The Miami Dolphins walked off the field victorious and still in playoff contention. By the time they reached the locker room, they had been eliminated.
Reggie Bush caught two touchdown passes and scored on a short run Sunday to help beat the hapless Bills 24-10. But a few minutes later, the Dolphins (7-8) were out of the postseason chase because of Cincinnati's 13-10 win at Pittsburgh.
Miami began the weekend with only a slim chance at the playoffs and will sit them out for the 10th time in 11 years.
"The NFL has a system in place — six teams earn a spot in the playoffs," first-year coach Joe Philbin said. "It is what it is."
Philbin didn't make the playoff race a point of emphasis in December, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill said he was unaware the Dolphins had been eliminated until he emerged from the locker room.
"We just have to move forward and learn from past experiences," Tannehill said.
"It's definitely a setback," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We're definitely disappointed. But we had plenty of opportunities."
The Bills (5-10) came into the game assured of missing the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season. Coach Chan Gailey's team reached a double-digit loss total for the third year in a row, but he said he's not worried about his job security.
"No, I worry about getting better ... playing to our abilities, which we haven't done," he said. "And that's my responsibility to get that done."
While Bush led an efficient offense, safety Reshad Jones recovered two fumbles and made an interception at the Miami 1 with 71 seconds left to seal the victory. The Dolphins forced four turnovers playing with a patchwork secondary that included starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson, acquired Tuesday after being waived by Cleveland.
Bush's first TD catches of the year covered 17 and 12 yards from Tannehill, helping Miami build a 24-3 lead. Bush also ran for 65 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown.
"Reggie is a versatile player," Tannehill said. "When you have a guy like that, he's a real weapon."
The Dolphins took advantage of Buffalo's woeful run defense by netting 182 yards on the ground while averaging 5.2 per carry. Backup Lamar Miller had 73 and Tannehill added 44, including 31 on a dash that set up a touchdown.
Miami went 7 for 14 on third down and didn't commit a turnover. Tannehill threw for only 130 yards but had a passer rating of 93.8, and he avoided an interception for the fourth consecutive game.
The Dolphins had three fumble recoveries, doubling their season total, but their most spectacular takeaway was Jones' interception. With the Bills at the Miami 1 and 80 seconds left, Jones leaped at the line of scrimmage to snare Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass and clinch the win.
"I just told the guys, 'Somebody has to make a play,'" Jones said.
The Dolphins' flurry of takeaways came after they had one in their previous seven games.
"They come in bunches," Dansby said. "We stuck with it."
Nate Kaeding, signed during the week by Miami, made a 45-yard field goal but had a 46-yard try blocked by Alex Carrington.
Buffalo's C.J. Spiller ran for 138 yards, but missed chances hurt the Bills. Stevie Johnson lost a fumble at the Miami 17 and dropped a pass in the end zone, when Buffalo settled for a field goal. That came after Spiller's career-best 62-yard run.
Along with the turnovers and missed chances, 11 penalties hurt the Bills.
"Especially the first half there, I think that's as poor as we've played offensively since I've been here," Fitzpatrick said.
The Bills missed a chance at a sweep of the season series with Miami.
"We came into this game playing for pride," Spiller said. "We were just trying to get the respect that we know we don't have right now."
NOTES: Miami CB Sean Smith hurt his left knee in the second half. ... For the Bills, TE Scott Chandler left the game in the first quarter with a left knee injury. FB Dorin Dickerson was carted off the field late in the fourth quarter with a right ankle injury. ... SS Da'Norris Searcy hurt his groin in the second quarter. CB Stephon Gilmore left with a head injury in the third quarter. ... Carrington's four blocked kicks on the season (3 FGs, 1 PAT) are the most ever by a Bills player since the statistic was first tracked in 1988. ... TE Michael Egnew, Miami's third-round draft pick, was active for the first time and played seven snaps.
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