Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins
After a very slow start, the Miami Dolphins have made a late playoff push this season.
That was also the case five years ago. In a pivotal contest on this day in 2016 against the Buffalo Bills, Miami found a way.
A big run in overtime by Jay Ajayi and a late field goal was the difference as the Dolphins edged the Bills in overtime, 34-31.
Setting the Stage
All the Miami Dolphins wanted for Christmas was a playoff berth as they arrived at New Era Field on Dec. 24, 2016. After a 1-4 start, Miami had won eight of nine and were hoping to clinch their first postseason in appearance in eight years.
Buffalo was hoping for a winning season as it arrived with a 7-7 record. The Bills had led Miami in the fourth quarter in the earlier meeting that season, but ultimately fell short in South Florida. The Bills had won four straight meetings in Buffalo.
Miami Finds a Way
For nearly 59 minutes of football action, the Dolphins had never trailed. With 1:20 remaining in the game however, that all changed.
Tyrod Taylor found tight end Charles Clay, a former Dolphin, for a 7-yard score. The touchdown capped an 89-yard drive and put the Bills in front, 31-28.
On the ensuing possession for Miami, quarterback Matt Moore delivered a 17-yard strike to Kenny Stills to move into Buffalo territory. After two incompletions however, Moore checked down and hit Damien Williams for seven yards.
Williams was tackled in the field of play as the Dolphins faced fourth down with no timeouts. The field goal team raced onto the field as Andrew Franks lined up for a 55-yard attempt. With perfect execution, Franks’ 55-yard kick just cleared the crossbar and tied the contest at 31 with six seconds to go.
Buffalo took the ball first in overtime and marched into field goal range, but kicker Dan Carpenter, another former Dolphin, missed from 45 yards out. After an exchange of punts, Miami took over at its own 15-yard-line.
On the very first play of the drive, running back Jay Ajayi carried for 57 yards inside the Buffalo 30-yard-line. Ajayi and Kenyan Drake then carried the ball four times for 21 yards. After an kneel-down by Moore, Franks’ 27-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining in overtime ended the contest.
Throughout the day, the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards. Twice, Miami held a 14-point lead.
Ajayi got the scoring started with a 2-yard touchdown run before Drake reversed field and scored an electrifying 45-yard touchdown. Taylor’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins cut the lead to 14-7 at the break.
Both teams scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives of the third quarter. After Moore hit DeVante Parker for a 56-yard touchdown for Miami, LeSean McCoy rushed for a 19-yard touchdown for the Bills. A 6-yard connection from Moore to Stills was followed by an 18-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to Clay.
Buffalo trailed 28-21 after three quarters before Carpenter cut the lead to four with less than six minutes remaining.
Numerous players had big statistical days. Taylor passed for 329 yards with three touchdowns. Watkins led all receivers with seven catches for 153 yards. Buffalo added 272 yards rushing with McCoy’s 128 leading the way.
Moore passed for 233 yards in the win while Ajayi led the rushing attack with a game-high 206 yards. Despite yielding nearly 600 yards of offense, the Dolphins recorded 13 tackles for loss as a team. Andre Branch led the way with three.
The loss for Buffalo eliminated it from playoff contention, marking the 17th straight year that the Bills missed the playoffs. Buffalo would finish the year with a record of 7-9.
For the Miami Dolphins, it would be a merry Christmas. The Dolphins clinched a playoff berth the following night with the Kansas City Chiefs’ win over the Denver Broncos.
Miami finished 10-6 and was defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card game. The final victory from that memorable season came on this day five years ago.