Armando Salguero

Winners of 8 out of the last 9 games, Miami Dolphins can clinch playoff spot next weekend

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- here against the Dolphins in 2014 -- actually helped the Dolphins on Sunday by leading his New England team to a victory over Denver.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- here against the Dolphins in 2014 -- actually helped the Dolphins on Sunday by leading his New England team to a victory over Denver. AP

The idea of Miami Dolphins players rooting for the New England Patriots, the team leading their division?

It really didn’t make a lot of sense to Byron Maxwell on Sunday.

“No, I’m not a New England fan,” Maxwell said with a bit of a laugh.

Not even for three hours while they play the Denver Broncos?

“I don’t know,” Maxwell offered, still unconvinced. “Could a tie help?”

It might have helped but turns out the Patriots did the Dolphins one better. They beat the Broncos in Denver and delivered the final blow in what was perhaps one of the best weekends of football for the Dolphins in recent history.

Consider:

The Dolphins beat the New York Jets Saturday night on national television. Didn’t just beat them, but rather demolished them 34-13 in what was a confidence-building outing and payoff for a team that only a week before lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill perhaps for the remainder of the season.

And that win, behind the four-touchdown performance from reserve Matt Moore, was truly a great win. I know, I know. You will say the Jets were 4-9 and had nothing to play for. And that’s true.

But I tell you the Dolphins had everything to play for and responded as a team. That game could easily have been a loss. The Dolphins had fewer first downs, lost in time of possession, and even were outgained 360 to 303 yards.

And none of that mattered because the sum of the parts was not what mattered most. What mattered was the whole. That’s what’s mattered for the Dolphins most for the better part of two months -- which team played best together?

Which team invested itself into the game as a team rather than individuals carrying out assignments?’

The answer this NFL season has often times been the Dolphins.

That’s the only way it can happen for this team. Remember, this team doesn’t have its best offensive lineman anymore. This team is so flawed and so young, the coaching staff demands players only consider one thing every week -- the next game.

“We’re focused on one week at a time,” Matt Moore said Sunday, repeating something he’s said perhaps a dozen times since he became the starting quaterback. “I think guys understand the opportunities that we have, but we’re one week at a time, moving forward.”

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore talks with the media about being nervous on his first start to replace injured Ryan Tannehill Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Moore had a career-high four touchdown passes to lead the Dolphins to a 34-13 victory over

The beautiful thing is it’s working. With reserve linebackers Neville Hewitt and Spencer Paysinger playing significant snaps, and Kraig Urbik replacing Anthony Steen center, and Branden Albert playing with one hand, and Laremy Tunsil playing with one healthy shoulder, and with a backup QB, this team has now won eight of the past nine games it has played.

This team is already guaranteed a winning season -- the first for the franchise since 2008.

With all these reasons to be only mediocre, this team is among the top six qualifiers in the AFC right now and could clinch a playoff spot as early as next week if the right machinations occur.

(The things that have to happen are varied through the end of the season. There are multiple roads for the Dolphins to the playoffs.)

But it can also be quite simple. If the Dolphins beat the Buffalo Bills and the Denver Broncos lose to Kansas City next week, the Dolphins clinch a playoff spot.

The New England Patriots actually get credit for part of that scenario. The Pats’ victory at Denver Sunday clinched their eighth consecutive AFC East title and a first-round playoff bye. But in so doing, the Pats also kept the Broncos from replacing the Dolphins as the sixth of the six seeds that qualify for the playoffs.

About that great weekend ... The Dolphins were chasing the defending Super Bowl champions in the race for that sixth place when it began. Now the tables are turned and Denver is chasing Miami.

Think about that. The Dolphins can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 of this NFL season. Now think of how this season began. At 1-4. In despair. And amid questions about the talent and the franchise’s direction and the strategy of a competitive rebuild.

All those have mostly disappeared amid much applause for effort and intelligence and planning.

But coach Adam Gase, the face of this franchise now, isn’t having any of it. An unwise reporter on Sunday tried to bait Gase into accepting praise and confessing excitement at what’s happening. Gase wasn’t having any of it.

“I think you know what my answer is going to be right now,” he said. “It’s just wasting paper here, the internet. Whatever. That’s been a great thing that our players have just embraced is let’s just focus on what we’re doing right now. We play until somebody tells us not to. We just need to stick with that mantra.”

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase talks with the media about quarterback Matt Moore's game performance with the team's 34-13 victory over the New York Jets Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, at MetLife Stadium. Moore had a career-high four touchdown passes.

Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments