When the Miami Dolphins fell behind in their home opener, some fans in the small crowd began to chant “Tua, Tua,” lobbying for the team’s top draft pick to replace veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Quarterback wasn’t the Dolphins’ problem Sunday, however. Defense was. Again. Still.
Miami was shredded for 524 yards by Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills and lost, 31-28. The performance signaled — screamed, actually — that a retooled defense with six new starters hasn’t been fixed by coach Brian Flores.
If the Bills’ point total seemed painfully familiar to Miami fans, it might be because in 2019, the Dolphins allowed a franchise-record 31 points per game.
Miami (0-2) wasted a strong performance by Fitzpatrick, who threw for 328 yards and two scores. Tua Tagovailoa watched it all, and will likely remain on the sideline in Week 3.
The Dolphins play Thursday at Jacksonville, which allows for little time to address their defensive deficiencies. In a season opening loss at New England a week ago, Miami gave up 217 yards rushing and 29 first downs.
“We’ve got some things to clean up,” safety Bobby McCain said. “We’ve got some really good players on the defensive side of the ball. Everybody’s just got to do their job.”
At times against Buffalo, the Dolphins’ defense looked like it did early last season, when Miami allowed 102 points in the first two games of the Flores era. Once again, receivers ran free, there was little pass pressure, and the run defense was soft.
Allen did most of the damage, throwing for 417 yards and four scores, both career highs. Stefon Diggs made eight catches for 153 yards, and four Bills had receptions of at least 35 yards. Four also caught a touchdown pass.
“We struggled to cover them,” Flores said. “They’ve got good receivers; they got open. They had time to throw it. We didn’t get pressure on the quarterback.”
Allen was sacked once in 36 pass plays, and the front seven was no better against the run — the Dolphins allowed 111 yards, or 4.8 per carry. They failed to force a turnover.
Miami was hurt by the loss of cornerback Byron Jones, who departed for the day after suffering a groin injury during the opening series. That put a bigger burden on first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, who had trouble keeping up with Diggs.
“It’s definitely a teaching moment,” Igbinoghene said. “I learned a lot today. I didn’t play up to my standard at all. I’ve just got to respond, but I’ll come back.”
Another cornerback, Nik Needham, led Miami with 12 tackles, which is rarely a good sign for a defense. Crossing patterns gave the secondary fits, with Allen repeatedly finding targets open over the middle.
“It’s tough on a DB, tough on the corners for sure,” McCain said. “They run away from your leverage. You live and learn.”
The Dolphins gave up 342 yards in the first half and were lucky to trail only 17-10. They rallied for a 20-17 lead, but the defense then caved, allowing 154 yards in the final 10 minutes.
The clincher came when John Brown slipped behind the defense for a 46-yard TD catch and an 11-point Bills lead with three minutes to go.
“He ran to open space,” cornerback Xavien Howard said. “That was my guy. I take the fault for that.”
For the Dolphins’ defense, there was plenty of blame to go around.