Did Miami Dolphins’ thrilling win over Buffalo Bills change AFC East landscape?

The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills just played an instant classic. But how much really changed in the AFC East?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Two things can simultaneously be true: The Miami Dolphins just pulled off their most significant win in recent memory, ending a nearly four-year drought against their biggest rival and announcing to the NFL that they’ll be a tough out all season.

And despite all of that, the Buffalo Bills are still the class of the AFC East and probably the NFL — unless lapses like they had Sunday become a habit and not a rarity.

Impact of Miami Dolphins’ win vs. Buffalo Bills

The Dolphins (3-0) survived the most grueling of tests — high temperatures, an injury to their quarterback, and a heavyweight bout against the league’s most talented team — to snap a seven-game losing streak against the Bills (2-1).

It was the best, most fulfilling win in recent memory for a team that’s had far too few. The result was a just reward for the locker room, their young coach Mike McDaniel, and fans that turned Hard Rock Stadium into bedlam.

Tua Tagovailoa made the throws he needed and the defense rose up and made three hugely important stops — including on the Bills’ failed final drive.

But when these teams meet again in Western New York, the Bills likely won’t have to deal with nearly as much adversity. At various points of Sunday’s game, they were without 12 starters. And the elements will certainly be far different in the rematch. Think frozen toes, not heat exhaustion.

“That was a heck of an effort,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said after the game. “Never want to come up short. There’s no ribbons for second place, and they know it. They know it. So we go back, we learn from this, and I think we did — I think we’ll learn things that were really good about today.

“One of those is the guts and heart and the intangibles of our football team, and I think we’ll learn some things that weren’t very good today, which led to the result we got. When you look at the difference in the game, I think we had almost 500 yards to their 212 or 221 roughly. You should win those games. We just didn’t take care of the ball enough and come away with some takeaways.”

The Dolphins, meanwhile, made the plays they needed to win for the third straight week — and that’s certainly a sign of a good team.

But the Bills have already proven this year that, at or near full strength, they can be a great team. While the Dolphins are atop the division with tiebreakers in hand over the Bills and Patriots, Miami’s point differential is just plus-19. The Bills, even with a loss, are plus-53.

Plus Buffalo dominated Sunday’s game from almost every statistical angle.

  • Total yards: Bills 497, Dolphins 212
  • First downs: Bills 31, Dolphins 15
  • Third-down rate: Bills 61.1%, Dolphins 37.5%
  • Plays: Bills 90, Dolphins 39

The Dolphins won Sunday in similar fashion to how they won the previous two Sundays: By making winning plays at critical times. They forced a turnover deep in Bills territory (which led to their first touchdown) and held Buffalo to three points on their last two trips inside the 15.

The Bills made maddening mistakes — just ask offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who trashed the coaches’ booth after time expired on the game’s final play — that were decisive.

If you play this exact game 10 times, the Bills probably win eight of them. But they didn’t play it 10 times. They played it once. And the Dolphins were worthy victors and now own bragging rights over the Bills for the first time since Adam Gase was coach.

“Teams win football games, and if you are going to have success over the long haul, you have to have confidence that whatever phase can win a football game for you, can go ahead and do that, and it takes a collection,” McDaniel said.

“I knew that we were going to get our best effort from everybody. Then to be able to finish the game with two unbelievable efforts by the defense, I think I couldn’t have written a better script for what we’re trying to do. It’s an exciting day for the team, and we’ve had three opportunities, and we’ve won those three. So, that’s also a strong perspective for us because three wins doesn’t do anything at the end of the season. You need a couple more than that. But right now, very proud of the guys. We have a short week, so we can enjoy it for maybe a half hour. Then, it’s on to the next.”

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