Less than 12 hours earlier, the Dolphins had clinched their first playoff berth since the George W. Bush administration. But do you know how long coach Adam Gase spent talking about that playoff berth with his team on Monday?
About as long as it took Jay Ajayi to burst 57 yards to set up Miami’s winning field goal in overtime against Buffalo on Saturday.
[We] need to do everything we can to try to make sure that we're 1-0 at the end of this week.
Adam Gase, Dolphins coach
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“He said congratulations; he got it in but didn’t stick on the topic at all,” guard Jermon Bushrod said.
And then the conversation turned immediately to the next task at hand: beating a steamrolling 13-2 New England team on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium (1 p.m., CBS).
If the Dolphins win that game and if Kansas City loses at San Diego, the Dolphins would move up to the No. 5 seed and open the playoffs Jan. 7 or 8 at Houston, which has clinched the fourth seed.
But if the Dolphins lose or Kansas City wins, Miami would remain the sixth seed and open the playoffs at No. 3 seed Pittsburgh.
On Monday, Gase made clear the Dolphins “need to do everything we can to try to make sure that we’re 1-0 at the end of this week.”
Gase said he discussed this week’s approach late Sunday night in a conversation with owner Stephen Ross and team executives Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier.
Gase has the authority to make this decision on his own, but all of those people on the call Sunday night agreed that Miami should try to win Sunday and not rest healthy starters.
The game also is important to New England, which needs a win or an Oakland loss at Denver to clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
“I think our players are focused on this week because they know exactly who we’re playing,” Gase said. “This is absolutely a team, if you look past them, they will embarrass you. So our focus needs to be on playing New England, and if it’s not, you’ll see it on the field on Sunday.”
If you were looking for raucous we-made-the-playoff celebrations at Dolphins camp on Monday, you weren’t going to find them.
Gase, as usual, was mellow, and almost had to be prodded to discuss Miami’s first playoff berth since 2008.
Gase said that while Kansas City was beating Denver, the game was on in his home as “background noise” but that he was watching tape of Saturday’s Dolphins game.
Did he high-five his wife after the Chiefs won and Miami clinched?
“I don’t think there was a high-five,” he cracked.
But did Gase even allow himself a chance to smile?
“I’m happy for our guys,” he said. “Our guys worked hard to get to this point and gave themselves an opportunity to keep competing. I’m happy for our coaching staff, Mr. Ross, Mike and Chris and all of these guys who have put in so much time and have been here.
5Seed in the AFC will go to the Dolphins if they beat New England and Kansas City loses at San Diego. They would then open the playoffs in Houston rather than against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
“There are a lot of people who have been here for a long time and they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to compete and have an opportunity to keep playing after the regular season is over. That was our goal when we started this whole process of what we were doing in the spring.”
In a generally reserved locker-room, a few players conveyed pride mixed with a dollop of joy.
“I’m happy,” Bushrod said. “This gives us an opportunity, a chance. In life, all you want is a chance.”
Branden Albert cracked: “My old team [Kansas City] gave me a gift last night. I’m happy about it, but we’ve still got a big game this week.”
Said safety Michael Thomas: “Playoffs first time in God knows how long. We’re happy but not satisfied.”
And right tackle Ja’Wuan James added: “I was excited for everyone on our team, especially guys like Cam Wake.”
But then Gase’s men quickly reverted to the company line: We’re only thinking about going 1-0 this week.
That message of “one game at a time,” Bushrod said, “is all we’ve heard since the Tennessee game [that dropped Miami to 1-4]. That’s all we know.”
James said not adhering to that philosophy of going 1-0 this week is fraught with risk.
“The world wants us to think like that, to take us off track,” James said of being content. “Coach Gase says all the time we’ve got to keep ignoring success and keep focusing. I feel like that’s really gotten us to this point.”
Receiver Kenny Stills put it this way: “The one game at a time mentality that we’ve had - that’s real. We’re not just saying it to you guys. That’s what we believe. That’s what comes from our head coach.”
But let’s be clear: This is a confident bunch.
“This is kind of what we expected,” Gase said. “That’s how you think as a coach. You don’t think you’re going to have a sub-par year.”
Said Stills: “When we execute and do our jobs, teams can’t play with us.”