Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen danced around in the pocket, tried to run to his right away from Miami Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn, abruptly stopped to run the other direction, and found enough space to launch a pass at least 40 yards into the end zone.
Bills tight end Charles Clay, in his fourth season removed from playing for the Dolphins, was wide open with about a minute left in the game. All Clay had to do was haul in Allen’s pass to complete a comeback for Buffalo.
Instead, Clay dropped the pass, allowing the Dolphins (6-6) to keep their glimmer of AFC playoff hopes alive with a 21-17 win over the Bills (4-8) at Hard Rock Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 65,155.
“It was obviously a real chaotic situation,” said Allen, one of several coveted quarterbacks selected in the last NFL draft.
“It was a crazy throw, rolling out to his left, throwing it 50 yards to his right. It’s kinda crazy,” Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said.
And Clay, disappointed in the visiting locker room: “It’s nothing really to it but making the catch, and I didn’t make it happen.”
For a few brief moments, including the end of a thrilling game, the Dolphins were on the verge seeing their season begin to tether to an uneventful end.
The Dolphins were nearly on the verge of losing their third straight game, while the Buffalo Bills nearly won their third in a row. Both teams could have had the same 5-7 record with greater hopes of an early draft pick instead of a playoff berth.
And one team could have been trending in a polar opposite direction than the other.
Instead, the Dolphins are now seventh in the AFC playoff race, one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for a playoff spot, with next week’s home game against the New England Patriots on tap.
“In order to stay in the hunt, we got to win, and we know that,” said receiver Kenny Stills, whose 13-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Ryan Tannehill despite being covered by two defenders allowed Miami to retake the lead with 8:42 left.
“We didn’t play very good football today, but we came out with the W, and we’re on to the next one.”
The Dolphins defense was able to withstand two late drives by Allen in the final three minutes of the game to secure their third win over a rookie quarterback this season.
Still, Allen gave Miami’s defense a worthy challenge on Sunday.
Allen completed just 18-of-33 passes with two touchdowns, but torched the Dolphins with 135 yards rushing when he broke free from the pocket.
Allen gave the Bills a 17-14 lead with his second touchdown pass of the game to receiver Zay Jones with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
On Buffalo’s second to last drive, Dolphins defensive back Bobby McCain sacked Allen and Quinn stripped Allen one play later. But when the Dolphins got the football back on offense, they could not put the game way, punting to the Bills with 2:33 left.
Allen drove the Bills down the field in his final drive, and nearly connected with Jones on a deep pass that was ruled incomplete near the 5-yard line before Clay’s dropped pass.
“He’s only going to get better. He’s going to be a tough guy to go against for a long time,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of Allen, one of three quarterbacks invited to South Florida for a thorough evaluation before the NFL draft earlier this year.
Allen showed flashes of his potential, with his ability to use his legs and escape the pocket to get past the likes of Dolphins leading tackler linebacker Kiko Alonso.
He was a fearless passer, pushing the envelope with a Hail Mary pass before halftime that was intercepted by cornerback Xavien Howard, yet throwing a 22-yard completion in the back of his own end zone for a first down in the third quarter.
Yet, after Allen’s second interception to Howard in third quarter, he responded by giving Buffalo a lead they could not ultimately keep.
The Dolphins scored on their opening drive for the second straight week, after snapping a league-high 20-game drought last week against the Indianapolis Colts, with an 18-yard touchdown to receiver DeVante Parker.
Miami turned a muffed punt by Bills punt returner Isaiah McKenzie, a former American Heritage Plantation standout, into a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to running back Kenyan Drake for a 14-6 lead at halftime.
Miami did not score again until Tannehill’s go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, getting outgained by Buffalo 415 yards to 175 on the day.
“It was just going to be who was going to keep fighting,” Gase said. “I think both teams did everything they could until the end.”