Surprising Dolphins in thick of AFC playoff race
DAVIE, Fla. (AP)
The Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback is hurt, their running attack is in a slump and they've been outgained by nearly a quarter of a mile in the past two games.
Yet they're winning. Three consecutive victories have left the Dolphins (4-3) above .500 for the first time under coach Joe Philbin, and they begin preparations for Sunday's game at Indianapolis in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
A year ago the Dolphins were 0-7. They've won 10 of 16 since, including a 30-9 road rout against the New York Jets on Sunday.
Surprising? The Dolphins say no.
''I don't know what everybody else believes,'' defensive back Jimmy Wilson said. ''But we believe the Miami Dolphins are a pretty good team.''
That was the case against the Jets, even without quarterback Ryan Tannehill, sidelined in the first quarter by a left knee injury and bruised left thigh. The Dolphins were awaiting results of an MRI exam Monday to determine whether Tannehill will be available for an all-rookie showdown against the Colts' Andrew Luck.
Matt Moore, Miami's most valuable player in 2011, replaced Tannehill and finished with a fine passer rating of 96.6. Moore lost a battle this summer with newcomer Tannehill for the No. 1 job.
''The majority of my career, I've been a backup,'' Moore said. ''I just prepare and know that the opportunity can come at any time. When you get in there, manage the game, don't turn the ball over, but at the same time take your shots and make big plays. That's just how I approach it.''
Moore committed no turnovers and threw for a score, only the fifth TD passing by the Dolphins, which ties them for last in the NFL. They're fifth worst in yards rushing per carry at 3.7, and haven't reached 100 yards rushing in a game since Week 3.
But they lead the league in third-down defense, and they've been stout against the run and in the red zone. Brandon Fields ranks first in punting, and special teams have come up with a succession of big plays, in part because of daring decisions by Philbin.
A fake punt in Dolphins territory helped them edge the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago, and an early onside kick set the tone against the Jets.
''Daring is usually not associated with me,'' the low-key Philbin said with a smile. ''We felt like it was the right thing to do. But let's face it, there's going to be a time where we think that and the other team does a better job executing, and it's not going to work. Then we're going to be (called) careless and too risky.''
Miami's special teams are about more than mere trickery. Against New York, the Dolphins deflected a field goal, blocked a punt for a touchdown and returned a kickoff 57 yards to set up a TD.
Such plays are why Miami has won despite being outgained 825-428 in the past two games.
''The way we're built right now, we have to play well on special teams,'' Philbin said. ''We're not a super high-scoring offense today as we speak; I think we're going to get better as the year goes on. Our defense is playing well on third down, and they're playing well in the red zone. And we've got a pretty good punter. That's kind of the way we've been playing.''
The Dolphins, who trail only New England (5-3) in the AFC East, have benefited from a soft schedule. They have yet to beat a team that has a winning record, and they might be favored in the next four games before tough back-to-back challenges against the Patriots and San Francisco in early December.
''We've always known the kind of team we are,'' Moore said. ''We've always had belief in ourselves. People are going to say what they're going to say, but this is a good team. There are great character guys in this locker room. These guys are going to play their hearts out for 60 minutes. A lot of times, that's going to end with positive things.''
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