MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Moments after the Dolphins’ playoff-clinching win over the Jets, coach Mike McDaniel went over to embrace the man who brought him to Miami, owner Stephen Ross.
“I know how many other teams were interviewing me, so the answer is zero,” McDaniel said, “and he felt in his gut that that didn’t matter, that this was the right fit for everything that we’re trying to do here, and I’ll forever be loyal to that.”
McDaniel made a strong impression in his first year by designing an explosive offense around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and leading the Dolphins to an 8-3 start. Miami followed that with a five-game skid while dealing with major injuries.
But the banged-up Dolphins (9-8), with rookie third-stringer Skylar Thompson at quarterback, did enough to beat the New York Jets 11-6 on Sunday and make the playoffs as the AFC's No. 7 seed. Miami will face AFC East rival Buffalo in the wild-card round on Sunday.
They've hardly looked like world-beaters lately, but the Dolphins are still playing.
“For myself, and what I tell the guys in our room, we just have to look beyond that," wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “We have to find ways to look at our losses, take accountability and get better from it. That’s what we’ve been doing this whole season.”
Hill had 23 yards receiving Sunday as he dealt with an ankle injury. He's one of many Dolphins players hoping to get healthy ahead of the Buffalo game.
Running back Raheem Mostert broke his thumb Sunday after rushing for 71 yards on 11 carries, and McDaniel said he expects Mostert will have surgery.
“It’s serious injury,” McDaniel said. “It’s hard to know if he’ll be able to play this week. I never put anything past Raheem Mostert. I’ve learned that over time. But it was a significant break of his thumb.”
Meanwhile, McDaniel said all three of the quarterbacks on Miami's active roster are dealing with injuries.
Starter Tua Tagovailoa remains in the concussion protocol and hasn’t yet been cleared to return to football activities. Teddy Bridgewater dislocated a pinky finger in Week 17 at New England. And Thompson, making his second start of the season, appeared to have his leg twisted up on a hit in the second half against the Jets and limped off the field. He briefly went to the Dolphins’ medical tent but did not miss any snaps.
McDaniel called Thompson’s injury “bumps and bruises” and said he’s hoping to have more clarity on the health of his quarterbacks later this week. He added that Bridgewater was active against the Jets and could have entered the game in an emergency.
“There will be some question marks,” McDaniel said, “but fortunately this team has proven not to blink in any sort of question marks either way. We have guys that we really believe in, and we’ll go with the healthiest group up to Buffalo and play a very good football team.”
Thompson didn’t turn the ball over against the Jets and moved the Dolphins into range for a last-minute, go-ahead field goal. He said afterward he wasn’t thinking about whether he’ll be the starter at Buffalo.
“That will be something for a couple days from now,” Thompson said. “I’m enjoying this. It’s important to celebrate stuff like this for the time being and soak it all in, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Miami’s defense couldn't deliver game-saving plays or key stops during the five-game skid. But the Dolphins didn’t allow a touchdown against and the Jets and got the stops they needed in the fourth quarter. It’ll be much tougher to stop Josh Allen and the Bills’ high-powered offense, but Miami at least has a strong performance to build on.
Miami’s offensive line, playing without veteran left tackle Terron Armstead, only gave up one sack.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Penalties are still an issue that have killed promising drives and are part of what kept the Dolphins out of the end zone Sunday. Miami has been penalized 22 times for 180 yards in its past three games.
Jason Sanders was 1 for 6 on field goals of 50-plus yards before his 50-yarder with 18 seconds left against the Jets that extended Miami's season.
Miami’s passing game clearly isn’t the same without Tagovailoa, but Hill and Jaylen Waddle should have been much more involved Sunday. The receivers had just five targets each against the Jets.
Hill briefly left in the first half with his ankle injury. ... Mostert broke his thumb in the fourth quarter. ... OL Liam Eichenberg left in the third quarter with an arm injury. ... Armstead (toe/pec/knee/hip) missed his second straight game.
17 -- The number of catches by Waddle in four career games against the Bills. He has 293 yards receiving against Buffalo and caught three passes for 114 yards and a touchdown against the Bills in Week 15.
Miami and Buffalo will meet for the third time this season. They split the regular-season series, with the home team winning both times.
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Alanis Thames, The Associated Press