The Dolphins needed two things to happen Sunday to make the playoffs.
One of them, Buffalo beating New England, was happening, 35-23, as the Dolphins and Jets were tied late in the fourth quarter.
That led to the second one happening as the Dolphins pulled it out with a field goal in their 11-6 win against the New York Jets.
Here are 10 thoughts on the game:
1. Play of the game: Jason Sanders kicks a 50-yard field goal with 18 seconds left. What else? He was 1-for-5 on kicks of 50 yards or more this season, but came through on the biggest one of the year. That ended an eight-play, 32-yard drive on a day yards were tough to come by. How hard? Mike Gesicki was Dolphins leading receiver at four catches and 46 yards. The Jets broke their franchise record of 27 possessions without a TD (that started three games ago).
2. Dolphins vs. Buffalo III. Yes, it’s back to Buffalo for the playoffs. These teams split two close games this year, suggesting their third game would be tight as well. The difference? The Dolphins quarterback situation. Is it all on Skylar Thompson again? Can Teddy Bridgewater return with his dislocated pinky finger? It’d be surprising if Tua Tagovailoa is back with his concussion issues. The weather: It’s expected to be a high of 30 degrees on Saturday and 35 degrees on Sunday with a small chance of snow/rain.
3. The Dolphins defense won this game as it didn’t let a bad Jets offense to do anything. The Jets had 187 total yards and 11 first downs. Not much. Each team entered Sunday with third-string quarterbacks and all the accompanying questions. The Dolphins’ Skylar Thompson completed 20-of-31 passes for 152 yards, a tiny 4.9-yard average and a 76.3 passer rating. Joe Flacco completed 17-of-32 passes for 169 yards, a 5.3-yard aveage and 68.4 rating. Neither quarterback threw a touchdown, obviously, in a game with no touchdowns.
4. You saw two different strategies in play with both teams having third-string quarterbacks from Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and the Jets’ Robert Saleh. McDaniel wasn’t playing a tactical, field-position game like Saleh. He went for it on fourth-and-3 at the Jets 44 in the first quarter (and didn’t make it). He went for it again on fourth-and-5 at the Jets 41 in the third quarter and got it on a Raheem Mostert sweep. That led to a field goal that made it, 6-3. McDaniel also threw time-outs just before half to get the ball back with 1:35 left and no timeouts. Thompson threw three times before being sacked and the half ending. Meanwhile …
5. Saleh called a conservative game on the other side. Twice, on third-and-long (13 and 17 yards), he called draw plays to set up field goals of 32 and 35 rather than try for a first down or risk being knocked into a longer field goal. The second field goal tied it with 11:59 to go in the game. Saleh was playing like a coach trying to win on field position and minimizing a quarterback who was under pressure every time he dropped to pass.
6. That said, McDaniel did change one tactic. He hasn’t been committed to the run in many games this season, as the Dolphins had the fewest rushing attempts in the league entering Sunday. They were committed Sunday. It made sense considering Skylar Thompson was the quarterback the Jets have been vulnerable to the run. Seattle ran for 198 yards on them last week, and the Dolphins ran for 137 yards on them in their October game. The Dolphins ran 16 times for 63 yards in the first half. They kept running, too, and finished with 162 yards on 32 carries. Jeff Wilson had 16 carries for 72 yards. Raheem Mostert, who left the game with an injury ,had 11 carries for 71 yards.
7. Terron Armstead was a Pro Bowl left tackle this year. He was that good when in the game. But the idea of signing big-money free agents isn’t to wonder if they’re going to be available at the most important time of the year. Armstead’s nine-year history says it’s a risk that he’ll be healthy in December and January. Armstead didn’t practice all season due to a toe issue that then also became a pectoral, ankle and hip injuries. He missed the final two games of the regular season with the season on the line. Sorry, as good as he is, what good does it do a team that’s building to play in January if his portfolio suggest he probably won’t be around in January? Every team takes risks. But the Dolphins have invested big on so many injury risks — Tua Tagovailoa, Armstead, Bradley Chubb, Xavien Howard — it has the marks of a team rolling the dice. As I’ve written, crossing your fingers isn’t a plan.
8. Quick hits:
* Tyreek Hill was listed as questionable after an ankle injury in the second quarrter. He came back but looked like the ankle was bothering him;
* The Dolphins and Jets were 57-56-1 against each other entering Sunday;
* The Jets broke their team record Sunday of 27 possessions without a touchdown;
* Joe Flacco’s son wore a Tyreek Hill jersey to the game, per Fox Sports;
*The Jets have a keeper in receiver Garrett Wilson.
9. Finally, the Dolphins got a replay challenge right. It was a big one, too. Garrett Wilson was ruled to have caught a 9-yard catch pass to the Dolphins 41-yard line with 6:37 left in a tie game. They lined up to go for it when McDaniel challenged the play. It was ruled an incompletion, the Jets punted and the McDaniel had his first successful challenge this season. He was 1-for-6 after that. It included a challenge a non-fumble call in the third quarter on a catch by the Jets’ Wilson. It was clearly a catch and non-fumble, as the replay showed. The play was negated as the Jets had an offensive holding penalty on the play.
10. Next game: Dolphins at Bills, TBA.