Dolphins rookie QB Skylar Thompson not worried about perfection in first playoff start

MIAMI -- As Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson prepares for his first playoff start, he can’t help but remember what his college quarterbacks coach told him at Kansas State.

“We strive for perfection in this position, and that’s what you want,” Thompson said. “But in reality, name a quarterback who has ever played a perfect game.

“For me, it’s just dialing in on one play at a time and taking the game as it comes, controlling what I can control, and ultimately just giving it my best, because my best is always enough. I think just moving forward, that’s going to be my same mentality, and just having fun with it.”

Whether it’s enough to beat the Buffalo Bills will be determined Sunday (1 p.m, ET, CBS) in their wild-card matchup, but it won’t be easy. The Bills are 13-point favorites.

With Miami starter Tua Tagovailoa in concussion protocol and veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater still working through a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, Thompson will make his third start -- and seventh appearance -- this season.

He started Miami’s regular-season finale against the New York Jets, completing 20-of-31 passes for 152 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in an 11-6 win.

It wasn’t an eye-catching performance on paper, but Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said what the rookie was able to do given the circumstances was “no easy test,” and McDaniel is confident he will learn from it.

“Those who are weak would be exposed immediately,” McDaniel said. “The way Skylar thinks, he hopes that’s the worst game that he ever plays knowing that everyone has bad games -- but you’re trying to build on stuff you learned from, some stuff that he did pretty well, some stuff that I know that he can do a lot better.

“The mental fortitude, the composure, that’s something that should be praised because it’s pretty impressive and not easy to do.”

Thompson and the Dolphins face a Bills defense that ranked second in points allowed per game (17.9), sixth in defensive expected points added (37.6) and QBR (48.7) and fifth in yards per pass play (6.02). The difficult matchup is compounded by the fact that the game will be at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., where the Bills only lost once this season.

But the 2022 seventh-round pick said last week’s regular-season finale gave him a taste of what to expect in the postseason.

“The good thing for me, I feel like I got a pretty good feel for what a playoff game kind of would look like just last week,” he said. “It was a win-or-go-home type of situation for us, so getting to experience kind of what that felt like last week I think was helpful. This week is just going to be like any other week for me this entire season.

“I know there’s a lot at stake, and they’re going to be ready to go. They have a lot to play for considering all the stuff they’ve experienced the past couple of weeks (the cardiac arrest of safety Damar Hamlin during a game on Jan. 2, and his subsequent release from the hospital on Wednesday). It’s going to be a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Miami's offense leaned heavily on its ground game against the Jets but didn't score a touchdown. Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert, who leads the team in rushing and gained 71 yards against the Jets, underwent surgery Monday for a broken right thumb he sustained Sunday. He hasn’t been officially ruled out this week but did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

Thompson knows Miami will need more production against the Bills, but the flow of last week's game only required a field goal to win. Thompson led an eight-play drive culminating in a Jason Sanders 50-yard go-ahead field goal with 18 seconds left that proved decisive.

Thompson said he learned how much the flow of a game dictates each situation -- that certain situations call for prioritized ball security while others may require him to take risks downfield. He said it's a goal for Miami's offense this week to be more explosive and capitalize when those opportunities to take chances present themselves.

Tyreek Hill (1,710 receiving yards) and Jaylen Waddle (1,356) had the third-highest total -- 3,066 -- in a season by teammates and were only the fourth pair of teammates in NFL history to combine for at least 3,000 yards.

But neither played a big role against the Jets, combining for just seven catches on 10 targets for 67 yards. If Miami is looking for explosive plays, getting the ball to Hill and Waddle is crucial.

While Tagovailoa has been officially ruled out, it's still unclear whether Bridgewater will be available in a backup capacity. The former first-round pick had progressed enough last week after dislocating his pinkie finger on Jan. 1 that the team felt comfortable with him playing in an emergency.

But no matter who is at quarterback, Dolphins players say they’re ready to move ahead with whoever is available.

“(Tua) hasn’t played in two weeks,” cornerback Xavien Howard said. “We’re the next-man-up mentality. We got to keep it going. We just got to play.”