AFC East: Miami Dolphins

DAVIE, Fla. -- Ryan Tannehill solidified his standing as Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback for 2015 -- and possibly beyond. But the immediate future in Miami of backup quarterback Matt Moore remains up in the air.

Moore will become an unrestricted free agent in March. His final game under contract will be Sunday when the Dolphins (8-7) host the New York Jets (3-12) at Sun Life Stadium.

Moore
Moore has spent the past four seasons in Miami, including the last three years as Tannehill's backup. But Moore doesn't know if Sunday will be his final game with the Dolphins.

“I’ve enjoyed everything about my time here,” Moore said Friday. “I’m not sure if that’s going to end or if there’s a new chapter. I don’t know yet. When that time comes, I will figure it out then.”

Moore said he "absolutely" plans to play in 2015. He's just not sure of his destination. Moore, who made $4 million this season, is considered one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL.

But there could be several factors working against Moore returning to Miami. For starters, the Dolphins do not have a lot of cap space going into next season. That will make it challenging to re-sign key free agents such as Moore, starting defensive tackle Jared Odrick and starting tight end Charles Clay.

Miami also is further convinced Tannehill is the answer at quarterback than the team was two years ago when it last signed Moore as an insurance policy. The Dolphins may not want to spend a high amount again on a backup quarterback next season. Tannehill will have started all 16 games for the third straight season, while Moore has completed just 2 of 4 passes for 21 yards this year.

Moore said he understands the business and is “aware of possible change” with the Dolphins next season.

“If the situation is right, that will happen,” Moore said of coming back. “If there's a situation elsewhere that is intriguing, it might also happen. ... I’m going to kind of feel my way through it.”

Lastly, the Dolphins announced their team awards for 2014. Tannehill won the Dan Marino Award for the team’s MVP in 2014. Defensive end Cameron Wake earned the Don Shula Award for leadership and Jason Fox won the Nat Moore Community Service Award.

“It’s a huge honor for me and the guys around me,” Tannehill said of the award. “In order for the quarterback to play well, the guys around me have to be playing well also. I think it’s huge honor, and I love that I got it. But at the same time, you have to give a lot of credit to the guys around me.”
The Miami Dolphins (8-7) will host to the New York Jets (3-12) in the final game this season for both teams.

Here is a look at the final injury report for Miami:

Questionable: LB Jelani Jenkins (foot), DE Derrick Shelby (ankle), RT Dallas Thomas (foot)

Probable: TE Charles Clay (hamstring, knee), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle, knee), LB Jonathan Freeny (hamstring), S Don Jones (shoulder), LB Koa Misi (hamstring, knee), DT Earl Mitchell (back), DT Jared Odrick (ankle), RB Daniel Thomas (knee), WR Mike Wallace (back)

Analysis: The Dolphins are as healthy as they’ve been in weeks. Shelby was the only major injury concern, and he practiced for the second consecutive day on Friday. Thomas also practiced every day this week after missing last week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. For the Jets, receiver Percy Harvin (ankle, ribs), center Nick Mangold (finger, ankle) and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (toe, illness) are all questionable.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins (8-7) held their first full practice in preparation for Sunday's game against the New York Jets (3-12).

A few notes and observations:
  • Dolphins starting right tackle Dallas Thomas returned to practice on Wednesday. Thomas missed last Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings with a foot injury. Backup right tackle Jason Fox made his first start and did a decent job. Miami only allowed two sacks. I’m curious to see who will start if Thomas is healthy.
  • Backup defensive end Derrick Shelby did not participate in practice. He suffered an ankle injury against Minnesota and worked on the side with trainers. If Shelby cannot play, that will open up reps for backups Dion Jordan and Terrence Fede.
  • Miami running back Daniel Thomas, who missed last Sunday's game, also practiced. He is recovering from a knee injury.
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Cameron Wake, DE, fourth Pro Bowl selection: Wake led the Miami Dolphins with 11.5 sacks. This is the third time he's recorded double-digit sacks and most recently had a two-sack performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16. At 32 years old, Wake is still going strong. He remains one of Miami's top players and has a knack for the big moment when his team needs a big play in crucial situations.

Who he beat out: There are some big names who didn't make the cut this year at defensive end. Jason-Pierre Paul of the New York Giants recorded 10.5 sacks -- one fewer than Wake -- and didn't make the Pro Bowl. Baltimore Ravens defensive end/outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had 11 sacks, also had a Pro Bowl case for either position.

