A loss in Week 11 would have only dropped the Miami Dolphins back one game in the race for the AFC‘s sixth playoff spot, but beating the San Diego Chargers on Sunday saved the team’s season or, at the very least, preserved it.
The Dolphins were a wounded animal heading into Sunday’s matchup. From winning only one game in nearly two months to a “bullying” fiasco that has enthralled the nation and embarrassed the entire organization, the Dolphins’ recent misfortunes have clearly taken a toll on a once proud franchise.
The term “joke” and “laughing stock” have been thrown around to describe the state of the Dolphins. Something, anything positive needed to transpire to stop the bleeding and to restore hope and pride in the locker room.
That something happened on Sunday evening at Sun Life Stadium, when Miami pulled off a gutsy win over San Diego and climbed into a tie with the New York Jets for the AFC’s second wild-card spot. Technically the Jets own the tiebreaker over the Dolphins given a better record within the AFC East at the moment, but the two teams have a couple of dates with each other in the month of December.
The Dolphins, after five losses in six games and an ongoing national controversy, control their own destiny on the path to the playoffs and are arguably one of, if not the favorite, to land the conference’s sixth seed.
A loss on Sunday to the Chargers wouldn’t have drastically changed the Dolphins’ circumstances on paper. They would have only trailed the Jets by one game with two chances to topple their division rival on the slate, but beating the Chargers was the shot in the arm Joe Philbin‘s club desperately needed.
The season was unquestionably slipping away for the Dolphins and another loss could have been the final straw. There’s only so much adversity a team can take before it breaks. A sixth loss in seven games would have likely been the morale killer that deemed the 2013 season a failure.
Now, the Dolphins are right back in the thick of a heated playoff race. Suddenly there’s something positive for Dolphins players and fans to discuss. There’s something for this team to celebrate and feel good about. The “bullying” saga can finally be put on the back burner (barring any significant revelations) and in-depth analysis on actual football-related topics with playoff implications should ensue.
Make no mistake, the Dolphins are far from out of the woods. Their struggles over the past several weeks haven’t given them much room for error down the stretch and the whole locker room saga still has legs given the league’s ongoing investigation that will proceed as players and coaches are interviewed this week.
And there certainly is no reason to believe Miami has solved all of their issues. During Sunday’s 20-16 victory over the Chargers, the Dolphins still struggled to stop the run and protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Not to mention that San Diego is an equally flawed team with one of the league’s worst defenses. Beating them far from signifies Miami is ready to get on a roll in time for a playoff push.
It does, however, ensure that doing so is still a strong possibility. It validates the Dolphins as a legitimate candidate for the AFC’s final playoff slot, regardless of how downtrodden the spot has become with a whole heap of mediocre teams chasing it.
More importantly, a win has given life to a team that appeared to be dead in the water a week ago. It has led to some much-needed positivity after two long-suffering weeks of negative PR and scrutiny of the coaching staff and management for on and off-the-field issues.
How the players respond from this point on is anyone’s guess. Will the roller coaster ride continue or will some sustained success be attained by the Dolphins? Sunday’s win has re-opened that debate and at least temporarily put questions concerning who Miami’s next head coach and general manager should be on hold.
More wins are needed for the Dolphins to save their season, but Sunday’s win has kept saving it a realistic ambition.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.