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Dolphins bolster playoff hopes with overtime win

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: Jay Ajayi #23 of the Miami Dolphins scores a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at New Era Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

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For much of the fourth quarter, it looked like the Dolphins were on their way to a loss that they’d lament for the entire offseason as the Bills were rallying from 14 points down against a defense that seemed incapable of stopping them.

After Tyrod Taylor hit Charles Clay for a seven-yard score with 1:20 left in the game, the Bills led 31-28 but a good Jakeem Grant kickoff return set up a 55-yard field goal by Andrew Franks to tie the game. The Bills would drive again in overtime, but Dan Carpenter missed a 45-yard field goal (his second miss of the day) and, after trading punts, Jay Ajayi made sure the flight back to Miami would be a happy one.

Ajayi ran for 57 yards to flip the field and Franks hit a 27-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in overtime to give the Dolphins a 34-31 win. If the Broncos lose to the Chiefs on Sunday, the Dolphins will have clinched a spot in the playoffs.

It’s fitting that Ajayi did so much to put them in position. He ran for 206 yards and a touchdown on Saturday and the Dolphins’ rise to playoff status began when he ran for 204 yards against the Steelers in Week Six. The Dolphins are 9-1 since the start of that game and Ajayi has been a driving force over the course of this run. Kenyan Drake also had a 45-yard touchdown run as Rex Ryan’s Bills defense again failed against the run.

Ajayi had 214 yards in the first meeting between the teams and they’ve allowed three 200-yard rushers overall this season. The failure on that side of the ball hurt the Bills on a day when their offense showed a lot of life. The Bills finished with 589 yards of offense as Tyrod Taylor had the first 300-yard passing game of his career while joining LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee to run for 272 yards.

All of that spoke well of the job done by offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, but Bills fans will likely zero in on a call in overtime that didn’t go as well. On second-and-12 from the Dolphins’ 27-yard line, the Bills opted to give running back Reggie Bush his first touch of the game on a reverse that got blown up for an eight-yard loss. That made for a longer field goal for Carpenter and helped set the stage for Buffalo’s elimination from the playoffs.

We’ll see if that winds up costing Ryan his job and he didn’t do himself any favors by choosing to punt with 4:09 left in overtime when a tie or loss eliminated the Bills from the playoff race. The team showed a lot of fight after going down 14 points twice during the game, but the result was still a loss for a team that had higher expectations when the year began.