NFL playoffs: Bills sidestep Miami’s upset attempt

Lester Cotton hadn’t played an offensive snap since Sept. 18, when he was a member of the Las Vegas Raiders. He hadn’t played at all since joining the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad on Dec. 20.

But on Sunday, the former Central-Tuscaloosa and Alabama standout went all the way at left guard for Miami in an NFL Super Wild-Card Weekend game against the Buffalo Bills.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t the only player missing from the Dolphins’ lineup on Sunday, but undermanned Miami almost upended the heavily favored Bills, who scored a 34-31 victory to advance to another home game in the Divisional Round next weekend.

In addition to Tagovailoa, Miami played without running back Raheem Mostert and guard Liam Eichenberg, who had been declared out due to injuries last week. The Dolphins also had seven other players listed as questionable on their injury report, and three did not play.

“We thought that we were good enough to win this game in the hand that was dealt,” Miami coach Mike McDaniel said, “so that won’t weigh on me as much as the things as I comb the game that will be pretty tough to watch, but you do it nonetheless, and I’m sure there’s going to be some decisions I would like to have back. There always are, win or loss really.”

The Dolphins feel behind 17-0, but when defensive end Zach Sieler returned a fumble 5 yards for a touchdown, Miami had a 24-17 lead 61 seconds into the second half.

Quarterback Josh Allen rallied Buffalo with two touchdown passes in the third quarter as he threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. But he also got sacked seven times, threw two interceptions and lost the fumble that turned into Sieler’s touchdown.

Seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson completed 18-of-45 passes for 220 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions as the Dolphins’ quarterback as Buffalo outgained Miami 423 yards to 231 yards in the game.

The Dolphins haven’t won a postseason game since topping the Indianapolis Colts 23-17 in an AFC wild-card contest on Dec. 30, 2020.

“We were very aware that no one gave us a shot,” McDaniel said. “That was definitely an extra motivating factor – not that we needed any other motivation. …

“Very aware of the drought of winning a playoff game. That’s something that since I got the job has been a huge motivating factor for me that I really wanted to bring the team, the organization and the fan base, and we fell short. But it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of determination or lack of intent. It’s because we didn’t get it done. We’re a young team. We had to learn from it. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way.”

Five players from Alabama high schools and colleges got on the field during the Miami-Buffalo game:

· Lester Cotton (Central-Tuscaloosa, Alabama) started at left guard for the Dolphins. Miami elevated Cotton from its practice squad to make him eligible for Sunday’s game.

· Raekwon Davis (Alabama) started at nose tackle for the Dolphins. Davis made one tackle.

· Dolphins outside linebacker Trey Flowers (Columbia) is on injured reserve and not eligible to play.

· Tyreek Hill (West Alabama) started at wide receiver for the Dolphins. Hill caught seven passes for 69 yards and ran twice for 5 yards. He had an 8-yard gain that was tied for Miami’s longest rushing attempt of the game.

· Dolphins cornerback Noah Igbinoghene (Hewitt-Trussville, Auburn) was designated as a game-day inactive.

· Bills safety Jared Mayden (Alabama) was designated as a game-day inactive.

· Bills cornerback Siran Neal (Eufaula, Jacksonville State) played but did not record any stats.

· Dolphins running back La’Mical Perine (Theodore) dressed for the game but did not play. Miami elevated Perine from its practice squad to make him eligible for Sunday’s contest.

· Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) was designated as a game-day inactive. A concussion kept Tagovailoa sidelined for a third consecutive game.

· Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) started at wide receiver for the Dolphins. Waddle caught three passes for 44 yards and had an 8-yard run. He had a 25-yard reception that was Miami’s longest play from scrimmage, and his 8-yard run was tied for the Dolphins’ longest rushing attempt on Sunday.

The teams had split their season series in the AFC East, with Miami winning 21-19 on Sept. 25 and Buffalo winning 32-29 on Dec. 17.

Tagovailoa played quarterback in both those games for the Dolphins. Miami went 8-4 in the games in which Tagovailoa handled the majority of the offensive snaps, and 1-5 in the games in which he didn’t.

Buffalo finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and on a six-game winning streak.

Next weekend, the Bills will host the Cincinnati Bengals if they beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night or the Jacksonville Jaguars if the Ravens win.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill runs with the football during an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 15, 2023, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.

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