Without Tua, Dolphins need to find a win to reach playoffs

With a four-game losing streak, the Dolphins squandered an easy path to the playoffs and now need to win at least one — or possibly both — of their last two games to reach the postseason.

And they will probably have to do it with a backup quarterback.

Tua Tagovailoa is in the concussion protocol again after what was at least his second traumatic brain injury of the season, and Teddy Bridgewater is expected to start for Miami (8-7) against the New England Patriots (7-8) on Sunday.

The winner of the game has a decent chance at a playoff berth. If the Patriots lose, they are out; if the Dolphins lose, they are in trouble.

“I’m excited to get an opportunity to play some football, some meaningful football,” Bridgewater said as he prepared for his first action since Week 6. “Looking forward to this opportunity we have to get into the tournament.”

Miami was 8-3 after a fifth straight victory in Week 12 and the only question seemed to be whether it would challenge Buffalo for the AFC East title or have to settle for a wild-card berth. Four losses later, the Dolphins are in danger of missing the postseason entirely.

Their push will likely have to come with Bridgewater after Tagovailoa re-entered the concussion protocol. He appeared to hit his head on the ground in the second quarter of the loss to Green Bay, although he never left the game and wasn’t immediately evaluated for a concussion.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said the team didn’t see anything concerning during the game but saw a problem after reviewing the tape. Tagovailoa met with doctors on Monday and was placed into the NFL’s concussion protocol after reporting symptoms.

Running back Raheem Mostert said the team’s bad luck is not something it can control.

“The four losses is something that you can definitely control, but it just hasn’t gone our way” with the injuries, he said. “It’s just the way of the game. ... I know there’s a lot of playoff implications on what we have to do and everything like that, but we’ve just got to dial in on what we have to do in order to get a win this week.”

Receiver Tyreek Hill said he’s still confident with Bridgewater at quarterback because he “can put up numbers with anybody.”

“All of the guys got chemistry with Teddy,” Hill said. “He just brings that veteran presence that we all kind of need.”

The Patriots have lost four of five, but Miami’s collapse opened the door for them to reach the playoffs for the second time since Tom Brady’s departure signaled the end of their dynasty.

“It definitely starts with ... realizing what type of opportunity we have in front of us,” Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said. “You’ve got to understand what’s at risk, what we want to get to and you just have to play your heart out, play for each other and go against a really good team.”

STILL CONFIDENT

Despite the stress of losing their starting quarterback to a concussion for the second time this season, having the veteran Bridgewater as a backup has lifted some stress off the Dolphins.

McDaniel said he was on the phone with Bridgewater until 10:15 p.m. Tuesday going over plans.

“This is why we thought it so vital to go after him in free agency,” McDaniel said. “This is why he’s done such a diligent job during the course of the season with his own injuries and such to be prepared for this opportunity. And I know the team is very excited. I feel very fortunate to have him and for him to get his opportunity that he’s totally prepared for.”

Bridgewater is 41 yards shy of 15,000 career passing yards and has a career passer rating of 90.5.

DIRTY PLAY

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was accused of being a dirty player after he laid down in front of Bengals cornerback Eli Apple on a potential fumble return (which was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass).

Apple called it a dirty play and said he’s seen Jones cross the line before. Jones was also fined for flipping a football at a Bills player after being sacked. And against Chicago, he slid with his leg up, kicking a Bears player in the groin.

Jones said he respects players around the league but was concerned about “earning the respect of the people in this building and the people I care about.”

PRESSURE MAKES DIAMONDS

Miami players are embracing the challenge of heading into their final two games with a playoff spot on the line. The Dolphins are clinging to the seventh seed in the AFC and are guaranteed a playoff berth if they win out.

“We already know what we got to do, which is make plays and just win football games,” Hill said. “The NFL (is) tough. It doesn’t matter who you play. It doesn’t matter what the record shows on a team. It doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, you’re going against professional athletes who get paid just like you get paid.”

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AP Sports Writer Alanis Thames in Miami Gardens, Florida, contributed to this report.

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