Somehow, the Dolphins still have a real chance at playoffs

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — They might not have their starting quarterback. They might not have their backup quarterback. They’ve lost five consecutive games and haven’t beaten a team that currently has a winning record since September.

Somehow, the Miami Dolphins still have life.

No team in NFL history has had losing streaks of both three and five games in the same season and made the playoffs. But the Dolphins — with a win over the New York Jets on Sunday and some help from the Buffalo Bills — can do exactly that.

Otherwise, an offseason of great fanfare, followed by an 8-3 start to this season and sitting atop the AFC East in late November will be all for naught.

“We just need to focus on next week,” Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips said. “Win or go home.”

Not exactly. Winning alone won’t be enough.

Dolphins fans, you are Bills fans this week. The only way Miami gets into the playoffs is by beating the Jets and if Buffalo beats New England. Otherwise, the Dolphins will either finish 9-8 and not make the playoffs — just like last year — or even worse, finish 8-9 and not make the playoffs.

“We still have games to play,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said, perhaps trying to talk the reference to multiple games into existence. “We have one in particular against the New York Jets that we have to respond to, and that’s what I’ll be focused on getting the team channeled toward.

"Because you go through tough stretches in seasons, you go through tough stretches in games, and we have to learn how to get ourselves out of that at some point in time.”

He didn’t say this part, but he could have: Or else.

McDaniel took over for Brian Flores, who was fired after a 9-8 season when the Dolphins evidently decided the relationship between the coach’s office and the rest of the organization just wasn’t working. The Dolphins added wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who has been elite, to highlight a massive haul in free agency. Tua Tagovailoa, at times, looked like a full-fledged quarterback star.

And then he got hurt. Again. He’s been concussed at least twice this season, his latest trip to the protocols coming last week. Teddy Bridgewater took over for Sunday’s loss at New England; he got hurt and couldn’t finish the game. Third-stringer Skylar Thompson took over and may find himself as the starter again Sunday with the season on the line.

“This is when you’re tested the most,” Thompson said. “When your backs are against the wall, this is when you’ve got to be at your best. That starts with me.”

The Dolphins were the first team in NFL history to have a seven-game losing streak and seven-game winning streak in the same season last year. This year has been just as zany — 3-0 start, followed by a 0-3 stretch, followed by a 5-0 stretch, followed by a 0-5 stretch.

There have been some other roller-coaster rides to the playoffs. The 2014 Carolina Panthers went 1-8-1 over a 10-game stretch under Ron Rivera but made the playoffs by winning the NFC South that season. In 2020, the Washington Football Team (also coached by Rivera) lost seven out of eight, while the Chicago Bears dropped seven out of nine, and they both got in with losing records.

The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals lost six straight to fall to 1-6, then didn’t lose again until the postseason. Kansas City, in 2015, lost five straight to fall to 1-5, and also didn’t lose again until the postseason. The 1986 Jets started 10-1, finished the season on a five-game slide, then won a wild-card game anyway.

The closest parallel to these Dolphins — if they win this weekend -- might be the 1997 Minnesota Vikings. They started 8-2, lost five straight down the stretch, then won their finale to salvage a wild-card spot.

“I know that this is kind of my niche in the world — for me to help get a group of guys out of this is totally my speed and something that’s very important to me,” McDaniel said. “And I’m definitely up for the challenge.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The defense more than showed up against New England. The Patriots managed only 249 yards and 11 first downs, not counting three that New England got off Miami penalties. When every other team gives up fewer than 250 yards, they’re 47-12 this season. The Dolphins are 1-2 in that scenario.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The quarterback room is banged up, the offensive line is really banged up, most of the secondary is banged up. Scheme and execution can always be debated, but the Dolphins simply need to get more players back — Xavien Howard, Terron Armstead and Bradley Chubb were among those who couldn’t go on Sunday.

STOCK UP

LB Elandon Roberts was everywhere Sunday, with nine tackles and a sack. He swarmed, and Miami will need more of that against a Jets team with nothing to lose this week.

STOCK DOWN

K Jason Sanders missed a 51-yard field-goal try wide right, and is 1 for 5 from 50 or more yards this season.

INJURED

Bridgewater hurt a finger trying to make a tackle after an interception, which led to Thompson coming into the game. Howard and Armstead tried to see if they could play pregame, and were ruled out.

KEY NUMBER

0-3 — Miami’s record when Tagovailoa doesn’t start this season. They’re 8-5 when he does.

UP NEXT

Host the Jets on Sunday. It’ll either be a prequel to a wild-card game or a long offseason.

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