.
Obviously, this reported tension has not stopped Miami from climbing in the AFC standings, but it is a cause for concern going forward. We’re staying tuned to see what else is reported out of Miami and whether any players or coaches dispute this report.
Orton to remain the starter
Orton suffered a toe injury in the Bills’ loss to the Dolphins Thursday night, but the veteran quarterback said he’ll be fine. Toe injury or not, Buffalo coach Doug Marrone stated that he is not considering a quarterback change — or at least “not at this time.”
The Bills’ only other option would be to revert back to 2013 first-rounder EJ Manuel, who was benched in favor of Orton earlier this season. By doing that move, Marrone essentially is throwing the towel in on this year, which apparently he’s refusing to do at this point.
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