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By Henry McKenna

FOX Sports AFC East Writer

The Miami Dolphins were so dang close to having their own version of The Butt Fumble. 

Punter Thomas Moorestead was backed up in his own end zone with about two minutes left in the game when he booted the ball off the rear end of his punt protector, Blake Ferguson. That farcical gaffe led to a safety — and the Dolphins were forced to give the ball back to the Bills for a shot to take the lead.

Even quarterback Mark Sanchez, the King of the Butt Fumble, cracked a joke about the Butt Punt. But no one will remember this play. No one will care about it. And that’s because the Dolphins won, unlike Sanchez and the New York Jets back in 2012.

The Dolphins could have folded. They could have seen that play and figured the Football Gods were rooting against them. They didn’t have a lead until four minutes left in the game, after all. But Miami held the Bills without points on that final drive. The Dolphins won, 21-19. And Miami (3-0) took the top seed in the AFC East away from Buffalo (2-1), with the Dolphins now also having a potentially tie-breaking win over the Bills. 

“That is a really, really good football team,” McDaniel said of the Bills postgame. “That’s what I’m happy about, is that our team battled against what is as good of a team (as there is) in the National Football league.”

Battled — and won.

The clearest takeaway is that the Bills and Dolphins are among the NFL’s best teams.

While the Dolphins were calm, cool and collected, the Bills were anything but(t). They had a frenetic and out-of-control final drive that ended with the clock running out on them. As a result, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey began chucking his tablet and notes up in the booth in a full-on meltdown that appeared on the TV broadcast.

The Dolphins were supposed to be a year away. They were a team in flux, with a new head coach (Mike McDaniel), a quarterback who supposedly wasn’t The Guy (Tua Tagovailoa) and a new roster of skill players who might need time to acclimate. They were going to compete with the New England Patriots for a wildcard spot, if they were lucky.

They’re way ahead of schedule. The Dolphins are currently the top of the class in their division, behind an explosive passing attack that features quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Tagovailoa put together a gutsy performance, battling through what appeared to be a head injury but was later reported to be back spasms, a surprising explanation after Tagovailoa could barely stand. He smacked his head on the ground on a big tackle from Matt Milano and stumbled his way back into the huddle. Somehow, Tagovailoa cleared concussion protocol.

“He said his lower back was like gumby,” Mike McDaniel said after the game.

That’s a first.

“My back kind of locked up on me,” Tagavailoa said.


Not long after the game, the NFL Players Association decided to launch an investigation into the handling of Tagovailoa’s concussion check, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Struggling with his injury, Tagovailoa wasn’t the star like he was in Week 2 when he won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award for throwing 469 yards and six touchdowns. In this game, Tagovailoa had just 186 yards and a touchdown, with one explosive play: a 45-yard pass to Waddle.

Instead, the defense was the key to success in Week 3. Safety Jevon Holland was an absolute nightmare for Allen. He was a key cog in shutting down the Bills’ all-NFL offense. They had punted just twice going into this game — and both came in garbage time against the Tennessee Titans. The Dolphins are the first defense to have an answer for this Bills offense.

“I knew our defense was ready [for that final drive] and they’ve been working for this for a very long time and they enjoy these opportunities. So I thought they were going to bail us out and they sure did,” McDaniel said.

Bask in the glow of Holland’s diverse statistical array:

10 tackles

One forced fumble

1.5 sacks

One QB hit

Two pass breakups

Holland might have been the most important player on the football field, and that’s a tremendous achievement for a defensive player in this offensive-forward football era. And it’s not just about the counting stats. It’s about when he logged those stats — and the impact they had on the game. 

His first big play was the strip sack. On a third-and-8 in the first quarter, Holland forced Allen to cough up the ball, which ended up in the hands of Melvin Ingram. On the Dolphins’ ensuing drive, their offense got the ball into the end zone on a Chase Edmonds carry.

On the final drive of the game, Holland nearly intercepted Allen with a breakup on a ball directed toward Stefon Diggs. That likely made Allen think twice about going back in Holland’s direction.

With help from Jerome Baker (13 tackles) and Melvin Ingram (two sacks), Holland led a defensive unit that has quickly established itself as one of the top groups in the NFL. They get stops when they need to, whether it was stopping the Baltimore Ravens for the fourth quarter or halting the Bills in this contest.

The Dolphins are legit. It’s time to accept it.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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