Sunday 17 December 2017 / 07:49 AM

Dolphins stay in AFC East hunt, beat Bills

Eleven teams in the AFC had winning records coming in to Thursday Night Football – but there’s only room enough in the post-season for six.

The playoff race is starting to heat up and NFL schedule-makers certainly threw a big log onto the fire last night as the (5-4) Bills visited the (5-4) Dolphins for a divisional game that meant a whole lot more than the average Buffalo-Miami tilt normally does in November.

This contest was much closer than the final score indicates.

The Bills led 6-3 at halftime and then Dan Carpenter tacked on 3 more after the break to make it 9-3 in Buffalo’s favor.

But then Miami scored the first touchdown of the night on a 7-yard pass to Brandon Gibson from Ryan Tannehill. The TD was Gibson’s first of the season and he was left wide open in the end zone after the defensive back covering the wide-out was screened off by his own teammate on a shallow crossing route.

The Turning Point

Buffalo got the ball back, down 10-9 deep in their own territory. After a penalty and a short screen pass that went for a loss, the Bills were backed up against their own goal line.

In what turned out to be the main momentum shift in the game, Kyle Orton was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone on a play where Sammy Watkins seemed to have run the wrong route. With Watkins out of position and Orton under duress, the pass landed in no man’s land, instigating the penalty.

By rule, a grounding call in the end zone results in two points and a safety.

While Dolphins rookie Jarvis Landry fumbled the free kick to give the ball back to Buffalo with excellent field position, Dan Carpenter missed the game-tying kick after Orton and the Bills offense failed to move the ball.

On the ensuing drive Landry made up for his miscue by scoring on an 8-yard swing pass.

Tannehill finished up on the night with 240 yards on 26/34 passing with two TDs and zero INTs.

From there the Fins never looked back, tacking on one more field goal in garbage time after Buffalo turned the ball over on downs.

Buffalo couldn’t get anything going on the ground as Anthony Dixon led the team in rushing with just 35 yards on 10 carries and Kyle Orton completed just over half his passes as he was under pressure most of the night.

Better luck next year?

While (5-5) is far from mathematical elimination, it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will be able to win five or even four games out of their remaining schedule. They play the Browns and Packers at home and travel to New England and Denver to boot.

Hot on their tail

The Fins, on the other hand, could wind up just one game back of the Patriots should New England fall to Indianapolis this weekend.

Miami has already beaten Brady and the Pats once and so their Week 15 match-up could prove to be an instrumental game as a second Dolphin victory would guarantee the tie-breaker over the defending AFC East Champions.

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Michael Airhart

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