The Miami Dolphins managed to stay afloat in the AFC wild-card race thanks to Sunday's 23-3 victory over the New York Jets.
But the Dolphins managed to do something else, too.
Miami put together its most complete victory of the season at a time when it badly needed to win.
"December is when you either step up or fall down," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
The Dolphins, who didn't allow a touchdown, outgained the Jets, 453-177, and had 25 first downs compared to 10 for the Jets.
Miami outscored New York, 17-3, in the second half, won the turnover battle, 3-1, and rushed for 125 yards against the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense.
There's more ...
Wide receiver Brian Hartline had nine receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown, defensive end Olivier Vernon had 2.5 sacks, Tannehill passed for 331 yards, and the Dolphins had a 17-minute edge in time of possession.
Coach Joe Philbin joined in the spirit of things. Twice he went for it on fourth-and-1, once from the Jets' 43-yard line and once from the Jets' 1-yard line. The Dolphins didn't convert either, but Philbin thought it was about setting a tone.
"We wanted to show our guys that we had a lot of confidence in them and faith in them," Philbin said. "We were close on a couple of those plays. We didn't make them but we felt we had to be aggressive."
Miami took a boring 6-0 halftime lead and turned into a relatively dominant performance with a strong second-half showing against a team it should have beaten. There were a few things the Dolphins did wrong - kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 41-yard field goal wide right, the rushing defense allowed the Jets 99 yards and 4.5 yards per carry, and the offense still struggled to score.
But all things considered it was the Dolphins' best and most complete victory of the season. And the playoffs remain realistic.
--Defensive end Olivier Vernon is the team leader with 10 sacks and tied for sixth in the NFL. Think about that for a second. The Dolphins have defensive end Cam Wake, who had 15 sacks last season, and defensive end DE Dion Jordan, the No. 3 pick of the draft. Yet, Vernon, the guy who many thought wouldn't even be a starter, is doing the best statistically.
Vernon, the 2012 third-round pick from the University of Miami, has 5.5 sacks in the last three games. Vernon isn't specific when discussing why he's having an outstanding season.
"I worked hard in the offseason and learned from the veterans," he said.
But there's a chance the Dolphins trading up to draft Jordan could be a contributing factor.
--Miami (6-6) is on the outside of the playoff picture right now, holding the seventh spot, one away from the final wild-card berth, which belongs to Baltimore.
The Dolphins lose a tie-breaker to Baltimore by virtue of the Ravens' 26-23 victory earlier this season. Miami's best hope right now is that Baltimore wins the AFC North, thus taking them out of the wild-card tie-breaker scenario.
Miami's schedule is so-so. The Dolphins are at Pittsburgh this week, then host New England, visit Buffalo and end the season hosting the Jets.
Obviously, if the Dolphins win their remaining games and get to 10 wins they're almost certainly in the playoffs so they still control their playoff future. If they only lose one game they're in fairly good shape. Most likely nine wins gets you into the playoffs. Anything less and things get shaky.
--The Dolphins' running game was nothing spectacular in the 23-3 victory over the Jets, but it was good enough to get the job done. The Dolphins rushed for 125 yards against the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL. The Jets had only been allowing 76.2 yards per game.
Miami used running back Lamar Miller (22 carries, 72 yards), quarterback Ryan Tannehill (three carries, 22 yards), rookie running back Mike Gillislee (six carries, 21 yards), running back/KOR/PR Marcus Thigpen (four carries, 10 yards) and tight end Charles Clay (one carry, no yards) to bang out a ground game that provided balance for a passing game.
The Dolphins are 25th in the league in rushing offense at 88.7 yards per game, so they won't be mistaken for a good running team. But if they can be effective, that'll suffice.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Brian Hartline has the team lead in receptions (62) and yards (804). His three touchdowns are tied for second on the team. Hartline has also been targeted 104 times, just one fewer than WR Mike Wallace (105 targets), the team leader. Hartline's 12 receptions of 20 or more yards also leads the team.
--G Sam Brenner keeps improving his value. The undrafted rookie from Utah played much of the fourth quarter at right guard, replacing John Jerry. Brenner started the previous two games at left guard. Brenner also plays center.
--DE Olivier Vernon had a season-best 10 tackles to go with his season-best 2.5 sacks against the Jets.
--RB Lamar Miller (136 carries, 547 yards, 4.0 yards per carry) is averaging just 45.6 yards rushing per game.
--CB Will Davis, the third-round pick from Utah State, made his debut from scrimmage against the Jets when CB Nolan Carroll went out briefly with a hand injury. Davis was beaten for an 18-yard reception but seemed relieved to get the experience under his belt.
--RB Mike Gillislee, the fifth-round pick from Florida, made his NFL debut against the Jets by rushing for 21 yards on six carries. Gillislee had only been on the active game-day roster once previously.
--K Caleb Sturgis missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt wide right and is now 23-for-30.
--QB Ryan Tannehill is 24th in passer rating (83.2). But he's 11th in passing yard (3,115), 17th in completion percentage (62.1), 14th in touchdowns (17) and seventh in interceptions (13). Overall, it's a fairly promising season.
--CB Brent Grimes (four interceptions) had an intyerception against the Jets and is now tied for the team lead in with CB Dimitri Patterson. They're both tied for fourth in the NFL.
--CB Dimitri Patterson (groin) didn't play against the Jets. His status for this week is unknown.
--RG John Jerry didn't finish the Jets game with an undisclosed injury. His status is unknown but he said he was fine in the locker room after the game.
--CB Nolan Carroll left the game briefly with a right hand injury but he returned.
REPORT CARD VS. NY JETS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- QB Ryan Tannehill (331 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was fairly sharp. There was room for improvement, but he was pretty good. WR Brian Hartline (9-127, one touchdown) was good, and so were WR Mike Wallace (7-82-1) and TE Charles Clay (7-80). And Tannehill was only sacked once.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Granted, rushing for 125 yards and 3.5 yards per carry isn't great. But they did it against the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense. It was a team effort, but it was good enough to lead to a victory. They'll take it every time, no matter how it looks aesthetically.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Yes, the Jets' quarterbacks are terrible. But the Dolphins made sure they didn't have a breakout game by recording two interceptions, a lost fumble and four sacks. Coverage was good and the pass rush was good. A solid all-round performance on the front and back ends.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Jets rushed for 99 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. They didn't do it in a winning effort, but the numbers remain troubling for a Dolphins run defense that used to be fearsome.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- K Caleb Sturgis missed a 41-yard field goal but P Brandon Fields was good and KOR/PR Marcus Thigpen made a nice contribution. The Dolphins also didn't allow any crushing returns, although the Jets had a 41-yard kickoff return.
COACHING: A -- Coach Joe Philbin, with the NFL investigation still swirling, managed to keep his team focused in a game they needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Philbin showed some guts by twice going for it on fourth-and-1, and for a change, it was the Dolphins who were the better team in the second half, suggesting their halftime adjustments might have worked well.
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