To keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the Miami Dolphins will need to do something they haven’t done in nearly three years—win a road game in December.
Miami hopes to end its late-season woes when it travels to Ralph Wilson Stadium to face the Buffalo Bills—another AFC East team nearing the end of a disappointing season.
Even if Miami wins its final two games against Buffalo and the New York Jets, it could still miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season if Denver wins one of its final two games at Indianapolis or Green Bay. The Dolphins haven’t missed the postseason in consecutive years since 1988-89.
Rumors have circulated all season that Miami coach Dave Wannstedt would be fired if his team failed to make the playoffs.
“Take me out of the equation,” Wannstedt said. “We’re worried about winning these next two games to get into the playoffs. That’s the only equation. And that’s the only thought process for me, the coaches and the players.”
Wannstedt led the Dolphins to consecutive 11-5 seasons after replacing Jimmy Johnson in 2000, but he has done little to change the team’s traditional December collapses. With Monday’s 34-27 loss to Philadelphia, Wannstedt fell to 7-9 with Miami in December.
A 12-0 loss at New England on Dec. 7 was Miami’s seventh straight road loss in December. The Dolphins’ last road win in the month came at New England on Dec. 24, 2000.
One week after the offense couldn’t produce any points, it was Miami’s defense that failed Monday, allowing a season-high 34 points. The Dolphins’ defense, which entered ranked third in the league in scoring at 15.6 points per game, gave up 401 total yards.
“You can’t pack it up and let your frustration take over,” defensive end Jason Taylor said. “We still have two games to go. This game wasn’t over until it was all zeros, and the season’s not over yet. We’re going to fight and try to make it happen.”
Buffalo also began this season with high expectations after showing a dramatic improvement in 2002, but will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Inability to win close games is what has hurt the Bills the most. Of their eight losses, five have been determined by four points or fewer.
“To be successful and get into the playoffs, you’ve got to win close ones and have some breaks go your way,” center Trey Teague said. “And we haven’t done that enough this year.”
Buffalo was officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday with a 28-26 loss at Tennessee. The Bills nearly tied the game with 24 seconds left, but Drew Bledsoe’s pass on the 2-point conversion was incomplete.
The Dolphins aren’t the only team that may be playing its final games under its current coach. Gregg Williams is in the final year of his contract with the Bills and a third straight season without a winning record could cost him his job.
“We want to win for Gregg because Gregg is a great coach,” Bills safety Coy Wire said. “He’s good to us and we know how hard he works and how much time he puts in, so we’re taking it upon ourselves to give everything we have for ourselves and for our coaches and the community.”
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