Miami Dolphins

Hobbled Miami Dolphins face essentially a must-win game at Buffalo

Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) is checked on by doctors in the fourth quarter as the New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Thursday, October 29, 2015.
Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) is checked on by doctors in the fourth quarter as the New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Thursday, October 29, 2015. adiaz@miamiherald.com

There is no easy fix when it comes to replacing Cameron Wake — despite Mike Pouncey’s best efforts.

At last weekend’s charity ping-pong tournament, Pouncey cheekily lobbied event co-host Jason Taylor — the only player to have more sacks in a Dolphins uniform than Wake — to come out of retirement at age 41.

“If we get Jason back, we’ll be all right, man,” Pouncey said. “Hopefully we can talk Mr. [Mike] Tannenbaum into signing him back.”

Sorry, but JT isn’t walking through that door. It took about three seconds for Taylor to shoot that plan down.

“I couldn’t run from here to the parking lot,” Taylor joked.

And so, the Dolphins will have to make do with what they’ve got (Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby and others).

To borrow a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, salvation lies within.

In a way, that’s a metaphor for the Dolphins’ entire season — starting with their coach.

The honeymoon is probably just about over for Dan Campbell in his truncated audition to replace Joe Philbin on a permanent basis. A four-score loss to the Patriots will do that.

Everything about the Dolphins right now is sped up — including the stakes.

When else is a coach asked to basically salvage a season — and perhaps his job — in his first month in charge?

But those are the stakes Sunday, when the Dolphins tangle with the Bills, the team that probably did more to cause Philbin’s demise than any.

The Dolphins went 2-5 against the Bills under Philbin, including a 41-14 shellacking in the now-deposed coach’s penultimate game. Philbin (and quarterback Ryan Tannehill) never won at Ralph Wilson Stadium, site of the 100th regular-season meeting of this old rivalry.

For many of those previous 99, something was on the line. But perhaps never have the implications been so stark so early in the season.

This is as close to a November elimination game as it gets. The Dolphins and Bills are both 3-4. Miami is winless in three divisional games; Buffalo has split its first two. Even in the mediocre AFC, a loss for either team could be a mortal wound.

According to the analytics site Football Outsiders, the Dolphins have just a 5.5 percent chance to make the playoffs. The Bills aren’t much better at 13.7. Historically, only around 7 percent of teams with 3-5 records go on to qualify for the postseason.

“I think the big deal is, there’s nine games left, and there’s a lot of football left to be played,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “Whoever comes out of it, plays their best in the nine games, will be representing themselves in the playoffs. We’re certainly not where we want to be, record-wise, but there’s nine games left, and we’re all in.”

Said Campbell: “Really the message that I gave them is, ‘Hey, you don’t lose hope, just stay the course and we can get back to what we were doing two weeks ago, and then let the chips fall where they will.’ ”

A playoff run, as improbable as it seems right now, would almost certainly be enough for Campbell to keep his job.

Even after last week’s blowout loss to the Patriots, Dolphins decision makers remain pleased with the job Campbell has done and believe he has surpassed expectations.

Plus, there’s a belief in some league circles that the external coaching options in January won’t be overly impressive, so the Dolphins ultimately might believe the best candidate already has the job.

In the end, only one opinion matters — that of owner Stephen Ross.

And although Ross and Campbell speak once or twice a week, the owner has not given his interim coach a list of benchmarks Campbell must meet to remove the modifier from his title for good.

“[The conversations are] just about improving the team and it’s about, how do we win this week? That’s been the nature of those,” Campbell said. “He wants to win. Nobody wants to win more than he does.”

Hope. It worked for Andy Dufresne. Maybe it will work for the Dolphins.

▪ Meanwhile, DeVante Parker (foot) and Jordan Kovacs (knee) did not make the trip and were ruled out for Sunday's game.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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