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Think of the ramifications of one game. The Dolphins can either go quietly into the night with an 8-8 record – and have to shoulder the burden of mediocrity — or they can celebrate their first winning season, and perhaps their first playoff appearance, since 2008.
Hard to believe that one game can make such a significant difference in the way a team and a season is viewed, but that’s where things currently reside for the Dolphins. They can finish 9-7. They can make the playoffs. They can feel like they took an important step forward as a franchise. Or, they can simply wonder how they looked so promising at 8-6 and let it slip away over the final two weeks of the season.
“This is the most important game since we’ve been here,” said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
And that it is. In the two years since Joe Philbin and his staff arrived in South Florida, they have certainly had some defining moments. The victory over New England a couple of Sundays ago was certainly a milestone moment. But Sunday against the Jets is bigger because of the postseason possibilities and because of the urgency of the moment. Sunday against the Jets will say so much about this football team.
“This is truly a one game season,” said Philbin.
The path could have been so much easier if the Dolphins had beaten the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, but such is life in the up-and-down world of the NFL. So now the Dolphins have to beat the Jets and hope for a Baltimore loss to Cincinnati or a San Diego victory over Kansas City. The odds-makers say of the four teams in contention for the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Dolphins clearly have the best shot.
But that means nothing unless they beat the Jets. It all comes down to which Dolphins team shows up. Will it be the one that produced three straight victories in December, the one that looked so poised and so efficient, or the one that played its worst game of the season last Sunday in upstate New York? When you are 8-7 after 15 games, you have issues. But you also have hope and in the wild AFC playoff race you also have a legitimate chance.
I fully expect the Dolphins to prevail against the Jets. They proved they are better than the Jets in a 23-3 victory on the first Sunday of December and there is no reason that they won’t prove the same on the last Sunday of December. I expect it to be the same type of game. Not much scoring; just enough big plays for the Dolphins to win the day.
Three things, I believe, must occur for the Dolphins to prove me right.
• Ryan Tannehill must rebound from Buffalo with an efficient performance. He doesn’t have to enjoy the type of game he had against the Patriots, but he needs to be productive, he needs to play smart and he needs to come up with at least a handful of difference-making plays. Even with the downer in Buffalo, Tannehill has had a fine regular season. It is imperative that he put an exclamation point on that season with a top-tier performance against the Jets.
• The running game has to provide some balance. This has been a concern and a significant issue all season. When the Dolphins establish some kind of running game, they have a far better chance at winning. This isn’t an opinion; it’s a fact. Five times this season they have rushed for as little as 52 yards in a game. They are 1-4 in those games. A week ago they had 14 yards on 12 carries, with a long run of only three yards. That won’t cut it against the Jets. In their first meeting, the Dolphins ran for 125 yards on 36 carries, not exactly stellar numbers. But they were more than enough to control the clock and the game.
“When you are one-dimensional, it becomes very hard to win in this league,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. “We can’t put ourselves in that bind against the Jets.”
• The defense must do a credible job against the run. This is the best chance the Jets have to win. They saw what Buffalo’s rushing attack did to the Dolphins defense a week ago – a season-high 203 yards on the ground — and they know that the Dolphins have the 25th ranked rushing defense in the league. They will try to try to take advantage of that.
The Jets do not have an imposing passing attack. That passing attack can only prosper if they run the ball effectively. This facet of the Dolphins game has been one of the big disappointments of the season. Sunday needs to be different.
Yes, there is so much at stake against the Jets. A winning record. Possibly a playoff berth. Definitely the potential of a feel good moment to end the regular season. You play all season and it comes down to this.
“We have a lot of confidence in our locker room,” said defensive tackle Jared Odrick. “But now it’s time to show people we are a playoff team.”
It has to happen on Sunday. One game with a season on the line.
On Monday, AC in the AM analyzes what happened against the Jets.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.