9:19 PM EST, December 20, 2013
NFL Team Report - Miami Dolphins - INSIDE SLANT
The playoffs are within grasp for the Miami Dolphins.
Coach Joe Philbin's message to his team is, basically, to seize the day.
"I tell the guys when we gather up in July, and when we start Sept. 4 or whatever with the group that you move forward with is that it's special," he said. "It's special to be an NFL football player, to coach in this league, and the 2013 team is only going to be together one year. Next year is going to be a whole different story."
Miami (8-6) must defeat Buffalo (5-9) on Sunday. Things look good for the Dolphins because quarterback Ryan Tannehill (23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) continues to trend upward and the team continues to make plays.
"There were some throws that he had to put a lot on it, and some other throws where he had to take some stuff off," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "He made some really nice throws at the appropriate time. Our guys stepped up and made some plays, too. They were able to get the edge on the defender and create some space and Ryan put it in a spot where he had to put it."
Miami, which was minus-10 in giveaway/takeaway last season, is plus-2 this season.
And the Dolphins are still finding answers on their roster.
Last week cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (knee) and Brent Grimes (groin) went down and rookie cornerback Will Davis and safety Jimmy Wilson filled in during the fourth quarter. Linebacker Philip Wheeler struggled during the fourth quarter and rookie Jelani Jenkins filled in. Left guard Sam Brenner, who shared time with Nate Garner last week, manned the position by himself last week.
The Bills won't have quarterback E.J. Manuel due to a knee injury. Buffalo will start rookie Thad Lewis, which isn't necessarily as promising as it seems for Miami. Lewis was quarterback when the Bills defeated the Dolphins, 23-21, earlier this season.
However, there's a feeling among the Dolphins if they keep doing what they're doing, it should be good enough for their first playoff appearance since 2008.
"You want to take advantage of the opportunities you have...that's what it's all about," Philbin said.
SERIES HISTORY: 96th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 56-38-1. QB Thad Lewis defeated the Dolphins, 23-21, when the teams met on Oct. 20. This will be the 10th time warm-weather Dolphins have been to frigid Buffalo in December. The Bills are 5-4 in those games, which isn't a significant edge.
NFL Team Report - Miami Dolphins - NOTES, QUOTES
--WR Mike Wallace (64 receptions, 867 yards, 4 TDs) had 105 yards receiving last week and seems headed toward a 1,000-yard season. That's not exactly worth a $60 million contract but give Wallace time. He's improving each week, and is relationship with QB Ryan Tannehill seems to be improving.
"He's continued to come out on the practice field and work on his game," coach Joe Philbin said. "You always hope a player, regardless of how many years they've been in the league, you want them to come out and approach their job like the glass is half full and you want to learn more you want to be better and I think he's done that.
"I think it's also a new team that he's still getting acclimated to, a new quarterback and those types of things. I think he just kept working at it and usually things turn around and usually things even out at the end of the day."
--The Dolphins could be playing another cold weather game this week in Buffalo. The weather forecast for Buffalo on Sunday is for a high of 43 degrees with an 80 percent chance of rain and a 23-mph wind.
Coach Joe Philbin, a former assistant coach in Green Bay, said weather shouldn't be a factor.
"I think it comes down to when the ball is kicked off it's blocking and tackling and executing football," he said. "I think guys kind of forget about the weather unless it's extreme. In Pittsburgh, I don't think it was extreme in Pittsburgh. It was snowing hard for a little bit but after that, the snow stopped.
"The guys were enjoying playing the game of football and they were in a real tight hard fought football game. I think there's a lot of talk pre-game, but usually it gets down to the fundamentals once the game starts."
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- Number of combined sacks for DEs Olivier Vernon (11.5) and Cam Wake (8.5).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Swagger, I'll have to go into the dictionary. I'm not exactly sure." -- Coach Joe Philbin after being asked if he thought his team had swagger.
