The Dolphins will once again give their fans relevant games in December.
Whether they also give them the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008 rests in part on Ryan Tannehill’s right arm and whether this diminished offensive line can hold up against several more imposing defensive fronts.
In their 22-9 win Thursday, the Dolphins allowed five sacks to a Bills defense that leads the league with 39.
That’s worrisome, considering five of the Dolphins’ final six games will be against opponents that rank in the top 10 in sacks: Minnesota (third), two games against the Jets (seventh), Baltimore (ninth) and Denver (10th). And New England is 14th.
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But here’s the good news: Since 1990, 61 percent of 6-4 teams have made the playoffs.
Even if the Dolphins (6-4) lose at Denver (Miami’s next opponent, on Nov. 23) and at New England, they have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs if they win home games against Baltimore, the Jets and Minnesota and win at the Jets.
And if they win at New England (7-2) on Dec. 14, an AFC East title is a possibility if somebody can cool off the Patriots, who have won five in a row. The Patriots have a difficult schedule in the coming weeks (at Colts, Lions, at Packers, at Chargers, Dolphins) before closing at the Jets and home against Buffalo.
There was a lot to like about Thursday’s game, which gave Miami its best record after 10 games since 2008.
Executing a game plan that called for mostly short and intermediate passes, Tannehill posted the third-highest completion percentage of his career (76.5: 26 of 34, for 240 yards) and topped 109 in passer rating for the fourth time in the past seven games.
He closed at 114.8, moving his season rating to 92.2 – 16th in the league. He’s now up to 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions for the season.
Tannehill said he believes he “turned the corner” when the team was in London, following a tumultuous week in which Tannehill said coach Joe Philbin created a distraction by not publicly naming him the starting quarterback.
“When I went to London, I took a step back and said, ‘Make plays, have fun and stop thinking so much,’ ” he said on NFL Network’s postgame show. “I definitely think I’ve been playing better. It took me a little while to get comfortable in the offense. I feel great [in this system].”
The Dolphins’ offense also got a boost from Lamar Miller, who had 86 yards on 15 carries (5.7 average) and ranks seventh among all NFL running backs in per carry average (4.9).
And the defense, which entered fourth in the league in yards allowed per game (309.8) and fifth in points permitted per game (19), yielded only 237 yards and nine points. The Bills had 54 yards rushing, on only 2.8 per carry.
Still, concerns remain, starting with the offensive line. New right tackle Dallas Thomas allowed two sacks against Mario Williams. Philbin said he liked how Thomas performed in run-blocking but “there were a couple plays that need improvement in pass protection.”
Other sacks were relinquished by tight ends Charles Clay and Dion Sims and center Samson Satele.
“I kind of like overall how they blocked in the run game,” Philbin said of the line. “It’s hard to say we had great protection when we were sacked five times. I didn’t think it was terrible. Overall, they did a good job.”
The Dolphins entered with an NFL-high 43 forays into the red zone but just 20 touchdowns, with that 46.5 percent TD rate ranking third-worst in the league. On Thursday, the Dolphins had just two touchdowns in six red zone trips, and receiver Mike Wallace said the Dolphins won’t make the playoffs if the offense plays like this.
“The problem is not getting down the field; it’s putting it in the end zone,” Wallace said.
Still, the Dolphins emerged generally pleased, especially considering they had lost four of their past five against Buffalo.
“It was a good feeling, just the way they played,” Philbin said.
They also silenced Buffalo cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who had vowed the Bills would “beat” Miami’s butt. McKelvin sustained a season-ending ankle injury.
“That’s what happens when you talk,” Wallace said. “Keep your mouth closed and play football.”
▪ Philbin said cornerback Will Davis will go on injured reserve with a season-ending knee injury.
▪ Philbin was asked about an NFL.com report that said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s relationship with players is “rocky” and that “his abrasive tenor has worn thin on some.”
Philbin said if there are “issues, we have an open door policy and we can continue to work on that.”
But he said: “Bill is doing an excellent job. When I talk to the staff numerous times during the year, I always tell them I want them to be demanding but never demeaning to the players.”
▪ The Dolphins have recorded their first six wins by 13 points or more. Only three other teams since 1970 have done that: the 2007 Patriots (went 16-0, lost Super Bowl), the 1999 Rams (won Super Bowl) and the 1984 Redskins (11-5, lost in playoffs).