The sun-soaked playing surface at Hard Rock Stadium was interrupted by cloudy skies just before the ball kicked off Sunday for the Dolphins home opener. Despite the rain and ominous clouds, Josh Allen and the Bills offense were able to find an early rhythm.
Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones left the game after the first possession of the game with a groin injury and would not return. Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said post-game he couldn't provide an update on Jones' status.
In the first half, the Bills offense put together scoring drives of 97, 84 and 73 yards sprinting out to a 17-7 lead. Buffalo's dual-threat quarterback piled up 249 passing yards and two touchdowns in the first half to go with 20 rushing yards.
As the sun broke through in the second half, so did the Dolphins. The defense tightened up on the first two possessions of the second half, but the offensive resurgence began just before the intermission.
With only 29 seconds to play before the break, Myles Gaskin took a handoff from the Dolphins' own 25-yard line with just one timeout. After a 14-yard gain, the Dolphins used their final timeout before Ryan Fitzpatrick found Mike Gesicki for 27 yards, setting up Jason Sanders for a 52-yard field goal.
Fitzpatrick talked about the emergence of third-year tight end Mike Gesicki and what has led to his growth since the second half of last season and into this year.
"His confidence. He's been going out there and working hard in practice and seeing results in games," Fitzpatrick said. "We saw that the last half of last year with how much better and more confident he was playing, but this year he's taken another step. After the first game, I thought I had to get him more targets. He does a good job of finding the spots. His confidence continues to rise and I think we'll see him continue to get better."
The push just before halftime got Miami within one score, 17-10, and possession of the ball coming out of the break. Fitzpatrick's ability to play amid chaos and to throw the ball around the pass rush led to lengthy drives in the second half. Miami put together drives of 48, 85, 44 and 75 after halftime.
Fitzpatrick said the second-half adjustments were among the things he was proud of with his Dolphins offense today.
"We were able to make some adjustments in the locker room at half time - that was big," Fitzpatrick said. "Mike's emergence was great to see. It was nice to have DeVante (Parker) out there and Isaiah Ford made some plays as well."
The Dolphins would start the second half the same way they ended the first, with a field goal. That cut the Buffalo lead to 17-13.
The defense bowed up forcing a Buffalo punt after just five plays. Miami then drove the ball to the 1-yard line, courtesy of a one-handed catch by Gesicki and a shifty run by Matt Breida. Back-to-back runs produced no gain, followed by a pair of incompletions.
Brian Flores talked about the decision to go for it after the game.
"We're going to be aggressive," Flores said. "I have confidence in our offense to pick up the one yard. We just didn't execute. One yard for a touchdown for seven points instead of three, I think it's worth it, especially against that type of team. You have to be aggressive to beat a good team."
The fourth-down play on that possession was a slant route that Preston Williams couldn't hang on to at the goal line. Fitzpatrick talked about the play and his confidence in the second-year receiver going forward.
"We're going to rely on him to make a lot of plays this year," Fitzpatrick said. "The ball is going to come back to him. He knows that, he's made big plays in the past and he's got a bright future in making (big plays) this year."
The Miami defense held Buffalo to a three-and-out on the following series and Jakeem Grant's punt return set the offense up in plus territory. The Dolphins drove 44 yards on 10 plays and capped off the second touchdown of the day with a one-yard run by Jordan Howard.
Buffalo answered by going back to their newest offensive weapon in Stefon Diggs. Buffalo gained 47 yards on the first play of the drive with a sideline throw from Allen to Diggs. Buffalo capped the march with a sensational diving catch by rookie Gabriel Davis in the back of the end zone on third down as the Bills pulled ahead 24-20.
The Buffalo offense attacked relentlessly on deep crossing patterns. Safety Bobby McCain talked about the challenges those routes present.
"That's tough on a defensive back, tough on a corner for sure," McCain said.. "It beats your leverage, they just run away from your leverage. We made some corrections. You play and learn but we've got to turn around quickly."
"We struggled to cover them. They've got good receivers," Flores said. "They got open and had time to throw it. We didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback. We've got to do a better job of putting them in position to cover them better."
After a quick Miami punt, Buffalo went back to Diggs for 21 yards to put the Dolphins on the ropes. Two plays later, Allen lofted a downfield throw that cornerback Xavien Howard got a hand on, but couldn't secure the interception.
On the next play, Allen went long again, this time for a touchdown to John Brown from 46 yards out and the game-sealing score.
Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard was asked post-game about the maturation of Allen in his third year as a pro.
"He's improved a lot. We knew he had a strong arm and can throw the ball deep," Howard said. "I feel like he's been getting better at making smart decisions with the ball."
Rookie cornerback Noah Igbinoghene also discussed Allen post-game.
"I've never seen a quarterback extend plays like that," Igbinoghene said. "Today was a learning experience and we've got to learn from it."
The Dolphins top statistical performers offensively: quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 30-of-46 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Gesicki caught eight passes for 129 receiving yards and a touchdown and Myles Gaskin rushed for 46 yards on seven carries.
Despite the numbers, Fitzpatrick says two critical moments were the difference in the game.
"Not being able to punch it in - for coach to have faith in us, we have to convert on that. There's plenty of stuff early. We stalled a bit, we weren't converting early," Fitzpatrick said. "Some of that is just the comfort level with playing with some news guys but we have to continue to try to develop the run. It's mostly showing up in critical moments and we've got to do a better job than we did today."
The Dolphins travel to Jacksonville for a Thursday night, in-state showdown with Gardner Minshew and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. EDT on NFL Network.