Less than a two-minute drill after the Dolphins officially won Sunday, they officially lost January.
The Dolphins’ playoff hopes kept alive by beating Buffalo disappeared when Cincinnati turned a late interception into a game-ending field goal to beat Pittsburgh. Now, beating AFC East champion New England means only a win against a division rival and avoiding a fourth consecutive losing season.
Right guard Richie Incognito said the team just came into the locker room excited about Sunday’s win, unaware of what was happening in Cincinnati.
“We’ve done a good job staying focused on what we can control,” Incognito said. “And, obviously, we can’t control who wins the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game. We handled our business [Sunday]. We needed a win and got it. We really don’t need any extra motivation to play the Patriots next week.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said matter-of-factly: “The NFL has a system in place. The six teams earn a spot in the playoffs, so it is what it is. Those are the rules.”
But as the media fanned out into the locker room with questions about Sunday and the larger picture, the Dolphins learned their slim hopes had gone.
“Very disappointing, very disappointing,” Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said.
A few steps away, Dolphins sacks leader Cameron Wake said: “I hadn’t heard about that, but at the end of the day, it’s not Cincinnati’s job to get us into the playoffs. It’s our job to get us into the playoffs. We should’ve taken care of that six weeks ago. That’s not up to them, it’s up to us.”
Tight end Anthony Fasano agreed upon being informed of the Dolphins situation.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “It’s a situation we put ourselves in weeks earlier.”
Take your pick of the games that could’ve so easily gone the other way. The consecutive overtime losses, at home to the Jets and on the road in Arizona? The Thursday night 19-14 loss in Buffalo? The 23-20 loss in Indianapolis when the NFL’s best third-down defense couldn’t stop a rookie-laden Colts offense on third-and-long?
Or even just an abysmally flat home performance in a 37-3 blowout loss to 5-10 Tennessee, which twice this season gave up 50 points in a game?
“There’s probably one or two games where we weren’t in it,” Wake said. “We’ve probably been in every other game down to the wire, one play or a drive to stop them or to win and we didn’t capitalize. There’s been fumbles and interception opportunities that can change those games. The ball didn’t bounce our way.”
Answering if Buffalo had shown any tendencies that led to giving up more turnovers than previous Dolphins opponents, Wake referred back to those potential turning-point plays.
“Balls on the ground, they recover it, it doesn’t help you at all,” he said. “You’ve got to get the ball to your offense so they can go down and score points. Those are the kinds of plays you look back when the game’s close and say, ‘Maybe if we could’ve gotten that one … ’ ”
Said Incognito: “This is a results business. If you get caught up like that, you kill yourself. You’d kill yourself mentally. It’s a long season with a lot of plays being made, a lot of games we could’ve won, but we didn’t. This is where we’re at right now.”