Dolphins 20, Chargers 16

Playoffs on Miami Dolphins’ mind after beating San Diego Chargers

 

After two weeks of turmoil, the Dolphins won for just the second time in seven games, while taking control of their playoff destiny.

 
Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes knocks down a Phillip Rivers hail mary pass ito end the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Nov. 17, 2013.
Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes knocks down a Phillip Rivers hail mary pass ito end the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Nov. 17, 2013.
C.W. Griffin / Staff photo
WEB VOTE Should Sunday's victory against the Chargers lessen the anger of Dolphins fans?

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

Somebody ought to tell the Dolphins they’re supposed to fade away.

Because they don’t look like they’re going to do so on their own.

Despite all the noise and investigations and committees and missing pieces, the Dolphins are still in playoff contention. And on Sunday, they put together their best performance since the whole media circus surrounding the bullying scandal began.

The latest example: a 20-16 white-knuckle triumph over the visiting San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium, a result that not only got Miami back to .500, but also put the team firmly back in the playoff hunt.

This team, left for dead by many in the media, is now tied with New York at 5-5 for the AFC’s sixth seed and in firm control of its own destiny. The loss dropped the Chargers to 4-6.

“Somebody’s got to get that last wild card spot," said tackle Tyson Clabo. “Why not us?”

Well, because lesser teams might have wilted by now. But since Jonathan Martin walked out of team headquarters and into a national firestorm on Oct. 28, the Dolphins have played three times. They’ve won twice.

So no, they’re not going anywhere — voluntarily, at least.

“This team is not going to do that,” said cornerback Brent Grimes, who had yet another stellar game in coverage. “We’re going to play football.

“Nobody could have predicted all these things that are going on right now, but all we can do is keep playing ball and try to make the playoffs,” Grimes continued.

If they do — and there’s no reason to believe at this point that nine, if not eight, wins will be good enough to get there in a lousy AFC — Grimes will be a major reason why.

He had another interception Sunday, a pick that took points off the board. And later, Grimes knocked down Philip Rivers’ pass on the game’s final play to seal the victory.

Grimes personified Miami’s big-play defense, which surrendered 435 yards but just 16 points. The Dolphins were excellent in the red zone — allowing just one touchdown in three trips — and good enough on third down.

As for the offense, pick any offensive lineman to be the poster boy. They all showed grit and resiliency in the face of enormous criticism and adversity.

How dire a situation was it? Only two of Miami’s opening-day starters on the line were active Sunday.

Martin and Richie Incognito, of course, weren’t there. But neither was Mike Pouncey, a late scratch due to illness. That meant Sam Brenner, who woke up Saturday on the team’s practice squad, got the start at left guard.

The surprising result: 5.5 yards per carry (excellent) and four quarterback sacks allowed (better than what the Dolphins had averaged coming in).

“They did a great job,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who completed 22 of 35 passes for 268 yards, and had both a touchdown pass and an interception.

“It’s a testament to the confidence and ability of that room.”

Tannehill had plenty of help on his touchdown pass, a 39-yard catch and run by Charles Clay. The tight end steam-rolled Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist en route to the end zone.

Clay, who has blossomed into a true threat in his third NFL season, had six catches for 90 yards on the day.

The Dolphins’ running game was effective, too. Daniel Thomas had 57 yards on 10 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown vault in which he hurdled over the defense and into the end zone.

But even still, the offense couldn’t close out the game when given the chance. Tannehill foolishly ran out of bounds on third-and-long with the lead and just over 2 minutes to play, saving time for a potential Chargers rally.

Cameron Wake had other ideas. He sacked Rivers early in the drive, forcing the Chargers to use their last timeout.

Poor clock management later in the possession limited San Diego’s options to one: Go to the end zone on the game’s final play. Grimes got position on Vincent Brown and knocked the last-gasp pass down.

Many of the 60,256 who paid for a ticket Sunday stayed to the end, and were rewarded for their perseverance.

For three hours, they Dolphins gave them reason to be proud again.

Of course, the bullying scandal isn’t going anywhere. Rather, with NFL investigator Ted Wells coming to town Monday to begin his chats with Dolphins players and coaches, the noise will soon ramp up again.

Tannehill expects to be among those summoned to a 15-minute interview with Wells. He won’t be alone. Wells will spend several days in Miami trying to determine who did what — and when — to Martin.

Tannehill’s strategy: “Be truthful, be honest. Tell my side.”

The Dolphins may have told their side on the field Sunday.

They won, in no small part, because Joe Philbin was able to successfully filter out much of the external distractions. And in his message to the team Saturday night, he kept it simple.

“Just go play,” Tannehill said he was told. “Our confidence hasn’t changed. Our belief in ourselves hasn’t changed. Go play the game that we know how to.”

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