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Dolphins hold off Chargers, 20-16

The SportsXchange

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - The Miami Dolphins insisted all week the continuing Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga did not impact their focus on the San Diego Chargers.

The Dolphins, who had lost five of their last six games, kept their chances for a playoff spot alive with a 20-16 win over San Diego at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.

The Chargers came close to pulling off the last-gasp victory on the final play of the game. With seven seconds remaining, but quarterback Philip Rivers' game-ending heave from the 25-yard line was broken up by cornerback Brent Grimes.

"I'm as tall as I am and I just go get the ball," said Grimes, who is listed at 5-foot-8. "I just had to make a play. It was the last play and everybody in the stadium knew they needed a touchdown. I would've tried to catch it but when I saw it coming I just pushed it forward."

Both teams came into the game with a 4-5 record and in a three-way tie for seventh place in the AFC. With only six games remaining, the Dolphins (5-5) are firmly in the cluster of teams fighting for the sixth playoff spot in the conference.

"Too many mistakes from the football team today, start to finish," said Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. "Offensively, a turnover to start, overall we hurt ourselves way too much, one time after another. We dug ourselves in this hole, as a football team, and now we have to dig ourselves out. ... It starts with me as the head coach."

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who had San Diego's only touchdown, said the long return flight would offer self-reflection time.

"Despite what we believe, we're a 4-6 team. When I think of every game we lost this season, we made errors and we weren't good enough to overcome them," Gates said.

The Dolphins came into the game already down by two starters on their offensive line with Martin leaving the team and Incognito indefinitely suspended. The offensive line was further depleted with starting center Mike Pouncey and tackle Will Yeatman out of action.

Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was pleased with his makeshift line answering the challenge.

"I thought they did a good job," Philbin said. "We've got a good, hard-working group of guys. We've taken a lot of flack. They keep working, they keep their mouths shut, and go to work every single day."

Pouncey, who missed practice on Friday, was still ill and unable to play. Tackle Nate Garner was shifted to center with Sam Brenner, making his NFL debut after being promoted from the team's practice squad on Saturday, taking Garner's left guard position.

"I've been practicing at center the whole year so I just went out and did the best I know how to do and get everyone on the same page," Garner said. "We kept our focus throughout all of this going on. We're just going to work every day and trying to get better and we succeeded as that this week."

Brenner is listed as a center on the team roster and did take two snaps when Garner briefly stepped out for a cleat repair.

"It was pretty amazing and a great experience to do it (play first NFL game) against my hometown team and with these guys because I love the guys on this team," said Brenner. "I actually was a Chargers fan since I was a kid. I know that doesn't sound right but I grew up in San Diego so to do it against them was a great, great experience."

Yeatman is on the Reserve/Injured list after sustaining a season-ending torn ACL during practice this week.

Rivers completed 22 of 34 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown pass to Gates and running back Ryan Mathews had 127 rushing yards.

Miami survived despite continued issues protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked four times, and converted just two of 10 third-down attempts.

Tight end Charles Clay gave the Dolphins a 17-10 lead on a 39-yard touchdown with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter. Clay led the Dolphins with six receptions for 90 yards.

The Chargers inched within one point of the Dolphins with a pair of field goals to trim the lead to 17-16 early in the fourth. The second field goal ended a five-play, 56-yard drive highlighted by Mathews' career-long 51-yard run.

Sturgis made a 37-yard field goal with 8:43 remaining in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 20-16.

The Dolphins opened the scoring on their first drive with a 22-yard field goal by kicker Caleb Sturgis.

Grimes ended the Chargers first possession of the game with an interception return for 15 yards on a deep pass down the right sideline intended for wide receiver Vincent Brown.

Chargers cornerback Johnny Patrick intercepted a pass to Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline at the Miami 49. On first-and-goal from the 5, Chargers quarterback Rivers' pass to Gates put San Diego ahead 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas answered with a 1-yard touchdown run, capping a nine-play, 80-yard drive as Miami recaptured the lead, 10-7. The Chargers came back to even the score 10-10 with less than a minute left in the first half with a 27-yard field goal by kicker Nick Novak.

NOTES: QB Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times by the Chargers. He has been sacked an NFL-worst 41 times this season. Tannehill is just 12 sacks shy of a franchise record. ... Dolphin Sam Brenner, listed in the Dolphins media guide as a center, made his NFL debut at left guard. A 2013 Utah graduate, he played guard and left tackle in 50 games with 26 starts at school. In his last two years at school he allowed only two sacks total in 25 games. ... Chargers CB Johnny Patrick, who posted his first interception, sustained a head injury and did not return for the second half of the game. ... Chargers DE Corey Liuget and OLB Tourek Williams grew up in Miami. Liuget attended Hialeah High School and Williams went to Norland High School.

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