Bryan Cox and the Miami Dolphins learned the hard way Saturday that trying to beat the Buffalo Bills in the NFL playoffs at Rich Stadium is like expectorating into the wind.
Result? The underachieving Dolphins sank, 37-22, in an AFC wild-card game.
The Bills (11-6), who go on to Pittsburgh to play the AFC Central-champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday in the divisional round, set a conference playoff record with 341 rushing yards and are 9-0 at home in the playoffs since 1988. Meanwhile, Don Shula’s Dolphins (9-8) have not won a postseason game on the road since 1972.
“We wanted to play well and have class about it,” Bills defensive end Bruce Smith said. “We didn’t taunt them, didn’t get into any verbal battles. That’s the way we should conduct ourselves.”
Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history, has said he plans to return for the final year of his contract but would not comment on his future after the game. Owner Wayne Huizenga, who spent $18 million on new contracts during the off-season, also declined to speculate, but this woeful effort could lead to a change. Especially with Jimmy Johnson waiting in the wings.
“We never challenged,” Shula said. “That’s the way this team will be remembered.”
This was a public flogging, pure and simple. Buffalo led 24-0 at halftime, 27-0 after three periods and 34-7 with 9:31 left. The Bills rang up 536 total yards, 341 in the first half. Miami finished with a deceiving 502, but 264 came in the final 16:03.
“Today was a huge embarrassment to our franchise, to our team, to our fans,” Miami cornerback Troy Vincent said. “It’s one of those things you don’t want to be a part of. They came out there and just pounded us. Pounded us.”
Thus, Marv Levy’s dominance of Shula continues. Since becoming Buffalo’s coach in 1986, Levy is an astounding 17-5 against the Dolphins, including 3-0 in the playoffs.
“Don’t overstress game plans,” Levy said. “A game plan isn’t a master strategy.”
Certainly not when Miami defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti puts it together. In a disgraceful defensive effort by the Dolphins, Buffalo looked like a Big Eight team. It was the most yardage Miami has ever allowed on the ground and second most in league history, exceeded only by the Chicago Bears, who got 382 in their 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins for the 1940 NFL championship.
“I felt like I was still at Mississippi State, running the wishbone,” center Kent Hull said.
Quarterback Jim Kelly (who was 12 of 22 passing for 195 yards, one touchdown with two intercepts) added: “When you’re able to hand the ball off and watch guys work their magic, it sounds good to me.”
Thurman Thomas led the charge with 158 yards on 25 carries, while fullback Darick Holmes chipped in with 87 yards, including a 21-yard TD. And someone named Tim Tindale (68 yards, four carries) scored the final TD for the Bills on a 44-yard run. His longest rush during the regular season? Six yards.
When the running game wasn’t tormenting Miami, Bills wide receiver Steve Tasker was. The Pro Bowl special-teamer caught five passes for 108 yards, including a 37-yard TD, in the first half before leaving the game with a strained tendon behind the left knee.
“I guess I’m kind of shocked because I thought we would be a lot more competitive than we really were,” said Miami quarterback Dan Marino (33-64, 422 yards). He was intercepted three times and threw a pair of meaningless TD passes in the final period. “I really don’t know what to say other than we just got our butt kicked, all the way around.”
The Bills had clinched the AFC East two weeks ago with a 23-20 victory over the Dolphins. Cox, Miami’s mercurial linebacker, was fined $17,500 by the NFL after that game for fighting with Buffalo fullback Carwell Gardner and then spitting in the direction of fans.
There were no incidents Saturday involving Cox. Indeed, he kept an alarmingly low profile during the rout, too. Five of his six solo tackles came in the second half, and the leader of Miami’s defense was serenaded by the crowd of 73,103 with derisive chants of “Bry-an! Bry-an!”
“We hoped we’d play well,” Cox said, “and now it’s time to go home.”
Bills 37, Dolphins 22
Miami 0 0 0 22 - 22
Buffalo 10 14 3 10 - 37
Buf-Thomas 1 run (Christie kick), 5:02.
Buf-FG Christie 48, 7:58.
Buf-Holmes 21 run (Christie kick), 5:06.
Buf-Tasker 37 pass from Kelly (Christie kick), 7:39.
Buf-FG Christie 23, 13:57.
Mia-McDuffie 5 pass from Marino (Stoyanovich kick), 1:07.
Buf-Tindale 44 run (Christie kick), 5:29.
Mia-Hill 45 pass from Marino (Stoyanovich kick), 6:59.
Buf-FG Christie 42, 10:24.
Mia-Kirby 1 run (McDuffie pass from Marino), 12:51.
Mia Buf First downs 26 27 Rushes-yards 14-70 52-341 Passing 432 195 Punt Returns 1-12 0-0 Kickoff Returns 8-137 2-37 Interceptions Ret. 2-26 3-5 Comp-Att-Int 34-66-3 12-22-2 Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 0-0 Punts 3-38 4-35 Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0 Penalties-Yards 4-15 5-29 Time of Possession 25:28 34:32
RUSHING - Miami, Byars 4-22, Kidd 1-18, Parmalee 5-13, McDuffie 1-9, Kirby 2-8, Marino 1-0. Buffalo, Thomas 25-158, Holmes 15-87, Tindale 4-68, Brooks 2-28, Tasker 2-7, Kelly 3-(minus 3), Copeland 1-(minus 4).
PASSING - Miami, Marino 33-64-3-422, Kosar 1-1-0-10, McDuffie 0-1-0-0. Buffalo, Kelly 12-22-2-195.
RECEIVING - Miami, McDuffie 11-154, Kirby 8-68, Parmalee 4-51, Byars 4-30, Fryar 3-29, Hill 2-59, Clark 2-41. Buffalo, Tasker 5-108, Thomas 3-42, Cline 2-32, Brooks 2-13.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - Miami, Stoyanovich 53.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.