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Dolphins hang on, earn 1st playoff spot since '16

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Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 08 January 2023 15:16

MIAMI - Within minutes of the Miami Dolphins' 11-6 win Sunday over the New York Jets, the videoboards at Hard Rock Stadium switched over from the celebratory graphics to a live broadcast of the game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.

The Dolphins swore throughout the week they wouldn't track that pivotal AFC East matchup and would focus solely on controlling what they could control; true to their word through the end, most players left the field shortly after the final whistle. By the time everyone had returned to the locker room, their fate had been sealed.

Miami clinched the AFC's final playoff berth with Sunday's win and the Patriots loss to the Bills, snapping a five-year drought. Kicker Jason Sanders, previously 1-for-5 on field goals of at least 50 yards this season, connected on a 50-yard attempt with 18 seconds left in the game to seal the victory.

After a difficult two-year stretch entering Week 18, in which Sanders had made just 3-of-11 kicks of 50 or more yards, the 2020 All-Pro said he was happy to come through for his teammates with the season on the line.

"It was just one of those things where I was just able to make a kick for the guys," Sanders said. "I feel like I owed them one for a while. I didn't expect it to come in the last week but I'm happy I was able to get one for the guys."

The five-year drought marked the third-longest in franchise history as coach Mike McDaniel joins Adam Gase, Tony Sparano, Dave Wannstedt and Don Shula as the only Dolphins coaches to make the playoffs in their debut seasons.

Only one player remains from Miami's previous playoff roster -- cornerback Xavien Howard, who was a rookie in 2016.

The now four-time Pro Bowler said the five years between playoff appearances taught him how difficult these opportunities are to come by.

"Don't take it for granted," he said after Sunday's game. "My first year, I came to a situation where we ended up making it to the playoffs. After that, coming from a winning organization in college, I was thinking, 'OK, it's like this, we gonna keep going each year,' and stuff like that. These opportunities, they don't come around a lot. So when you got a team (that makes it in), you gotta take advantage of it."

The win snapped a five-game losing streak that temporarily pushed the Dolphins out of the playoff field after an 8-3 start to the season. They'll head north to Buffalo to face the No. 2 seed Bills in the wild-card round, which will essentially double as a rubber match after the teams split their regular-season series.

McDaniel said he hasn't processed his emotions following the win but expressed gratitude after sharing a moment with team owner Stephen Ross after the game.

"I'm not one to feel entitled to anything," he said. "My walks of life have led me to having an infinite memory any time someone takes a chance on me -- I'm very loyal to that. I know how many other teams were interviewing me -- the answer is zero. It feels good that that didn't matter, that this is the right fit for everything we're trying to do here. I'll forever be loyal to that.

"I'll be excited tomorrow, um, to come to work and begin the game-planning process again, because I was not ready for that to be discontinued for the season. I think a lot of guys -- it meant a lot to them, this team. And they didn't want to see it go and they knew what the stakes were, which is why I'm that much more proud of them."

In what's sure to be the looming storyline this coming week, the status of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remains unclear; McDaniel reiterated after the game that there is no timetable for his return from concussion protocol as medical experts have advised him to take things one day at a time.

McDaniel said Tagovailoa was "all smiles" in the locker room after the game and credited him for helping put the Dolphins in playoff position.

Dolphins 2022 seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson started Sunday, completing 20-of-31 passes for 152 yards. Veteran Teddy Bridgewater was active after dislocating his pinkie on his throwing hand but it's yet to be determined who will start against the Bills if Tagovailoa remains sidelined.

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