Deonte Harty of the Buffalo Bills must appear in Miami Dolphins special teams coach Danny Crossman's dreams every night. He will envision a long 96-yard punt return for a touchdown that Harty scored in the fourth quarter of the season-ending loss to the Bills at Hard Rock Stadium. That score tied the game at 14 and gave Buffalo momentum that it would never surrender.
“From my perspective, I don’t let the plays, good or bad, I try not to let them affect me," Crossman said. "You have to be onto the next play. But for the sideline, the team, the stadium, whatever, I think yeah, it’s a huge swing."
Quite frankly, that one play, where punter Jake Bailey finally logged a long punt, but with no hang time to give his gunners time to get downfield to make a play, cost the Dolphins their first division championship since 2008.
Crossman spoke to the media during his regularly scheduled time after the loss and did not avoid any questions. He said that he slept little and accepts the blame for the breakdown in players not getting downfield fast enough to make a tackle.
"So you’re trying to give the players, i.e. the students, all the information to be able to go out and be successful. And if something goes wrong, I first always blame myself of what could I have done differently," Crossman said. " What could I have taught differently? We always talk about, did you do what you were supposed to do? How were you supposed to do it? And to the best of your ability? And if you did that, then where’s the downfall? Was it a matchup nightmare? That would be my fault."
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel was very candid after the game when he spoke about how the punt return affected the momentum and the outcome of the game.
"Yeah, it was unfortunate. It looked like we had an opportunity to pin them back and I’ll to have look at the tape again, but we had an opportunity to pin them back and it turned at the beginning of the fourth quarter," McDaniel said following the loss. "Yeah, that was a huge momentum swing that hurt us, that the defense had done such a good job keeping them from scoring points. Points were at apremium at that point in the game, so it was a gut punch for sure."
McDaniel seemed to echo those sentiments during his Monday press conference after the game.
"That’s kind of what happens in games late in the season in December and January. They are won when teams can put together a good run, a good stretch of complementary football late in the game," McDaniel said. "That’s what they did with the special teams touchdown, a couple of stops on defense and then another touchdown. That’s kind of the story of the second half there.”
Bailey, who was signed as a free agent before the 2023 season, went to the Pro Bowl with New England in 2022 and was viewed as a hot commodity in the realm of special teams performers. He had an awful year as a Miami Dolphin and will certainly go down in Miami history as having one of the worst punting seasons that anyone had in recent years.
He averaged an adequate net of 40.7 yards per punt on 53 attempts, good for fifth best in team history, but had no hang time on his punts and often outkicked his coverage.
Due to the poor punt against Buffalo that Harty returned for the touchdown, Miami lost the game against Buffalo, failed to lock up the number two seed and was forced to play a playoff game in frigid Kansas City. The punt return provided a change in momentum that Miami was never able to get back.