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."
What the Dolphins said
"I mean I don't think it impacts us too much. We haven't gotten the opportunity to practice with Brenner and Nate. I feel like they did a good job coming in, stepping up and they practice hard so they are going to carry that over to the game and I think they did that." -- Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas, on the O-line changes.
What the Chargers said
"We didn't capitalize on those opportunities. We got down in the red zone a couple of times and had a chance to score touchdowns but we didn't. We had some penalties that hurt us and we just didn't make enough plays." -- Chargers QB Philip Rivers, on not getting the big play.
What we learned about the Dolphins
1. The Dolphins showed that a determined team facing adversity, which will continue on into the coming weeks -- the bullying soap opera between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito is just coming into the investigation stage and NFL investigator Ted Wells is coming to Miami this week to interview Dolphins players -- can rally for a win. Although the game seesawed between the two teams, the Dolphins eked out the victory. Following a Monday night game against the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where the Dolphins rushed for exactly 2 yards, the offense picked up the pace against the Chargers. Miami rushed for a total of 104 yards on 19 rushing plays and a 5.5 average gain per rushing play. RB Daniel Thomas was the most dominant rusher with 57 yards on 10 carries. While not impressive rushing statistics, it showed vast improvement in just six days.
2. In football, they often judge a quarterback's future by the results of his first 25 games as a starter. Heading into the game against San Diego, his 26th game as a starter, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill's numbers revealed he's thrown 25 touchdown passes for 5,500 yards. On Sunday, Tannehill added one more touchdown pass -- the Dolphins also had one rushing touchdown -- for 26 touchdown passes in 26 games as a starter. In all, on Sunday, Tannehill completed 22 of 35 passes for 268 yards. He also rushed for 21 yards. Where Tannehill struggles is that his offense continues to be unable to protect him as shown by his being sacked four times in the game. He's been sacked 41 times this season, which is an NFL record a quarterback doesn't long to own. Despite the sacks, Tannehill was complimentary of the new offensive line on Sunday, saying, "You have to give credit to (offensive coach Jim) Turner getting his guys to play in midst of a lot of stuff going on, then losing Pouncy to an illness."
What we learned about the Chargers
1. Despite the loss to the Dolphins, San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers still put up good statistics to keep his season on a high note. Rivers had 22 completions on 34 passing attempts for 298 yards. While he only rushed for 6 yards in the game, the Chargers rushed for 154 yards overall. Rivers came into the game having completed 71.6 percent of his passes this season. Rivers, who has been averaging 299.0 yards per game, could set a career high if he continues to pass effectively -- his previous best passing yards was 294.4 in 2010.
2. Tight end Antonio Gates continues to be a leader for the Chargers. Playing in his 157th career game on Sunday, Gates added 52 receiving yards to his season record, which leaves him only 15 yards shy of 9,000 career receiving yards. He now has 698 career catches. Gates' number has him closing in on second place on the franchise's all-time receiving yardage list. He currently has 8,985 yards and needs 219 yards to pass Hall of Fame wide receiver Charlie Joiner (9,203) to take over second place.