Despite a season of tumult and turmoil, head coach Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins are more than alive in the AFC playoff race. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
To say that 2013 has been a mess for the Miami Dolphins would be a huge understatement. The Dolphins have endured a four-game losing streak, a loss to the NFL's last winless team, the first locker room bullying scandal in the history of the NFL and an offensive line that has allowed the most sacks in the league this season. That doesn't even take into consideration the fact that Miami has blown four second half and two fourth quarter leads. Despite everything, the Miami Dolphins remain in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race and for that, head coach Joe Philbin deserves a lot of credit.
Fans and media alike have been critical at times of the second-year head coach. Philbin was portrayed as dismissive or aloof during the bullying scandal that involved guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin. Fans were critical of Philbin during Miami's four-game skid and South Florida newspapers reported that Philbin berated an assistant in front of the entire team. Nevertheless, Philbin has managed to keep the team together although at times, implosion seemed inevitable.
Thanks to Sunday's 20-16 win at home over the San Diego Chargers and the rival New York Jets' 37-14 loss at Buffalo, the Dolphins are tied with New York for the final wild card spot in the AFC with a record of 5-5. The Dolphins and Jets will meet twice over the final five weeks of the season and regardless of what happens at home on Sunday against Carolina, the Dolphins will take high playoff hopes into December.
Though Philbin has received plenty of criticism, some deserved, the fact that the Dolphins have legitimate playoff hopes 11 weeks in is simply remarkable. The Incognito-Martin scandal aside, just what Miami has to overcome on the field has in itself, been overwhelming.
The offensive line at times has been non-existent. Tannehill was once on pace to be the most sacked quarterback in the history of the NFL while the ground game has three efforts this season with fewer than 25 yards rushing including going for a mere two yards on 14 carries in last Monday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Former Pro Bowler Mike Wallace has failed to have the big season that so many expected for Miami while two other pass-catching offseason acquisitions, wide receiver Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller, have been lost for the season to knee injuries.
The Dolphins not only lost two starters on the offensive front to the bullying scandal, Miami got its big, emotional win over San Diego on Sunday six days after becoming the first team to lose to Tampa Bay this season and without the services of their best offensive lineman, center Mike Pouncey. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, a former Pro Bowl alternate with the Atlanta Falcons, has also been dreadful at times this season for the Dolphins.
On the defensive side of the ball, Miami's stars have also underachieved. Cameron Wake leads the Dolphins with 6.5 sacks, but has battled a knee injury this season and at one point, went 53 days in between sacks. Safety Reshad Jones, who many felt should have been selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012, has also had a quiet year.
While Jones ranks third on the Dolphins with 64 total tackles, Jones has just one interception and has yet to either force or recover a fumble. Jones was responsible for seven of the 16 total turnovers forced by Miami a year ago although it is worth noting that Jones did return his only interception for a touchdown this season. Cornerback Dmitri Patterson, who leads Miami with four interceptions, has also been hampered by injury.
Despite struggling mightily on the field at times this season and being highly criticized for incidents off the field, the Miami Dolphins appear to have as good a chance as anyone vying for the AFC's final playoff spot to get to postseason. For a team that lost four straight games after a 3-0 start, had to deal with a bizarre bullying scandal and blew a late lead to the league's last winless team, it would have been easy for the Dolphins to pack it in and say, "maybe next year".
Instead, the Miami Dolphins have embraced an "us against the world" approach. If Sunday's hard-fought victory over a San Diego Chargers team, that also entered the day 4-5 and in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC, is any indication of what can be expected down the stretch, Miami won't be going away soon. Head coach Joe Philbin may have lost two offensive linemen, a starting tight end and a talented slot receiver, but one thing is for certain: he has yet to lose his team.