Bills beat Dolphins, but their struggles are perplexing for a Super Bowl contender

If the Buffalo Bills could bottle up their great stretches, they'd walk to a Super Bowl championship.

Once in a while they remind us that they like to create obstacles. Sunday's performance was good enough to beat the Miami Dolphins but it won't be enough to win a Super Bowl. It might not be enough to advance beyond next week.

The best and worst of the Bills happened all through a long wild-card playoff game Sunday. They were awesome in building a 17-point lead. Then Josh Allen got sloppy, started turning it over and the Bills trailed the overmatched Dolphins at home. Then it flipped back and the Bills did enough to win 34-31 and advance to the divisional round, where they'll host another game.

Playoff wins are always worth celebrating, and the Bills survived and advanced. But it was odd to see the Dolphins, a two-touchdown underdog led by rookie seventh-round draft pick Skylar Thompson at quarterback, leading late in the third quarter. It was way too close for the Bills and whatever they were doing Sunday won't be good enough to win three more postseason games.

Maybe this was a wake-up call on their way to a Super Bowl. Either way, they have to play a lot better starting next week, and that starts with Allen being more careful with the ball.

Josh Allen must be more careful with the ball, or else the Bills will be punished for a performance like the one they turned in agains the Dolphins on Sunday. (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)
Josh Allen must be more careful with the ball, or else the Bills will be punished for a performance like the one they turned in agains the Dolphins on Sunday. (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports) (USA Today Sports / reuters)

Dolphins fall behind, then rally

The Bills made it look very easy in the first quarter. They scored twice and led 14-0. Early in the second quarter the Bills extended that lead to 17-0.

We saw a wild comeback on Saturday night, when the Jacksonville Jaguars overcame a 27-0 deficit against the Los Angeles Chargers, but this one felt different. The Dolphins were big underdogs. The Bills were rolling. It seemed like everyone would just be wasting time until the start of the second playoff game of the day.

Then it started to turn. The Dolphins got a field goal after a kickoff out of bounds gave them good field position. Allen threw a deep interception, and a long return set up another field goal. A 50-yard punt return set up another field goal. Allen threw another interception, Miami scored and got the two-point conversion and it was 17-17.

The Bills kicked a field goal before halftime, but then came the play that gave the Dolphins realistic hope for an upset. Eric Rowe came on a safety blitz, Allen couldn't get the ball out in time, and Allen fumbled after he was hit. Defensive tackle Zach Sieler scooped up the fumble and scored and the Dolphins had a 24-20 lead.

Considering the matchup and how the game started, it was shocking to see the Dolphins leading in the second half.

Bills take back lead in second half

The Bills went from cruising to pressing. They were in real trouble. Then the Dolphins made a bad decision. On third-and-19 at their own 8-yard line, they had Thompson throw deep and the pass was easily picked off by Kaiir Elam. The Bills needed a jolt and that was it. Allen had a great first-down run on third-and-8 after that, then hit Cole Beasley for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Bills scored again after that, on a Gabriel Davis 23-yard touchdown catch, and it seemed like that would do it. The Bills led 34-24. But Buffalo couldn't put away Miami. Jeff Wilson Jr. scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 10:53 to go and the Bills' lead was down to 34-31.

The Dolphins couldn't take advantage after that. They had chances. A 25-yard catch by Jaylen Waddle on third-and-10 with a little more than four minutes left gave them hope to at least tie it. But with 2:22 left, Thompson's pass to tight end Mike Gesicki was broken up. Tyreek Hill was wide open over the middle for a first down but Thompson didn't see it due to the pressure from the Bills. A delay of game penalty and an incompletion on fourth-and-6 killed Miami's drive.

Buffalo ran out the clock after that, with a strong run by Devin Singletary having a tough run on third-and-7 to get a first down and finish the win.

There's a lot to clean up. If the Bills gave up 31 points to Thompson and the Dolphins, what would Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs do if they met in the AFC championship game in Atlanta? Allen made plays but also had way too many mistakes. There was little running game to speak of.

Buffalo is moving on. The Bills have plenty to clean up before they play again.