Dolphins miss playoffs with 20-7 loss to Jets

The handshakes and backslaps exchanged in the Miami Dolphins’

locker room late Sunday afternoon were gestures of consolation, not

celebration, before players quietly slipped out the back door at

the end of another disappointing season.

Miami was eliminated from the scramble for the AFC’s final

wild-card berth by the New York Jets, who thrived in the role of

spoilers against their archrivals and won 20-7. The Dolphins blew

an early lead to complete a December collapse that will keep them

out of the playoffs for a fifth straight year.

”It’s definitely going to take a little while to get over this

one,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.

New York’s Geno Smith led three long scoring drives, ran for a

touchdown and threw for 190 yards, while two interceptions by

rookie Dee Milliner and one by 35-year-old Ed Reed prevented a

Miami comeback.

The Dolphins (8-8) squandered a shot at their first postseason

berth since 2008 by losing the final two games to non-playoff

teams, including a shutout defeat at last-place Buffalo. It was a

dismal end to a roller-coaster season that included a four-game

losing streak, a bullying scandal that drew national scrutiny, and

a December surge that briefly left the Dolphins in control of their

playoff destiny – but turned out to be a tease.

”Our record is 8-8, and that’s the definition of average,”

cornerback Brent Grimes said. ”We felt like we could be a much

better than average team, so we’re disappointed. We messed up in

the last two games. We’ve just got to live with that.”

The Dolphins were outscored 39-7 in those final two games. Now

owner Stephen Ross must decide whether to shake up a regime led by

second-year coach Joe Philbin and sixth-year general manager Jeff

Ireland.

”You have to earn your way into the playoffs. Clearly we didn’t

do that,” Philbin said. ”The results start with me. The head

coach is responsible for the results. The offense, the defense, the

special teams, the record – it starts with me. Let’s not stand here

and blame the players.”

The Jets (8-8) celebrated as though they’re playoff-bound but

will sit out the postseason for the third year in a row. After the

game, owner Woody Johnson announced that coach Rex Ryan would

return for a sixth season in 2014.

Ryan, whose future had been in question, said Johnson gave him

the news before the game. When players were told afterward, they

cheered in the locker room.

”I’ll say this – I love being the head coach of the New York

Jets, plain and simple,” Ryan said. ”You put everything you’ve

got into it. I never wanted to go out this way. We’ve missed the

playoffs three straight years, and that bothers me, no

question.”

The Jets made sure they were joined on the postseason sideline

by Miami. The only points of the season’s final two weeks for the

Dolphins put them ahead 7-0 in the second quarter, but the Jets

rallied by mounting touchdown drives of 71 and 80 yards on their

final possessions of the first half.

When Smith scored on a 7-yard, third-down keeper up the middle

with 3 seconds left for a 14-7 lead at halftime, an excited Ryan

ran on the field to celebrate with his players.

Fans were booing in the first half and streaming for the exits

in the final minutes. Smith drove the Jets 63 yards to set up a

field goal that gave them a 17-7 cushion with 4:18 left, and on the

next play Reed grabbed a deflected pass for his 64th career

interception to all but seal the victory.

Milliner stopped a Miami threat in the third quarter with a

diving interception of Tannehill one play after Mike Wallace

dropped a potential touchdown pass that would have tied the

game.

The Jets played like a team with nothing to lose, which they

were, and eager to spoil Miami’s season. They kept the Dolphins off

balance with swarming defense and imaginative play-calling,

including 294-pound defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson’s 1-yard

plunge for his second rushing touchdown this season. Running back

Bilal Powell threw a 30-yard completion to set up the Jets’ field

goal.

Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline left the game in the first

quarter with a left knee injury, while Wallace and Tannehill found

it difficult to click all day. Tannehill overthrew an open Wallace

deep, and Wallace slipped and fell on Milliner’s first

interception.

They did combine for a 5-yard touchdown to cap an 89-yard drive.

But the Dolphins’ running game sputtered, as usual, and Tannehill

finished with a woeful passer rating of 42.1.

”It can’t get worse than this,” Wallace said. ”We let them

win. We let them dominate the game. We knew what we had on the

line, and we didn’t come up with the plays we needed.”

Notes: Hartline limped out of the game after a 25-yard reception

that put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the second year in a row.

… Jets reserve CB Kyle Wilson left in the first half with a knee

injury and didn’t return. … Before the game, former LB-DE Kim

Bokamper, WR O.J. McDuffie, RB Mercury Morris and G Keith Sims were

inducted into the Dolphins’ Walk of Fame.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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