Eight years. Eight long years, the longest playoff drought in team history.
Now the wandering is over. The Miami Dolphins are back. Back in the playoffs. Back to their rightful place among the league’s best.
Back where they belong. Back at the big boy table again.
This is the emphatic statement we can make today after Miami’s thrilling 34-31 OT win over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field, coupled with Kansas City’s big win over the Denver Broncos. The only question now is whether the Dolphins are seeded fifth or sixth.
It’s just like the good old days, when the Dolphins regularly used their divisional foes as stepping stones to postseason glories. In this case, they ended the Bills’ playoff hopes in their house, in front of their fans and in their weather.
Sweet, sweet music.
It’s back to the future, Dolfans. Or, as Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”
This season’s unprecedented turnaround, from the abyss of a 1-4 start to a playoff worthy 10-5 mark, will go down as one of the fine seasons in team history no matter what happens here on out. It’s a triumph to be added to the many achievements of this storied franchise over the past 50 years.
There is still one more game before the playoffs begin, and it does have playoff seeding implications for the Dolphins and for the opposing New England Patriots. Complicating the Dolphins’ preparations is the question of whether or not to rest certain injured defensive starters before the playoffs begin.
There are valid arguments to be made both ways, but head coach Adam Gase has made it clear that the Dolphins will approach this game focused on going 1-0 as they have in past weeks. Their singular focus is on defeating the Patriots.
Smart man. Gase knows that lying down against a divisional rival is a really bad look and is not something that preserves momentum or generates positive feelings heading into a playoff showdown. That being said, guys who have been struggling to practice with nagging injuries (most notably OLB Jelani Jenkins) could very well be held out.
The only personnel question on offense could be how many carries RB Jay Ajayi gets coming off a 206 yard effort against the Bills. He’s young but 32 carries is a lot for anyone. He also has some sort of nagging shoulder injury. Don’t be surprised if Gase is judicious with Ajayi’s workload this week in order to preserve his legs and have him fresh for Wild Card Weekend. Reserve RBs Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams are capable of handling additional carries.
These are the sorts of discussions you get to have when you reach the postseason. No matter how the finale against the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium turns out (1pm ET, CBS), the Dolphins have proven themselves legitimate contenders. Consider that this team has won 9 of their past 10 games and that the lone defeat they suffered was against a team (Ravens) they won’t see again this season.
Also consider that they have an elite RB (Ajayi) and one of the better offensive lines in the game. They have a big, multi-talented TE (Dion Sims), and three starting wide receivers who have the ability to house any reception. And even though they are without QB Ryan Tannehill, back up Matt Moore has been doing a fine Earl Morrall impression. Add to this the steady hand of Gase, one of the best playcallers in the business, and you have a potent unit who can hang 30 on any playoff team.
The Dolphins also possess perhaps the best defensive line in football (featuring two perennial Pro Bowlers in Cam Wake and Ndamukong Suh), together with some real quality depth up front. They also possess a talented MLB (Kiko Alonso), a quartet of talented young corners who have been doing some surprisingly solid work during this winning streak, and a versatile Safety in Michael Thomas who has a knack for the big play. Yes, there are serious health concerns on defense at linebacker and safety. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph deserves a ton of credit for pulling this unit together and covering the gaps as best as possible; he will need to stay creative here on out (e.g. utilizing Wake situationally at OLB).
This team also has some key intangibles on their side, namely strong leadership and perseverance. And, most importantly, they play together.
All of these things are key ingredients to a deep playoff run. And if by some miracle QB Ryan Tannehill can return, their odds improve even further.
On Tannehill: it won’t be enough for him to be able to walk without a cast or a limp. Assuming he gets cleared to practice, he must prove to Gase that he can protect himself in the pocket. Aside from fear of making his knee injury worse, Gase knows Tannehill is not at his best when he is stationary.
Quite frankly, as resolute as Tannehill is, the odds are not in his favor. Then again, the fact that he is even in consideration to return this season is crazy in itself. Tannehill is one tough SOB.
Of course this will be a moot point this week as Moore will certainly face the Pats.
Back to this week’s business: the Pats won’t be the same lethargic rival the Dolphins defeated at the end of last season, a loss that cost the Pats home field advantage throughout the playoffs and probably a trip to Super Bowl 50. They will come to play this time in order to try and secure the top seed. The Dolphins will be ready, energized by their playoff berth and a charged fan base that will make Hard Rock Stadium louder than ever. Without a doubt, this is not the same team the Pats faced in Week 2. Not even close.
“We played like we usually do,” RB Damien Williams stated matter-of-factly. “This is what we’ve done the whole second half of the season. We’ve been taking what we wanted. Home or away, we take what’s ours.”
This now includes a trip to the playoffs.