AFC PLAYOFFS AT A GLANCE:
CLINCHED: Denver - playoff spot; Indianapolis - AFC South; Kansas City - playoff spot
Denver clinches AFC West division and a first-round bye with:
1) DEN win + KC loss
Denver clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) DEN win + KC loss + NE loss or tie
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England clinches AFC East division with:
1) NE win or tie OR
2) MIA loss or tie
New England clinches a first-round bye with:
1) NE win + CIN loss or tie + IND loss or tie OR
2) NE tie + CIN loss + IND loss
New England clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CIN loss or tie
Cincinnati clinches AFC North division with:
1) CIN win + BAL loss or tie OR
2) CIN tie + BAL loss
Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CIN win + MIA loss or tie OR
2) CIN tie + MIA loss
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + MIA loss + SD loss or tie
Miami clinches a playoff spot with:
1) MIA win + BAL loss + CIN loss
NFL Team Report - Miami Dolphins - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--S Michael Thomas, the hero of last week's 24-20 victory over New England, was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Thomas ended with an interception (in the end zone with two seconds left), two passes defended, and two tackles in 16 plays from scrimmage.
--TE Michael Egnew had two receptions in a game last week for the first time in his career. Egnew (seven receptions, 69 yards) is more accomplished as a blocker than receiver.
--LT Bryant McKinnie was credited with helping save the OL and that was never more true than last week. The veteran noticed in pass protection LG Sam Brenner was stepping forward as McKinnie stepped back, creating a gap New England exploited. McKinnie told Brenner about the misstep and they got in sync and fixed the error.
--DE Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks) won't reveal his goal for the season because he said he hasn't yet reached it.
--CB Will Davis, the rookie who got his second taste of playing time last week in the fourth quarter against New England QB Tom Brady, said it was a bit of an unsettling feeling seeing Brady licking his hand and looking his way as he walked up to line of scrimmage. Davis gave up some yardage but did OK.
--RB Mike Gillislee could get more playing time this week. The fifth-round pick from Florida was active for the third time last season and played special teams. There's a chance he could see action from scrimmage for the second time because RB Daniel Thomas' ankle is suspect.
--P Brandon Fields is second in the NFL in punting average at 48.6 yards per punt. Fields led the league most of the season and been among the top three all season.
--RB Daniel Thomas (ankle) didn't practice Wednesday. He aggravated an existing injury last week.
--CB Brent Grimes (groin) didn't practice. He was injured in last week's New England game.
--CB Nolan Carroll (knee) was limited in practice.
--S Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring) was limited in practice.
--DT Paul Soliai (ankle) was limited in practice.
--CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring) was limited in practice.
OFFICIAL FRIDAY INJURY REPORT:
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Daniel Thomas (ankle)
--PROBABLE: CB Nolan Carroll (knee), S Chris Clemons (knee, hamstring), LS John Denney (illness), CB Brent Grimes (groin), S Reshad Jones (groin), DT Paul Soliai (ankle), CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring), DE Olivier Vernon (ankle)
--OUT: WR Steve Johnson (not injury related), QB E.J. Manuel (knee), S Aaron Williams (ribs)
--PROBABLE: DT Marcell Dareus (ankle), RB Fred Jackson (ribs), CB Brandon Smith (ankle), DT Kyle Williams (achilles)
The Dolphins must take care of the ball and take care of QB Ryan Tannehill. The last time these teams played Buffalo won, 23-21, largely because it got two late-game sacks, one of which was a sack-fumble, the Bills recovered and kicked a game-winning field goal.
The Dolphins also have to stop the run. Bills RB C.J. Spiller is capable of providing some serious problems for the Dolphins' on-and-off run defense. If the Dolphins are tackling well, they can minimize Spiller's damage. If not, it will be a long night for the Dolphins as it has many times this season.
Tannehill has 8 TDs and 2 INTs in his last three games. If they can keep him upright it seems as though he can handle the rest.
Miami catches a bit of a break because it faces QB Thad Lewis instead of QB E.J. Manuel (knee). Of course, it was Lewis at QB when the Bills defeated the Dolphins in October.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bills LB Kiko Alonso vs. Dolphins RB Lamar Miller -- If the Dolphins can't run the ball effectively it's going to allow Buffalo's pass rusher to go at QB Ryan Tannehill full speed, and that won't be good for Miami. It's crucial they get a running going so they can provide some balance. Alonso, the rookie whose 137 tackles ranks third in the NFL, is one of the best young players in the game. He only had three tackles when these teams played earlier and would probably like to improve on that this time.
--Bills DE Mario Williams vs. Dolphins RT Tyson Clabo -- This was an abusive relationship when the teams played before. Williams' two fourth-quarter sacks lost the game for Miami, particularly the one last one that was a sack-fumble that the Bills recovered and turned into the game-winning field goal. Clabo has been much better since losing his job and being re-instated. But it's questionable whether he's good enough.
Copyright © 2013, Reuters