Miami Gardens, Fla. — Von Miller, wearing white sunglasses and two gold chains, walked to the podium on Sunday afternoon almost an hour after his Buffalo Bills suffered their first loss of the season.
Miller couldn’t help but smile, even though his team just dropped a super close divisional game that it still had chances to win late in the fourth quarter. The Bills could have won the game, and Miller loved how they fought through an injury spree.
The two-time Super Bowl champion refused to make excuses for the 21-19 loss to the Dolphins, who now sit atop the AFC East.
“The football gods won’t respect you if you just come in here and say, well we were hurt, and we lost the game,” Miller said.
It’s a respectable approach from Miller, who credited the Dolphins for playing a tough brand of football and making big plays on both sides of the ball. But the many excuses available to Miller are important to consider. We decided to lay them out here to better assess the final result.
Bills played without 11 starters
The Bills started the game without six starters, including three defensive backs in a game against two of the top three receivers in the NFL in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Micah Hyde (neck), Jordan Poyer (foot), Dane Jackson (neck), Ed Oliver (ankle), Jordan Phillips (hamstring), and Mitch Morse (elbow) were all inactive.
Dawson Knox and Isaiah McKenzie were both in an out of the lineup in the second half because of the intense, humid heat. Spencer Brown left the game with heat illness in the second quarter and reserve center Greg Van Roten (cramping) and starting right guard Ryan Bates (head) left in the third. Tommy Doyle went in at left guard and the Bills had no available offensive linemen on their bench the rest of the way.
Bills fullback Reggie Gilliam was probably next up if another lineman went down.
The Bills defense was solid. The Dolphins had just 212 yards of total offense and they had the ball for only 7:55 of the second half. Miller made a huge play late when he got into the backfield and tipped a pass by Tagovailoa to force a punt. Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin played admirably in place of Poyer and Hyde. The only blemish came on a big hitter from Tagovailoa to Waddle for 45 yards. Tagovailoa had three passes that went for more than 20 yards in the game.
Heat wave was brutal
The set up inside Hard Rock Stadium immediately put the Bills in a bind. The sun blared down on their sideline, while the Dolphins – who have practiced and played in this heat for months – had shade covering their entire sideline. The Bills had players hunched over after plays, Miller needed an IV after pregame warmups, and Isaiah McKenzie (who lives in Florida) was throwing up at halftime.
Josh Allen finished with 400 yards passing and set new career highs in pass attempts (63) and completions (42). The offense ran 90 plays in the game and looked like it by the end of the fourth quarter. The Bills still had a chance to win after an amazing blunder from the Dolphins when punter Thomas Morstead kicked a ball out of his own end zone off the butt of Trent Sherfield. The Bills were driving with under two minutes to play but time ran out when McKenzie couldn’t get out of bounds on the final play.
This is definitely not something that determined the game, but there were a few questionable calls from the referees. There was a phantom holding call on Christian Benford in the first quarter, and Johnson was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a shot to a receiver at the goal line. It’s not the worst call in the world but it looked a lot like the hit Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins put on Dawson Knox a few minutes earlier (no flag on that one).
It’s going to be a tough bit of film to watch for linebacker Matt Milano when he fires up the tape of his near pick-six on a throw from Tagovailoa in the third quarter. The Bills would have gone up by 10 points on a touchdown at that spot in the game. On the previous series, Buffalo’s offense had driven deep into Miami territory. Allen found Gabe Davis in a one-on-one situation against cornerback Keion Crossen, but Davis couldn’t hold on to the ball. Crossen received credit for a pass breakup, but it was one of those balls where Davis had to make the play.
Practice squad all stars
When Benford went out in the second quarter, Bills rookie cornerback Ja’Marcus Ingram was forced into the game. He was an undrafted free agent signing that earned a spot on the Bills’ practice squad after a solid summer. He’s long and rangy, and he played well. He was one of four Bills practice squad players that played on Sunday. Brandin Bryant and Prince Emily were signed to the active roster before the game and Mancz was called up.
Miller called the loss to the Dolphins the perfect medicine for a Bills team that hasn’t faced much adversity so far this season. He promised that the group will go back and study the game and figure out how to improve in some areas.
“Adversity like this truly reveals character and we have a team full of tough guys,” he said. “There is no silver lining in a loss. A loss is a loss – it’s tough – especially being an organization that we’re in in Buffalo and the community that we’re in. We don’t take losses well. … I’m excited to see how we respond.”
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