Dolphins clinging to faint playoff hopes
The Miami Dolphins need a minor miracle to get into the postseason.
At 7-7 and sitting behind three teams tied for the sixth and final seed in the AFC, the Dolphins need to win their remaining two games and get plenty of other help to keep their playoff hopes alive.
At least the schedule favors Miami, which will host the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) on Sunday before closing out the regular season at the Buffalo Bills.
"It's a small percentage, but you keep fighting because this is a weird league and you never know what's happening," Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said of his team's long-shot postseason hopes.
Miami already had one miracle this season, when it pulled off a last-second 34-33 win over the New England Patriots in Week 14 to keep the team in the playoff mix. However, the Dolphins were unable to sustain the momentum from the "Miracle in Miami" as they were flattened in a 41-17 road loss to the Minnesota Vikings last weekend.
"It is out of our hands right now. We do not have any control in this situation," Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill said after last week's debacle in which Minnesota bolted to a 21-0 first-quarter lead. "We are going to need a lot of help."
The Dolphins could get a little help from within Sunday with the possibility that cornerback Xavien Howard can return to the lineup after sitting out the past two games due to a knee injury. Howard was Miami's lone selection to the AFC Pro Bowl team and is tied for the NFL league with seven interceptions.
"It's trending in the right direction," Gase said of Howard, who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.
A second-round pick out of Baylor in the 2016 draft, Howard has 11 interceptions over the past two seasons, including a pair in each of his last two games. Gase said Howard's selection as a Pro Bowl starter was well-deserved.
"All of his coverages have been tight," Gase said. "He's around the ball all the time. It's hard to think of too many (cornerbacks) above him."
However, while Howard may return, Miami running back Frank Gore (foot injury) will miss the rest of the season. Gore, who leads the team with 722 rushing yards and is averaging 4.6 per carry, has made 122 consecutive starts -- a streak that will end on Sunday.
"It's disappointing," said Gase. "He's a special player. I wish he could've finished this out."
Running back Kalen Ballage will likely see a heavy workload in Gore's absence. Last week, Ballage rushed for 123 yards to become the first Dolphins rookie to gain at least 100 yards in a game since Daniel Thomas in 2011. Ballage's 75-yard touchdown run was the second-longest by a Miami rookie, falling just short of the 77-yarder by Leroy Harris in 1977.
Jacksonville's ground game was expected to carry the team, but second-year running back Leonard Fournette missed six games due to injury and sat out another while serving a suspension. Fournette had only one carry in the second half of a 16-13 loss to Washington last weekend -- the Jaguars' ninth loss in 10 games.
Fournette appeared to suffer a foot injury and limped off the field against the Redskins, but he practiced fully on Wednesday. Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone explained Fournette's absence by noting he wanted to get a better look at rookie Dave Williams, a seventh-round draft pick who was signed off Denver's practice squad.
"I wanted to get Dave some carries," said Marrone. "I knew that going into the game. That was one of the things I wanted to see because of the things I had mentioned Sunday in how hard he had worked. He went in there and had five carries and I think he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. He had the one 8-yard run called back. We were trying to change it up."
The switch from Blake Bortles to Cody Kessler at quarterback has not paid dividends for the Jaguars. The team has scored 28 points in the three games started by Kessler, who finished 9 of 17 for 57 yards in the loss to the Redskins.
Meanwhile, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is 5-4 in nine starts this season, completing 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,686 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Tannehill turned in an ugly performance in the drubbing against Minnesota, completing 11 of 24 passes for 108 yards after tossing eight touchdown passes against only one interception in his previous three starts.
Updated December 20, 2018