Dolphins still have shot at wild-card berth
Reeling from their worst loss of the year, the Miami Dolphins can still make the playoffs. Whether they deserve to is open for debate.
Miami can clinch the AFC’s final wild-card berth Sunday with a little help and a win over the New York Jets. But a 19-0 loss at Buffalo cost the Dolphins control of their destiny.
”There’s no question we laid an egg as a team, – coaches, players, everybody,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.
On a cold, windy, rainy afternoon, the Dolphins hardly looked like a team worthy of playing in January. They gained only 103 yards, their lowest total since 1999, and allowed 203 yards rushing, their worst such showing in six years. Beleaguered quarterback Ryan Tannehill limped out of the game with a left knee injury in the fourth quarter, then returned to be sacked for a seventh and final time.
None of which bodes well for Miami’s chances against the Jets.
”The problems that popped up in the game and things that need to be fixed, we have to address,” coach Joe Philbin said. ”We have to play our best game of the year. It’s a great way for us to finish the regular season. We’ve got a great opportunity.”
And perhaps Miami (8-7) will bounce back. Even by NFL standards for unpredictability, the Dolphins have been a roller-coaster team.
They defeated three teams that have clinched AFC division titles. They also lost twice to Buffalo and once to Tampa Bay, both last-place teams.
Tannehill beat Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan. He’s 0-2 against Bills backup Thad Lewis.
That’s fodder for discussion in the offseason, which the Dolphins hope to delay. They’re tied with the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers in the race for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, and none of the three teams can clinch a berth without help.
The Dolphins will make the playoffs if they win, and if the Ravens lose or the Chargers win. The reason: Miami wins the tiebreaker if all three teams finish 9-7, but loses if it’s a two-way tie with the Ravens, because they beat the Dolphins in Week 5.
The Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers would all miss the playoffs if they lose and the Steelers win, which would give the final AFC spot to Pittsburgh. So the Dolphins’ latest loss ensures they’ll do some scoreboard-watching Sunday.
”That’s the worst part – we had everything in front of us,” safety Jimmy Wilson said. ”We knew how important that game was, and to drop it like that without getting points or making impact plays or giving ourselves a chance to win is a big letdown. We just have to get ready for a home game and go ahead and finish our season the right way.”
Miami earned its most lopsided victory of the season against the Jets in Week 13, winning 23-3. That started a three-game winning streak that had the season headed in the right direction – until Sunday.
Familiar bugaboos resurfaced at Buffalo, including woeful pass protection, questionable play-calling and soft run defense.
”In every aspect of the game we failed to step up to the plate,” Tannehill said.
The Dolphins have allowed 58 sacks, a franchise record and the most in the NFL. Tannehill was knocked down by the Bills a dozen times and was forced to miss a snap for the first time this season, but afterward said he felt fine and would be able to play against the Jets.
Guard Sam Brenner was benched, the latest change for a patchwork line that lost two starters when a bullying scandal threatened to sink the season in November.
Run blocking also was poor, and the Dolphins netted 14 yards rushing, the third time they’ve totaled 20 or less. They tried 40 pass plays and only 12 runs, which renewed a recurring debate about Sherman’s play-calling.
Meanwhile, the Bills’ running attack wore down Miami. The front seven is considered the Dolphins’ strength, but they rank 25th against the run.
”We still believe in our guys,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. ”We can play great run defense. Now we need to do it this week.”
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