Playoff-hungry Dolphins fight to maintain good fortunes

DAVIE, Fla. — Call them breaks, or perhaps good fortune. Either way, playoff teams tend to have their share.

The next three weeks will determine if the Miami Dolphins earn a spot in the postseason. But with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown barely stepping out of bounds on what could have been a game-winning touchdown Sunday, and the New England Patriots coming to Miami minus talented tight end Rob Gronkowski, the karma around the Dolphins has turned positive after two months consumed by on-field inconsistency and a bullying scandal.

Gronkowski’s reported season-ending knee injury, suffered in Sunday’s win against Cleveland, does not guarantee a Dolphins win at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. In fact, it likely will force the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick to rely on one of their perennial strengths.

“I don’t think there’s a team in the NFL, over the years, that has done a better job of utilizing the personnel that they have from a week-to-week standpoint and a year-to-year standpoint than the New England Patriots,” Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Monday.

“They’re going to find a way to get their people in the best position possible … that makes it difficult as a coach to prepare for them now that (Gronkowski) is not there.”

Coyle’s job in preparing for Tom Brady & Co. actually might have been a little simpler had Gronkowski not gotten hurt.

“When you know what you’re going against, it’s not easy to stop it,” Coyle said, “but at least you can develop a plan that way.”

Coyle, Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and head coach Joe Philbin spoke to the media less than 24 hours after Miami defeated the Steelers 34-28 in the cold and snow at Pittsburgh.

The Dolphins (7-6) kept pace with Baltimore, the current leader for the final AFC wild-card berth.

Miami’s victory wasn’t assured until the game’s chaotic final play, on which Brown took a lateral — or was that a forward pass? — from Ben Roethlisberger and ran down the sidelines for an apparent score until he was called for barely stepping out of bounds at the 12-yard line.

Roethlisberger’s lateral attempt appeared to be a slightly forward pass, though no penalty flag was thrown during the play. There’s no telling what the officials would have ruled had Brown not stepped out of bounds.

“I might have been saying a couple of Hail Marys … an Our Father … a novena,” Philbin said of his reaction while watching the play unfold.

During the wild finish, Roethlisberger completed a pass to Emmanuel Sanders, and then five more Steelers handled the ball before the play was ruled dead.

After saying the play should not have started because Pittsburgh’s offense was not set when the ball was snapped, Coyle added the Dolphins needed to do a better job on tackling the guy with the ball.

“At one point, it looked to me like when we were kids in the schoolyard and played ‘keep away,’ ” Coyle said. “Guys started to look around at who the ball might be going to next as opposed to who actually had the ball.”

Sherman complimented tight end Charles Clay (seven catches, 97 yards, two touchdowns), running back Daniel Thomas (16 carries, 105 yards) and the offensive line — especially right tackle Tyson Clabo who “had a key matchup (against end Cameron Heyward) and he handled himself well,” the coordinator said — for their performances at Pittsburgh.

The former Green Bay Packers head coach also lauded Philbin for leading the team through recent rocky times.

“I think Joe Philbin’s done a phenomenal job to get us to this point,” Sherman said. “You talk about going through some very difficult times. As a head coach, I’ve never had to endure what he has had to endure this season with the distractions we had here in midseason.

“We had to keep our team together and keep us focused, you have no idea what a task that is to keep a team together and not splintering amidst the adversity.”

Charlie McCarthy can be reached at mac1763@bellsouth.net or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas.