AFC East: Miami Dolphins

DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (7-7) are on a path towards their sixth consecutive non-playoff season. But one player who is having a consistent season is starting tailback Lamar Miller.

Miller
 Miami’s third-year tailback already set new career highs for rushing yards (829) and touchdowns (six) this season. Miller is just 171 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season, and that goal is within reach with two games remaining against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) and New York Jets (3-11).

“You know, it would be great just to reach 1,000 yards,” Miller said. “I just have to continue to do what I do, come to work every day and try to get better.”

Miller has thrived in first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's new scheme. Miami’s spread, quick-hitting offense has allowed Miller to find more creases in the defense and make plays in open space, which are strengths.

This season Miller is doing a much better job of getting to the second level. He's run for a career-high 45 first downs, nearly doubling his previous career best of 26 first downs in 2013. Miller also increased his yards per carry from 4.0 last season to 4.7 this season.

“I think he’s made better decisions running the ball,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It’s not always perfect, like the quarterback is not perfect every single time in decision-making. He does a good job, and I think he's done a better job. Less shuffling, less dancing, more running.”

Although Miller has improved in several areas, he mentioned there are still things he must work on to become a complete running back. For example, Miller citied pass protection and catching out of the backfield. Taking on blockers has been a struggle for Miller throughout his career, and he's dropped a few passes this season.

But running is Miller's biggest priority and he's done it well. Perhaps what is most impressive is Miller is approaching 1,000 yards rushing without getting nearly as many carries as other feature tailbacks around the NFL. Miller only received more than 16 carries once in a game this season while constantly rotating with backups Damien Williams and Daniel Thomas. But Miller is making the most of his opportunities.

Miller needs to average 85.5 rushing yards in the final two weeks to reach the 1,000-yard milestone.

“Every time I get the ball, I try to make a big play for this team,” Miller said. “Once I get it, I just try to be decisive, make the right reads and use my vision.”

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

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DAVIE, Fla. – To get a sense of the Miami Dolphins' ideal mindset in the final two games, look no further than the credo written on the wall inside the team's locker room.

“I will never accept defeat,” the Dolphins’ credo states in bold letters. “I will never quit.”

We will find out Sunday if the Dolphins (7-7) live up to their year-long motto when they host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) in a battle of mediocre teams. This game essentially has nothing at stake. Miami still has a small chance for the postseason but was virtually eliminated following back-to-back losses to the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

However, Dolphins players insisted that they will fight to the end. They still have a shot to finish with a winning season for the first time since 2008.

“The thing is that winning two games means something, so we take things one game at a time,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “So beating Minnesota means something. Beating New York means something. But finishing 9-7 and not getting into the playoffs really doesn't mean anything.”

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill even cited a famous football line from former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards.

“You play to win the game,” Tannehill said Wednesday.

Joe Philbin, who is 22-24 as Miami’s head coach, finds himself in a challenging spot the next two weeks. Rumors are swirling that Philbin could be coaching his final two games with the Dolphins after potentially missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Philbin is doing his best to block out the noise, but he still must motivate his players to perform well in the final two games.

For players, this serves as an audition. Change is inevitable on a roster when teams are not successful, and Miami will have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason with high-priced veterans and prospective free agents.

Last year, Miami was in the playoff hunt until the final game. This season feels much different because the season essentially ended in Gillette Stadium in Week 15, leaving the team to deal with two uneventful games before wrapping up another disappointing season.

It will be up to leaders such as defensive end Cameron Wake and Tannehill to keep the team focused.

“You play for each other, you play for your team and you play to represent yourself and what you stand for as a person and as a player,” Tannehill said. “I don’t have any problem getting motivation. I love to compete, regardless of if the playoffs are on the line or not.”
The NFL draft is several months away and there are still two weeks of football left to play.

However, it’s not too early to look ahead to the offseason. Earlier this week, we previewed the offensive and defensive free agents. On Wednesday, ESPN's Todd McShay offered his first mock draft.

Here are some thoughts on McShay's selection for Miami:

Selection: No. 16

McShay's pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

McShay's quote: “Thompson is a unique talent with an outstanding combination of size, speed and athleticism, and he could help upgrade Miami at linebacker.”

Analysis: It’s hard to pinpoint Miami’s biggest need at this early stage. But linebacker could be near the top of the list. The Dolphins have decisions to make with high-priced linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Both underachieved and are candidates to become salary-cap casualties. If that’s the case, Thompson could be a possibility. Miami had a nice find in second-year outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins. But the other two positions are open for next season.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins began their practice week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are some notes from Wednesday’s session:
  • Both starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) returned to practice. The Dolphins definitely missed their starters in Sunday’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Misi and Jenkins practicing on Wednesday is a good early sign for Miami. Backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) also is practicing for the first time in four weeks.
  • Dolphins starting right tackle Dallas Thomas did not practice during the portion open to the media. Thomas injured his ankle in Sunday’s game against New England. Backup right tackle Jason Fox would be first in line if Thomas cannot play. Rookie Billy Turner also will get reps during the practice week.
  • Backup running back Daniel Thomas (ankle) also did not practice in portion open to the media. Backup offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) was not present.

The Dolphins changed their practice schedule this week. They will hold Thursday and Friday sessions partially open to the media.

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

December, 16, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and how he played in the Miami Dolphins' 41-13 loss in Week 15:

Tannehill
Tannehill showed something I had not seen in his previous 45 starts: He threw an accurate and consistent deep ball. The Dolphins let it fly in Sunday’s loss to the New England Patriots. Tannehill had a season-high 47 pass attempts and he took several deep shots down the field.

On the first offensive play of the game, Tannehill connected on a 50-yard bomb to speedy receiver Mike Wallace. It was the kind of play Dolphins fans were waiting for all season. Tannehill threw a beautiful, 32-yard touchdown to Wallace and also drew a pass interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner in the second quarter.

Even two of Tannehill’s missed connections deep to receiver Brian Hartline and backup tailback Damien Williams were good throws and not the fault of the quarterback. For one game, the deep ball was in Tannehill’s arsenal. He threw for 346 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

"Obviously one game doesn't put the nail in the coffin or anything," Tannehill said. "But I felt confident all year that we can make the [deep passing] plays."

Tannehill had a 73.5 passer rating and must play better overall. He was sacked four times and fumbled twice. Both fumbles were recovered by the Dolphins.

But the improved deep passing is something worth keeping an eye on in the final two weeks of the regular season. The Dolphins should continue to attempt stretching the defense to see if Tannehill is capable of consistently throwing the ball deep.

Miami Dolphins stock watch

December, 16, 2014
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The Miami Dolphins suffered a 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday that ruined their postseason hopes.

Here is the latest look at whose stock is rising and falling in Miami:

Falling

Philbin
1. Joe Philbin, head coach: This was supposed to be the year Philbin took the Dolphins to the next level. Instead, the team is stuck in mediocrity and Philbin now is on the hot seat. Philbin's teams have played their worst football late in the season when games matter most. The Dolphins are 1-4 in their past five December games. In coaching, more than any other position, you are what your record says you are. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons. That's not good enough and will provide owner Stephen Ross a lot to think about in the next several weeks.

2. Dolphins pass protection: Miami has allowed 10 sacks in the past two games. That's why it's not surprising the Dolphins lost to the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens by 43 combined points. Granted, all four of the Dolphins' sacks against the Patriots happened in the second half when the team fell behind. But Miami's pass protection hasn't been the same since Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert went down in Week 10 with a season-ending knee injury.

3. Philip Wheeler, linebacker: Wheeler was the only healthy starting linebacker entering Sunday's game. He was expected to provide stability and leadership with fellow starters Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) inactive. Instead, Wheeler had one of his worst games and whiffed on two huge plays that made a difference. Wheeler failed to catch Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- yes, Brady -- on his 17-yard run. Wheeler also couldn't cover tight end Rob Gronkowski one-on-one and was beat for 35 yards. Both botched plays led to touchdowns.

Rising

Wallace
Wallace
1. Mike Wallace, receiver: The Dolphins finally threw deep and Wallace had one of his best games of the season. He finished with five receptions for a team-high 104 yards and a touchdown. He caught two deep passes for 50 and 35 yards, respectively. Wallace proved he's still one of the elite deep threats in the NFL.

2. Jarvis Landry, receiver: The rookie led the Dolphins in receptions with eight. He also had a season-high 99 yards. What was most impressive is the Patriots put Landry on "Revis Island" often during the game, especially on third downs. Landry competed well against Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis and caught a couple passes on him.

3. Jason Trusnik, linebacker: Trusnik stepped in for Jenkins and played solid football. He recorded seven tackles and an interception off Brady to set up a field goal. Trusnik also played his usual duties on special teams.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Nearly everyone on the outside in South Florida is wondering what's next with the Miami Dolphins.

Following Sunday's 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots, the Dolphins all but guaranteed they will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Now, the future of the coaching staff is in jeopardy.

[+] EnlargeJoe Philbin
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsHead coach Joe Philbin has a chance to improve his overall record in Miami (22-24) if the Dolphins can win out the rest of this season.
However, Dolphins (7-7) head coach Joe Philbin said Monday he is only focused on the next task at hand, which is beating the Minnesota Vikings (6-8). Meanwhile, speculation will continue to swirl whether Philbin is coaching his final two games in Miami.

"What my focus is and the team, staff is this week," Philbin said. "This is Game 15. This is the 2014 season. What happened in the past, certainly at some point in time, is relevant. But right now what's relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings. That's really all that's important to me right now."

Dolphins players defended Philbin Sunday night. The general theme was, "It's the players on the field not executing, not the fault of Philbin."

"They just beat us on the football field," Dolphins guard Mike Pouncey said. "The coaches don't do anything. There are guys out there; it's 11-on-11. The coaches have nothing to do with it."

Added Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace: "Coach Philbin is our coach and we're rocking with him no matter what. So we got a lot of things to deal with in the next two weeks. We got to stick together."

Philbin said he appreciates the players' support and isn't surprised by their reaction. However, Philbin must also be held accountable for his 22-24 record over three seasons. That record cannot all be placed on the players.

Philbin's in-game decisions have been questionable at times, particularly in close losses. The Dolphins also have started slow or, like Sunday in New England, finished slow. In their most important game of the season, they were outscored an astounding 24-0 by New England in the third quarter alone. Miami also gave up 27 unanswered points in the second half. The team rarely put 60 minutes of good football together this season.

The decision begins and ends with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who hired Philbin three years ago. According to Philbin, the pair spoke Sunday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, after the ugly loss.

"He and I talked immediately after the game," Philbin explained. "We will talk again a number of times throughout the course of the week. We were both disappointed in how the team performed in the second half."

The best thing Philbin can do is pick up two more victories to end the season at 9-7. It would be the first winning season for Miami since 2008. That would at least strengthen Philbin's case to return for a fourth season.

But after two consecutive December collapses and no playoffs in three seasons, change is definitely possible in Miami. The biggest challenge for Philbin and the Dolphins will be to ignore the outside noise.
The Miami Dolphins suffered an ugly 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The loss dropped Miami to 7-7, and the 28-point margin was the largest in a loss for the team this season.

Here are five additional notes and observations on the Dolphins:

  • There will be plenty of speculation over the next two weeks about the future of Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. Owner Stephen Ross was clear this summer that he wanted "improvement" after last year’s 8-8 season, and the Dolphins are currently 7-7. Philbin must win the final two games to make a case to return in 2015. An additional loss could spell the end of the Philbin era in Miami – and there is still a chance that Ross could make a change after a 9-7 finish. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons and had plenty of time to implement his program. The past two Decembers could be enough proof that Philbin cannot get the Dolphins to the next level.
  • [+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
    Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsDespite the lopsided score, Ryan Tannehill wracked up 346 passing yards and made strides in the deep passing game.
    I criticized quarterback Ryan Tannehill often for his lack of deep throws, so it’s only right that I complement his big plays against New England. Tannehill threw the deep ball as consistently as I’ve seen in his three seasons. He connected twice for 50 and 35 yards to Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace and drew a pass-interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner on another deep throw. Even two deep misses to receiver Brian Hartline and running back Damien Williams were not Tannehill's fault. It remains to be seen if this was an anomaly or a sign of things to come. The Dolphins should continue to try to take deep shots with Tannehill in the final two weeks to see if he can consistently execute.
  • Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s motivation of using Dolphins quotes after their Week 1 victory was more manufactured than anything. Miami is not a trash-talking team, and the players were very respectful of New England heading into this week. Belichick had to dig deep and go back to the first week of the season when Dolphins players explained their win – and most of those quotes weren't inflammatory. But credit Belichick for motivating his players. Several Patriots, including cornerback Darrelle Revis, referenced the Dolphins trash-talking even when it can be argued that wasn't the case.
  • Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry continues to impress. It was somewhat surprising that Belichick opted to put Revis on Landry often on third downs. That is a sign of respect for what Landry has done this season. Landry made a couple of catches over Revis and finished with eight receptions for 99 yards. The 2014 second-round pick has a bright future and will continue to get better.
  • Miami starting linebacker Philip Wheeler had two really poor plays that stood out Sunday. His first was the inability to catch Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during a 17-yard scramble that seemingly went in slow motion. Wheeler chased after Brady, stumbled and couldn’t keep his feet, which allowed Brady to get the big gain. The second play was Wheeler one-on-one against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 35-yard reception that later set up another touchdown. Wheeler was beaten badly on the play. It’s also partially the fault of the coaching staff to expect Wheeler to cover Gronkowski.
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- We've seen this Miami Dolphins story many times before.

It starts with optimism and playoff dreams in the summer. It ends with despair and disappointment in the winter.

That despair was on players' faces following Miami's 41-13 blowout loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Reality set in as the Dolphins (7-7) fell to .500 and essentially out of the playoff race for the sixth consecutive season. New England, by contrast, clinched the AFC East title for the 12th time since 2000.

Enough is enough for this version of the Dolphins. This is a team that cannot win the big games. The culture of mediocrity hasn't changed since the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin in 2012, and now his status is in question: Do the Dolphins have the right coach to take them to the next level?

In coaching, you are what your record says you are. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons -- and that simply isn't good enough. He's also 1-4 in his past five December games, his teams playing their worst football when postseason hopes hung in the balance.

This was a no-excuses year for the Dolphins, who have enough talent to make the playoffs. But they will likely be watching the postseason on television -- again.

"To be where we are at this point is tough," Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I feel like with the guys we have in that room, the players that we have, there is no way we should be sitting where we are at right now. You know, that is frustrating for me."

Philbin, who said he's not thinking about his job security, did not coach with enough urgency in the most important game of the season. The Dolphins called a running play on third-and-6 on the opening drive. Lamar Miller gained just 3 yards, and the next play was a blocked field goal that New England returned for a touchdown.

"I think that was part of the game plan we had on third down," Philbin said, when asked about the decision. "We meet on third down every single week. We come up with plays in each down-and-distance category and that was one of the plays we came up with."

In the second quarter, the Dolphins ran on second-and-14 for no gain. That set up a third-and-14 play in which Tannehill forced an interception over the middle. Three plays later, the Patriots scored another touchdown.

The Dolphins trailed 14-13 at halftime. Guard Mike Pouncey said Philbin gave a "really good speech at halftime; guys were pumped up." Yet, his players didn't respond: New England scored a franchise-record 24 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away.

This was a game the Dolphins had to have to keep their postseason hopes alive -- and they laid an egg.

"It's very frustrating. It's disappointing more than anything, but angry," Pouncey said. "It seems like every year it falls down to the same thing. We fall short. I'm sick of it. I know everybody on this football team is sick of it."

Each player I spoke to Sunday defended his head coach. Philbin is well-liked in the locker room. That will carry some weight when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross must make his final decision.

But the biggest factor for coaches is wins and losses. Philbin does not have enough of the former and has too many of the latter.

The Dolphins will be favorites to win their final two home games against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) and New York Jets (3-11). That would put Miami at 9-7, which is a winning season.

But it still wouldn't feel like a successful year. The Dolphins had a chance to make a statement, but instead lost three of their past four games.

"I understand the business, but to win the last two games will help not just him, it will help the whole team to go 9-7," Dolphins center Samson Satele said. "But you never know what they're thinking upstairs. You just got to control your job, do your job and play hard for the coach. Like everybody said, he's our coach and I'll give everything I can for him every play and every game."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace was waiting for this type of game all season.

Wallace
Wallace
The New England Patriots play a lot of man-to-man defense and opponents have increasingly showed a lack of respect for Miami’s deep ball. This combination presented the ideal opportunity for the Dolphins to take shots deep despite a prior reluctance to do so.

As a result, the Dolphins connected on rare "splash" plays in Sunday's 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Wallace had five receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. That included a 50-yard deep ball on the first play offensive play of the game and a 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

“Definitely, we have to stretch the defense out,” Wallace said. “We have to or they're going to come up and put a lot of guys in the box and it will be hard to run the football. ... We got a couple [deep plays].”

There are major questions whether Tannehill can consistently and accurately throw the deep pass. Tannehill temporarily silenced the critics for at least one game.

Most of Tannehill’s deep passes were accurate and on the money. Even a potential touchdown throw to backup running back Damien Williams was on target, but dropped in the end zone.

"Obviously one game doesn't put the nail in the coffin or anything," Tannehill said. "But I felt confident all year that we can make the [deep passing] plays."

It was difficult for Wallace to feel good about his performance after the Dolphins suffered a blowout loss. The 28-point margin of defeat was the largest for Miami all season. The previous high was 19 points to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2 and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.

Perhaps the biggest issue is Miami suffered this kind of blowout loss with its season on the line in December. Just a week ago, the Dolphins controlled their own destiny and held the final wild-card spot in the AFC. But back-to-back losses to New England and the Baltimore Ravens will keep Miami out of the playoffs.

