Dolphins vs. Bills: Miami's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 11
To put it simply: The Dolphins looked dreadful.
Miami generated just 184 yards of total offense, lost the time-of-possession battle by more than 10 minutes, racked up 69 yards in penalties and converted only three of its 10 third-down attempts. Despite all of this, the Dolphins had two opportunities to win the game late in the fourth quarter, but both were derailed by Ryan Tannehill interceptions.
Although the Dolphins defense actually played decently, it still allowed the Bills to rush for 120 yards on 31 carries. That once-impenetrable run defense suddenly looks very pedestrian, as does a secondary that played well beyond its capacity earlier this season.
The biggest—and most depressing—story of the night was the offense, though. Ryan Tannehill and Co. literally could not do anything against a Bills defense that ranked 31st in the NFL entering Thursday's game.
Maybe the Dolphins aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but they might as well be.
Winner: Reshad Jones
Most of Miami's secondary was exposed, but not Reshad Jones.
Instead, he showed why he's ranked by Pro Football Focus as the second-best safety in the NFL.
Jones was all over the place, both in pass protection and run support. He registered a career-high 14 tackles (11 solo), forced a fumble and broke up a goal-line pass intended for Scott Chandler in the waning seconds of the first half.
While some of the Dolphins' early-season surprises—Sean Smith, Nolan Carroll—have begun to regress, it's great to see Jones actually improve.
At this rate, he could be a fixture at safety for years to come.
Loser: Ryan Tannehill
It's hard to call Ryan Tannehill a loser.
After all, the man has nothing at his disposal.
He has minimal pass protection and a deficient running game, and only of his two wide receivers would actually make another NFL team's roster.
However, Tannehill had opportunities to win this game, and he botched them with rookie mistakes. Late in the third quarter, he overthrew a wide-open Charles Clay on a pass that could've easily turned into a touchdown—or at least brought the 'Phins deep into Bills territory.
Also, his game-sealing interception was an errant pass that never should have been thrown. He stared Davone Bess down, tried to force the pass into double-coverage and threw it well behind the target.
Tannehill deserves some slack because he's a rookie quarterbacking a terrible offense, but that doesn't excuse some of the decisions he made with the ball.
Winner: Davone Bess
When the Dolphins needed a big play, Davone Bess delivered.
On Miami's one and only touchdown drive, he made a tremendous diving catch along the sideline that brought the Dolphins to Buffalo's 11-yard line. He then proceeded to reel in an amazing two-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone.
Bess also caught a clutch 18-yard pass on the Dolphins' final drive.
In total, he finished the game with six receptions for 50 yards on 11 targets. He and Brian Hartline were the only offensive players who showed up to play.
Loser: Nolan Carroll
Nolan Carroll made huge contributions on Thursday night—to the Dolphins' penalty totals, that is.
He was single-handedly penalized four times for 51 yards.
Yes, four times.
To make matters worse, all four penalties granted the Bills automatic first downs. And Carroll's penalties came when he was covering T.J. Graham and Donald Jones. If he can't cover those guys without problems, then how is he going to fare against the New England Patriots?
Fortunately for Carroll, Buffalo only managed to score on one of the drives on which he was penalized, but this was an ugly performance nonetheless.
Winner: Cameron Wake
Is it safe to say Cameron Wake is the only legitimate star on the Dolphins roster?
Sure, Reggie Bush and Jake Long are big names, but they definitely aren't playing like stars this season. You can make a case for Karlos Dansby, who entered Thursday night's game on pace for a 123-tackle season, but I'm not so sure Dansby is widely recognized by casual NFL fans—which is my personal and unofficial measurement of a "star."
Wake, on the other hand, is most definitely recognized by fans nationwide, if only because he has probably terrorized their team at one point or another.
On Thursday, he added five tackles (one for loss), one sack and two quarterback hits onto full-season stat line that ranks quite impressively.
Although his sack came on a key third down, Wake's biggest play of the night was in run support. He stuffed C.J. Spiller on a 3rd-and-1 with 1:35 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Dolphins a second chance to win the game.
Just another great performance from Miami's best player.
Loser: Jonathan Martin
You didn't have to be a psychic to see this one coming.
Jonathan Martin was tasked with blocking Mario Williams, which is daunting for any offensive tackle, let alone a rookie still struggling to overcome the NFL learning curve. To his credit, Martin only allowed Williams to beat him for one sack, but that sack nearly resulted in a safety.
And, oh yeah, Williams absolutely destroyed Martin on that play.
Literally. Martin was on his back as Williams closed in on Ryan Tannehill.
Overall, though, this game could've been much worse for Martin.
Winner: Marcus Thigpen
Once the Bills took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Dolphins looked doomed.
The offense went three-and-out on its first drive, Leodis McKelvin returned a punt 79 yards (untouched) for a touchdown, the offense went three-and-out on its second drive, and then the Bills marched into the red zone and kicked a field goal.
However, Marcus Thigpen came through with a 96-yard kickoff return that balanced the momentum hanging heavily in Buffalo's favor.
Thigpen became the first Dolphins player to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Ted Ginn Jr. did it twice against the Jets in 2009. He also became the first player in franchise history to return a kick and a punt (Week 1) for a touchdown in the same season.
Miami finally found itself a legitimately dangerous return man.
Now, maybe it can find ways to utilize his athleticism on offense.
Loser: Sean Smith
What happened to Sean Smith?
Through the first few weeks of the season, he played like a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. He held his own against Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green, which prompted conversation about whether the Dolphins would even be able to afford him if they wanted to re-sign him after the season.
Oh what a difference a few weeks can make.
Smith has come crashing down to earth in these last few weeks, and Thursday night's performance supports the notion that he's most definitely not a No. 1 cornerback. Moreover, it makes me wonder if the Dolphins will even want him back at anything more than a modest price.
Stevie Johnson beat Smith for at least three double-digit-yard receptions and finished the game with six catches for 79 yards. Smith was also a non-factor in run support—just skip ahead to 1:15 on this video and watch him "try" to tackle C.J. Spiller.