ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As Josh Allen lay on the turf at Highmark Stadium, there was nothing he could do but watch as the Miami Dolphins took advantage of the ball falling out of hands.
After safety Eric Rowe blitzed Allen untouched, with running back Devin Singletary running right by the safety, the ball slipped out of Allen's hands as Rowe pulled at an arm and Allen tried to stay upright and keep the play alive. The ball then bounced forward as Allen dove for it, with Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips also falling on Allen and helping to knock the ball yards away downfield.
Defensive tackle Zach Sieler promptly picked it up for the score and the lead. For the Bills, the fumble marked one of the worst possible starts to a third quarter after allowing the Dolphins to climb back in the game following an initial 17-0 lead by Buffalo.
The name of the game in the postseason is survive and advance, and for the Bills, that was by the skin of their teeth in a 34-31 win over the Dolphins, with Allen's three turnovers a big reason why Miami was able to hang in the game.
"I just think overall we've got to do a better job at that point, you know, up 17, I think it was 17-zip, and we turned the ball over, so at the end of the day, you turn the ball over, you die, normally, a pretty quick death," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "I think we had three turnovers, one for a score and then we had the big punt return mixed in there as well, so not very good complementary football."
The Dolphins converted Allen's three turnovers -- two interceptions and the lost fumble -- into 18 points, all of which were scored from the six-minute mark in the second quarter to the first minute of the third quarter on Allen's fumble. It was the first time in franchise history that the Bills have won a playoff game despite losing the turnover battle 3-2 (previously 0-13 in those games).
Allen finished the game completing 23/39 passes for 353 yards and throwing for three touchdowns. He rushed four times for 20 yards.
Turnover problems are nothing new for Allen, who led the NFL in the regular season with 19 and had three turnovers in one other game this season (vs. the Vikings). But the turnovers have never before been a concern for the fifth-year quarterback in the postseason. Allen came into the game vs. the Dolphins with one career playoff interception and one fumble lost.
"I mean, the turnovers, they hurt us," Allen said. "Really let them back in the game. Up 17-0 with chances and I give them the ball two times and give them a touchdown -- it's just things you can't do. And you can't expect to win like that, so some stuff to clean up on that."
Allen's first interception came with the Bills up 17-3 on one of many throws downfield, this one intended for wide receiver John Brown; cornerback Xavien Howard ended up in a better position to bring down the pass. A fight broke out after the play between Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Bills offensive linemen after Wilkins had been blocking the quarterback downfield.
Allen finished the game averaging 14.6 air yards per attempt, fourth deepest in a playoff game since ESPN began tracking air yards in 2006. He finished the game 5-of-12 with one touchdown and one interception on throws of 20 or more air yards. During the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey called consecutive plays that were long shots downfield to wide receiver Gabe Davis, with both falling incomplete.
"I'm sure Dorse will want that one back," McDermott said on those playcalls after the game. "Didn't feel great about that one, just in terms of the efficiency overall there. So, just again, that's one of the areas we can learn from."
The other came on a shorter pass intended for wide receiver Cole Beasley that bounced off him and into the arms of Holland.
In addition to the turnovers, Allen was sacked seven times, tying a career high. He became the first player to take seven sacks and throw multiple interceptions in a playoff game since Neil O'Donnell in 1992 vs. the Bills.
"I think we shot ourselves in the foot a few times, put our defense in less than advantageous positions. Put their offense on our side of the ball," center Mitch Morse said. "I think there was moments where we were really able to matriculate down the field, move the ball, and there was moments where we really shot ourselves in the foot.
"I think the biggest thing ... is this next week, yes, we did end up with the win and in this league that's hard, especially in the playoffs. But we know we need to mitigate those mistakes as much as possible. I thought this team did a very good job not pointing fingers."
The 10 combined sacks and turnovers are also the most by a quarterback in a playoff win since the 1970 merger (tied with Joe Burrow in the 2021 divisional round).
The Bills will have to find a way to mitigate the turnovers as the postseason continues and limit the amount of hits on Allen with the offensive line needing to step up, especially because other teams will be able to take even more from the Bills' miscues.
"One-week seasons, man, that's it. Got to take it one game at a time," Allen said. "Thought we did some good things today, I did some bad things today, so there's stuff to clean up and some things to learn from, but we'll grow from it. So, all that matters is surviving and advancing. Doesn't matter how we win, it's if we win, and I'm proud of our guys for playing the way they did."