Dolphins squeak into final playoff spot with gutsy Week 18 win
On a day when the play on the field didn’t exactly reflect the stakes, the Miami Dolphins did enough.
“Enough” is the key word, because this was neither an impressive performance nor a memorable game. What might be memorable was Jason Sanders‘ 50-yard field goal with mere seconds to play, splitting the uprights perfectly and lifting the Dolphins to a 9-6 lead. Thirty seconds later, a safety on a doomed lateral play gave them an 11-6 win — a weird final score to reflect a weird season finale.
It was ugly, but it was enough to halt a five-game losing streak and send Miami to the playoffs for the first time in six years.
“That’s been a goal of ours this entire year,” said third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson, thrust into the starting spot by injuries. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs — some rough patches, some really good patches. I’m so proud of this team, the way that we came together for this last week.”
Yes, the Dolphins wind up the winners in the logjam of three teams fighting for the AFC’s seventh and final playoff spot. On an emotional day in Buffalo, the Bills downed the Patriots to open the door for their division rivals. With that door cracked open, the Dolphins stepped right through, setting up a third rendition of Bills-Dolphins next week in the playoffs, after the two teams split the season series.
It begs the question of what comes next. Tua Tagovailoa’s status has been shrouded in uncertainty since reporting a concussion after the 26-20 loss to Green Bay on Christmas Day. There’s bound to be speculation about whether he can return for the playoffs — or whether he would be wise to do so, having suffered multiple concussions already this season.
Something similar can be said for typical backup Teddy Bridgewater, who is dealing with a pinky dislocation on his throwing hand.
For a franchise that’s dealt with quarterback speculation throughout the season, things should feel familiar during the buildup to the Buffalo trip.
It all sounds very epic and very important — which highlights quite hilariously that this actual game was anything but. It’s not a stretch to say the Dolphins and Jets just played one of the most forgettable games of this entire 2022 season.
On one sideline stood Thompson, a rookie draft pick making his second career start, as Teddy Bridgewater was also lost to injury shortly after Tagovailoa. Across the way, Joe Flacco, possibly making his final start after a 15-year career and a game of quarterback musical chairs during a disappointing Jets season.
The game reflected that simple paragraph. Trying to protect Thompson as much as possible, the Dolphins leaned heavily on their ground game, asking Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. to carry the load, racking up 162 yards on 32 combined carries.
It worked well enough, albeit in stark contrast to the story of the Dolphins’ season. Gone were the quick strikes and explosive plays, as Jaylen Waddle and a hobbled Tyreek Hill combined for seven catches and 67 yards. When Miami did manage to drive down the field, which was rare, it came in the form of 10 and 15-play possessions — the kind that bleed minutes off the clock and result in field-goal tries.
Bleak as it might have been, the Jets had to have been envious. Flacco put up a valiant effort, given the complete lack of a functioning run game. But throwing the ball to rookie wideout Garrett Wilson was quite literally New York’s only functioning strategy. Wilson was the only Jets receiver to finish with more than two catches, tallying 89 yards on a whopping nine grabs.
Memorable, no. But fortunately for the Dolphins, it didn’t have to be. It was enough to keep the season going for at least one more week. And as they try to set the stage for a better showing in the playoffs, they’ll have Skylar Thompson and a gritty, ugly effort to thank for their presence in the postseason.
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David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
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