After Sunday’s 23-3 beatdown victory over the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins found themselves tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC‘s final playoff spot. Although the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins given their road win at Sun Life Stadium in Week 5, there is reason to believe Miami is beginning to find its stride down the stretch.
The ineptitude of the Jets was a big reason why the Dolphins were able to win so convincingly on Sunday afternoon. At the game’s most important position, Geno Smith and Matt Sims were only able to combine for a mere 78 passing yards. However, the Dolphins still produced their most complete effort of the season.
Miami’s inability to finish drives could have cost them against a better team, but those are correctable mistakes. Out-gaining an opponent, regardless of caliber, by nearly 300 yards is utter dominance and hints at a sizeable discrepancy in talent.
The Dolphins moved the ball with relative ease for much of Sunday’s game as quarterback Ryan Tannehill produced the second highest single-game passing total of his career with 331 yards, while running backs Lamar Miller, Mike Gillislee and Marcus Thigpen had more success than they were projected to have against the league’s top run defense.
Defensively, the Dolphins benefited from facing such abysmal quarterback play, but Kevin Coyle‘s unit still kept a productive rushing attack in check, pressured the passer and generating three takeaways. For a club that has struggled to find an identity all season, the Dolphins resembled remnants of a complete team on Sunday — perhaps even a playoff-caliber team.
That performance was really two weeks in the making. In Week 11, Miami knocked off the then surging San Diego Chargers with solid red-zone defense and a balanced offensive attack. A week later, the Dolphins blew a 16-3 lead to lose their sixth game of the year, but went toe-to-toe with what is perhaps a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the Carolina Panthers.
After Sunday’s blowout win over the Jets, the Dolphins are playing their best football of the season. Yes, that includes their 3-0 start.
The Dolphins jumped out of the gates fast, but they did so playing flawed football. They were out-gained in all three victories, surrendered 14 sacks and their three opponents currently have a combined 15-21 record. It was not sustainable success, which became quite obvious when the Dolphins lost their next four games.
Over the past three weeks, Miami has out-gained opponents twice and has only conceded a combined eight sacks, including a season-low one sack versus a formidable Jets pass rush. The Dolphins’ offensive line, despite suffering injuries and a suspension, isn’t the inept group it was earlier in the year. Miami’s pass defense, which finished near the bottom of the league in 2012, has emerged as a true strength of the team.
Even Mike Wallace, who has taken a considerable amount of flak from Dolphins fans for dropping passes and exhibiting poor effort at times, is starting to catch on. Over the past two weeks, Wallace has caught a combined 12 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, these encouraging signs won’t have any merit if the Dolphins return to their roller coaster ways in Week 14 and lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A disappointing loss would wreck the momentum they are quietly beginning to muster.
The Dolphins don’t control their own destiny to make the playoffs, leaving them little room for error during the final four games of the season. But, their playoff aspirations are very much alive and well, especially considering three of their final four opponents currently own a losing record, while three of the Wild Card-leading Ravens’ final four opponents have winning records.
A breakthrough is needed for the Dolphins to shake the mediocrity that has plagued them for the majority of the new millennium and to qualify for their first postseason in five years. That breakthrough might be on the cusp of becoming a reality given the improvements Miami has made, but a key aspect of any breakthrough will be consistency. The Dolphins must begin to establish some for the duration of December.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.