“It’s disappointing again,” Wallace said. “It’s the same as last year. We had the season in our hands to do something about it. We dropped the ball again.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots:

Pouncey
Frustrated Pouncey: The Dolphins' locker room was deflated after the team lost for the third time in four games. But perhaps the most upset player Sunday evening was starting guard Mike Pouncey. The Dolphins fell to 7-7, and losing to New England essentially ended their hopes of making the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. "It's very frustrating. It's disappointing more than anything, but angry," Pouncey said. "It seems like every year it falls down to the same thing. We fall short. I'm sick of it. I know everybody on this football team is sick of it."

Questions answered? The Dolphins surprised everyone by going deep on multiple occasions against the Patriots. That has been a major weakness for third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but he actually threw an accurate deep ball in this game. Tannehill connected with Mike Wallace for a 50-yard bomb and a 32-yard touchdown. Tannehill also threw a pretty deep ball to backup tailback Damien Williams, who dropped the ball in the end zone. "Obviously one game doesn't put the nail in the coffin or anything," Tannehill said. "But I felt confident all year that we can make the [deep passing] plays."

Continue to fight: Dolphins players were aware their playoff hopes were all but done. But they said they will continue to play hard for themselves, the team and the coaching staff. Miami will host the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets in the final two weeks.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are the Miami Dolphins (7-6) players you won't see in Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots (10-3). Analysis: As expected, the Dolphins are very thin at linebacker. Four linebackers are inactive, including starters Misi and Jenkins. Backup linebackers Jason Trusnik and Kelvin Sheppard will start against New England. The Dolphins will get some depth back in their secondary. Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor are both active after missing five combined games due to injury.
The Miami Dolphins (7-6) will travel to face the New England Patriots (10-3) in a must-win game for Miami.

Here is the team’s final injury report:

Out: G Nate Garner (illness), Anthony Johnson (ankle)

Doubtful: LB Koa Misi (hamstring, knee), LB Jelani Jenkins (foot), LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring)

Questionable: TE Charles Clay (hamstring, knee), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle), LB Chris McCain (ankle), CB Jamar Taylor (shoulder)

Probable: DB Walt Aikens (illness), DE Dion Jordan (ankle), TE Dion Sims (neck), S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring)

Analysis: The Dolphins, as expected, will be very thin at linebacker. Misi and Jenkins are not expected to play. Miami will have a tough time defending Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Dolphins should be healthier in the secondary. Finnegan and Taylor are both questionable but practiced every day this week. So there is a strong chance one or both will play. This is a must-win game for Miami and the team needs all the healthy players it can get.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (7-6) are aware their season is on the line Sunday when they travel to face the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (10-3). Miami must run the table in the final three weeks to have a chance at the postseason, while the Patriots can clinch the division title with a victory.

However, if Miami is to keep its season alive, the team most likely must do it with several backup players taking on key roles.

Safety Jimmy Wilson and backup linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Jason Trusnik are all projected to start against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Injuries hit Miami’s defense hard this week. The team lost starting safety Louis Delmas (knee) for the season in last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) also missed all three practices this week, which puts their status in doubt.

Miami will release its final injury report Friday afternoon.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Wilson said. “We put ourselves here and the only way we’re going to get out of it is if we come to play and fight this Sunday.”

Wilson has received plenty of playing time. He started the first four games of the season -- including the Week 1 win over the Patriots -- due to the suspension of safety Reshad Jones. Now, Wilson will start the final three games following Delmas’ injury.

In between, Wilson was a valuable nickel cornerback for Miami. He has 39 tackles and one interception this season and is looking forward to the opportunity to start against arguably the hottest team in the NFL.

Despite being sizable underdogs, Miami often plays New England tough and has won the past two games in this series.

“It’s going to be a good game,” Wilson said. “I don’t know what everybody is thinking. But we’re going up there to try to come out with a victory. We have to start with this one.”

Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of Miami’s injuries at linebacker. New England tight end Rob Gronkowski has 73 receptions for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He has the potential to give Miami’s defense major issues.

Trusnik is an eight-year veteran with 34 tackles this season, several of which came on special teams. He started five games due to injuries at linebacker and most likely will make his sixth start of the year Sunday.

Sheppard joined the Dolphins this season and has 12 tackles in limited playing time. But he has 31 career starts with the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills.

“If that’s what it is, I’m ready,” Sheppard said. “I’ve been a starter in this league for three years prior to me coming here. So if that’s what the challenge holds, I’m definitely up for the test.”

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