Dolphins must-win Week 18 matchup against Jets
MIAMI GARDENS - A month ago, this game between AFC East rivals might have had different implications.
Both the New York Jets (7-9) and Miami Dolphins (8-8) were above .500 entering December and on track for their first playoff appearances in some time. Miami was challenging Buffalo for the division's top spot. New York was off to its best start in years.
Both teams have lost their last five games, however, and now only the Dolphins' postseason hopes remain alive. The Jets were eliminated with last week's loss to Seattle.
Miami can make the playoffs with a win over the Jets in Sunday's regular-season finale, coupled with a New England loss to Buffalo.
"You've got to win, that's all it comes down to," Dolphins safety Jevon Holland said. "Whatever you got to do, however you got to prepare. You've got to win."
The Dolphins have looked like two different teams this season. The first featured one of the NFL's most unstoppable offenses, with Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle powering Miami to an 8-3 record.
That offense has not sustained its production late in the season, and now Miami's injury-plagued quarterback room adds another roadblock to its postseason chances.
Tagovailoa's return from a concussion doesn't seem imminent, and Teddy Bridgewater dislocated the pinky finger on his throwing hand in last week's loss to New England.
Rookie Skylar Thompson figures to be the guy the Jets' fourth-ranked defense will face.
"A formula for successful offensive play is a quarterback that's willing to do whatever it takes and a bunch of teammates that fully believe in what he has to offer," Miami coach Mike McDaniel said. "And so I see both."
The Jets can only play spoiler on Sunday, but coach Robert Saleh is choosing to view it as "another championship game."
"I know it's technically not," Saleh said, "but you have to keep your mindset that any time you have a chance to step on the field, you've got to step on the gas and do the absolute best you can."
After early wins over Miami, Green Bay and Buffalo, the Jets have fallen to Minnesota, Jacksonville, Detroit, the Bills and Seattle in recent weeks.
Jets players mentioned that even if they're not playing for the playoffs, they're playing for something.
"You've got to go back to the reason you come to work," said linebacker C.J. Mosley, "and that's to win, play for you brothers and represent yourself."
LEAN ON ME
Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert isn't one to tell McDaniel how to game plan, but with Thompson at quarterback for a must-win game, Mostert would be glad to get plenty of carries to take some pressure off the rookie.
"It's always ideal when you can go in there and talk to Mikey (McDaniel) about the run game and lean on me and Jeff (RB Jeff Wilson)," Mostert said. "But I would say that's kind of selfish to start so early and say those things. We really have to rally behind Skylar and whoever is at quarterback. ... Come game time, and we need to run the ball more, you know I'm going to go out there and be a personal advocate of running the ball more."
Mostert rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries against the Jets in Week 5.
The Jets were 7-4 before a five-game skid ended their postseason hopes.
"We just didn't do what we needed to be done," quarterback Mike White said. "I mean, we can go game by game and all that good stuff but at the end of the day, it's just we didn't get the job done."
The biggest culprit during the skid has been the offense, which has scored just four touchdowns during that stretch. New York hasn't scored a TD in its last eight quarters.
"It's shocking," White said. "It's not what you want to do as an offense."
Despite the Jets' issues on offense and uncertainty at quarterback, wide receiver Garrett Wilson has had one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history.
Wilson, the 10th overall pick last April, has set the team rookie marks with 74 receptions for 1,014 yards. Those totals also lead NFL rookies this season.
"It's about winning," said Wilson, who has four TD catches. "I want to win. Personal accolades will be there regardless, but if we win, it's going to come with it."
Saleh doesn't anticipate making changes to the lineups on offense or defense Sunday, barring injury. That means the Jets won't use the final game of the season to try to get extended looks at younger players over veterans.
"Guys have been playing and a lot of guys have earned the right to finish the season strong and finish the season that they've started," Saleh said. "In this building, I feel like we've always stood firm on giving the people who deserve the opportunity to play that opportunity to play, and if guys like, for example C.J. Mosley, if he wants to finish the season strong, he's going to get that opportunity. He's earned it and he's going to get it."
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