40-Year Phiniversary: Dolphins Top Bills in Battle for AFC East

by Mike Ferguson
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The Miami Dolphins are making a late playoff push this season. On this day 40 years ago, that was also the case.

In a tight AFC East race, the Dolphins entered the final week needing a win to take the division. They got it done with a 16-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

Setting the Stage

A win was the only scenario where the Dolphins could win the division as they arrived at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 19, 1981 with a record of 10-4-1. Miami had won three straight and held a half-game lead over the Buffalo Bills and a 1-game lead over the New York Jets.

At 10-5, Buffalo had won four straight and had defeated the Dolphins earlier in the season. The Bills had won the division the year before and needed just a win in South Florida to repeat.

The Contest

Throughout the day, the contest featured just one touchdown. That came on Miami’s opening drive.

The Dolphins went 58 yards in 13 plays as David Woodley hit Tommy Vigorito for the 7-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, the teams exchanged field goals.

After Uwe von Schamann connected from 22 yards away, Buffalo’s Nick Mike-Mayer avenged an earlier miss to get the Bills on the board. Miami led 10-3 at the break, but Buffalo threatened early in the third. As Joe Cribbs, who led all rushers with 94 yards, made his way inside the Miami 30-yard-line, he was stripped and the Dolphins recovered.

Another short von Schamann pushed the lead back to 10 and served as the only points of the quarter. With more than nine minutes to play in the final quarter, Buffalo took advantage of a Miami fumble with a field goal to make it a 13-6 game.

The Dolphins responded with a 12-play, 50-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. von Schamann’s third field goal — a 33-yard make with 2:15 to go — put the game away. Buffalo would get two more possessions, but quarterback Joe Ferguson’s last two passes of the day were intercepted by Miami’s Mike Kozlowski.

In Hindsight

With the loss, Buffalo finished 10-6, but managed to make the playoffs. The Bills beat the Jets in the AFC Wild Card, but were defeated in the Divisional round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Dolphins’ season also ended in the AFC Divisional with a memorable 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers. For Miami, the victory over Buffalo gave the Dolphins their second division title in three years. It came on this day four decades ago.

References

Pro Football Reference
Miami Dolphins

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.

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