If this all seems eerily familiar, it should.
The Dolphins were in nearly the identical situation a year ago.
In 2015, Miami climbed out of an early hole with back-to-back impressive wins, imposing its will on the ground and forging what it believed to be a lasting physical identity.
The only thing standing between the Dolphins and relevancy: a win over a divisional rival.
You might remember how that ended up. The Patriots eviscerated the Dolphins 36-7, not only knocking Miami off its stride, but also knocking starters Cameron Wake and Ja’Wuan James out for the season.
So no matter what happens Sunday when the Dolphins (3-4) face the Jets (3-5) for the 102nd time, it can’t possibly be worse than last time around, right?
“We can’t focus on that past,” safety Michael Thomas said. “It was a whole different situation, a whole different team. But for this one, I feel like everybody’s refocused. We understand that the reason we had success was because of the way we prepared, the way we worked. That’s been the whole thing this week. Eliminate the distractions. Get back to work, grind, so we can try to reap what we can sow on Sunday.”
What they hope to sow is just their sixth three-game winning streak since 2009.
And then, maybe, just maybe, their third four-game winning streak in the past decade.
Because stringing together long runs is how you get to the playoffs. And their schedule sets up nicely for one. Miami’s next four games are against teams with a combined 10-20 record.
But again, this is nothing new for this franchise. In all of Joe Philbin’s seasons, they were in this position around this time: Not a shoo-in to make the playoffs, but not completely out of it, either.
And they never were able to put it all together — which is a big reason Philbin is the Dolphins’ former coach.
“We’ve just got to be consistent,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “We started off the season with some inconsistency and things that didn’t necessarily jell together.”
Wake added: “Listen, nobody cares about what happened the last two or three weeks. It’s only about what’s going to happen on Sunday.”
Coach Adam Gase has to love hearing that. He has been preaching it in public and private since the team returned from its bye. He did so again Friday.
“Obviously we’re playing a team that is very physical,” Gase told reporters. “They have a lot of talented players. They’re well coached. If we go out there and just flop around this team, they’ll wipe you out.”
The message has gotten through.
“You can tell when guys are feeling themselves,” Thomas said. “You can tell when they think, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve arrived, we’ve made it.’ I don’t think that’s the case.”
It’s good, because they haven’t arrived. Not by a long shot. Even after wins in back-to-back weeks, the Dolphins still have just a 17.8 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders.
And, using Gase’s words, the Jets wiped the Dolphins out last season. New York swept Miami by a combined score of 65-34.
That was even more one-sided than the two-game butt-kicking the Jets handed out in the Dolphins’ one-win 2007 season.
Sadly for Dolphins fans, that has become the rule and not the exception. The Jets have won four of the past five, and now own a six-game edge in a rivalry that is now in its sixth decade.
Of course, this is all new to Gase, the first-year coach whose frame of reference for Jets-Dolphins is Dan Marino’s fake spike.
“It’s not a rivalry if it’s a one-sided deal,” Gase said. “We need to keep pushing forward and keep building on what we’re trying to build right now as far as our process, and try to take care of business on Sundays.”