MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes are on the shoulders of a third-string quarterback taken in the final round of last year's draft who has started one NFL game.
Skylar Thompson will lead Miami (8-8) against the fading New York Jets (7-9) Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, a game the Dolphins must win to extend their season, and even that does not guarantee Miami makes the playoffs.
"One thing I've been telling myself all week is I don't have to be be a hero," Thompson said. "I just got to be Skylar Thompson. That's what I'm excited to go do is to go out there, smile, have fun, and play the game that I love."
Coach Mike McDaniel confirmed Thompson will take the first snap, but with one condition: "Unless there's a classic Dolphins weekly setback." He was referring to the run of bad luck Miami has had, especially at the quarterback position, when it comes to injuries.
The Dolphins have lost five straight, a streak in which starter Tua Tagovailoa suffered a concussion and Teddy Bridgewater, the backup most of the season, dislocated the pinky on his right (throwing) hand during last Sunday’s 23-21 loss at New England.
Give Skylar a chance:Skylar Thompson gives Dolphins great chance to win
Mike Glennon, a 33-year-old journeyman, was signed this week in case Bridgewater cannot play. Bridgewater is listed as questionable for Sunday's game on the injury report.
The Jets are in a similar situation. They're starting veteran Joe Flacco, who served as New York's third string QB part of the year. Flacco, though, is in his 15th season and has started 179 games. He also was the MVP of Super Bowl 47, leading the the Ravens over the 49ers.
Tagovailoa remains in concussion protocol after suffering at least his second concussion of the season in Miami's Christmas Day loss to Green Bay and third significant blow to the head. He remains listed as out.
McDaniel said Thompson had an "outstanding" practice Thursday and should thrive because he's getting all the starting reps.
"He was diligent and communicative from the onset, confident and he owns the (game) plan," McDaniel said. "So excited for him to get his deserved opportunity and hope he can set a 2022 season Miami Dolphin backup quarterback record of starting and finishing a game."
Thompson's confidence is boosted by taking first-team reps this week, although he said he learned he'd be starting Friday morning.
"I got a great opportunity here ahead of me that something I've always worked for and dreamed for my whole life. And I put a lot of time into this game," Thompson said. "The week of practice, it's been really good. I'm able to obviously get all the reps with the ones."
And McDaniel believes Thompson will not be overwhelmed by the stakes.
"He really holds himself to a high standard of — did I do what I was planning on doing? Was it there? Should I checked it down?" McDaniel said. "He wants to play the position of the high level. And I don't see the magnitude of the game really weighing in, which is one of the reasons we feel pretty fortunate to have him."
Bridgewater has been unable to throw the ball downfield all week but McDaniel is hopeful he will be available.
"Teddy has gotten to a place as of (Thursday) where I could see him throw," McDaniel said. "It was super conservative, but I saw him throw."
McDaniel called it, "baby steps throwing."
Thompson relieved Bridgewater Sunday during the second half and threw one interception and a late touchdown pass. He finished 12-of-21 for 104 yards.
Thompson said not taking those live reps during the week caused the game to speed up.
"I felt if my first or second read wasn't there ... it kind of sped me up a little bit where I could have remained calm and take a step up in the pocket and get to my next progression of the read," he said. "I did that a couple of times, but there was definitely some some happy feet there a little bit. I think some of that translates to those are my first live reps of the week."
Thompson has completed just 54.1% of his passes (40-of-74) in six games this season, with one touchdown and three interceptions.
The injury report has left tackle Terron Armstead as doubtful and McDaniel said his status for Sunday may not be determined until game time. Armstead is dealing with injuries to his toe, pec, knee and hip.
"Not just because of competitive advantage, really just keeping it real," McDaniel said. "He does everything he can ... it means a lot to him. And he wants to be on that field. So we'll see."
Miami must beat the Jets, and have the Patriots lose at Buffalo, for the Dolphins to secure the seventh (and final) spot in the AFC playoff picture.
McDaniel, though, is treating the week as business as usual.
"I think it's a real emphasis of the nuts and bolts, as opposed to worrying about an end result," he said. "You worry about how can we put ourselves in the best position during the course of the game to handle the ebbs and flows.
"If I was affected by the stakes of the game, and I felt the pressure, me personally, I consider myself a terrible decider of a career choice."
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Dolphins to start Skylar Thompson at quarterback against Jets