Brent Grimes, CB, third Pro Bowl selection: Grimes was one of Miami's most consistent players this season. He led the Dolphins with five interceptions -- including a pick-six -- and kept the secondary together through multiple injuries at cornerback and safety. Miami's pass defense is ranked No. 4 in the NFL. Grimes' one-handed, highlight-reel interception against Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in Week 10 also should be a play of the year candidate.

Who he beat out: There were not many snubs at cornerback this year. The eight that made it, including Grimes, were all deserving of the honor. But if I had to nitpick, Minnesota Vikings second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes (47 tackles, one interception) played well this season but didn't have enough picks. He will only get better.

QB snapshot: Ryan Tannehill

December, 23, 2014
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A quick observation of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and how he played in the Miami Dolphins' 37-35 win in Week 16:

Tannehill
Tannehill saved his best for one of the final games of the season. In Week 16, Tannehill threw for a season-high 396 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, and he had a 118.8 passer rating in Miami's victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

This was the kind of performance Dolphins fans have been waiting for. Tannehill made big plays and small plays and was a dominant player. Miami (8-7) had a franchise-record 36 first downs -- and 23 were via Tannehill and the passing game.

There also were subtle things Tannehill did well that didn't show up in the box score. He stood tall in the pocket, took some big shots from Vikings' defenders, and eluded pressure to keep the chains the moving.

Tannehill received praise Monday from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor for successfully executing the game-plan details against Minnesota (6-9).

"This guy is playing quarterback," Lazor said. "It's not just making the deep throws. It's not just getting some things out."

Tannehill solidified his case to be Miami's starter in 2015. This was a big third season for the quarterback and head coach Joe Philbin, who also is set to return for his fourth season.

With one game remaining, Tannehill already has set new career bests in touchdown passes (26) and passer rating (93.2) this season. He needs just 128 passing yards Sunday against the New York Jets to top his previous career mark of 3,913 yards. Tannehill needs 214 passing yards in the final game to reach 4,000 yards for the first time in his career.

Either way, it's been a successful season in which Tannehill made enough strides to provide optimism for 2015.
DAVIE, Fla. -- How did Joe Philbin celebrate Sunday night’s news that he will return as Miami Dolphins' head coach in 2015?

“I had one Guinness,” Philbin said Monday.

Philbin can breathe easier now that his job is secure for another year. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross pulled a somewhat surprising move by making the coaching announcement following Sunday’s 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Philbin
There was a lot of speculation that Philbin’s future would be determined in the final two games. However, Ross said he made up his mind before Sunday.

"Things are happening as an organization. I think everyone feels the buzz that things are changing around here," Ross said. "They say patience is a virtue, you know. But I'm expecting big things next year -- I will tell you that."

Questions about Philbin have been removed, and the mood is different this week going into the season finale.

“It’s important for the head coach of an NFL football team that the owner believes in him and what he’s doing and the program he’s instilling,” Philbin said. “It’s very, very important. If you don’t have that kind of belief and faith from the owner then it’s not going to work.”

Questions remain if Philbin will keep everyone on his coaching staff, particularly on defense, where the team has struggled in the final five weeks of the season. Ross assured Philbin will return, but it remains to be seen if offseason tweaks will be required for the assistants.

Last year, Miami fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and replaced him with Bill Lazor, who has been an upgrade. Miami’s points per game increased from 19.8 in 2013 to 24.3 this season.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and Philbin both deflected questions about the future of the staff on Monday.

“Right now, I’m just concerned about playing the New York Jets and winning this football game,” Philbin said. “There’s a time and place to talk about staff.”

Added Coyle, “I don’t think it’s my place to answer any of that type of stuff. Right now we have one game to get ready for as the season ends. That’s not [something] I’m going to deal with.”

A victory over the Jets (3-12) would give the Dolphins (8-7) their first winning season since 2008, and it would mark Philbin’s first winning season as head coach.

A victory over New York also could provide some momentum and good vibes heading into the offseason.

“We approach this as a privilege to put the uniform on and put the whistle on as a coach to represent this organization,” Philbin said. “The goal is to win every single time you step on this field. ... That's the only way I know how to go about preparing a team to play in the National Football League. So that's exactly what we're going to do.”
Lost in Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ newsworthy announcement that head coach Joe Philbin will return in 2015 was the stellar performance by their quarterback that led to Sunday's 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Tannehill
 Third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill also solidified his case to be next year's starter. He had his best game of the season, throwing for 396 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Tannehill also recorded a 118.8 passer rating.

Tannehill posted big numbers in the most important season of his career. He set career-highs for touchdowns (26) and passer rating (93.2) while learning a new offensive scheme.

Similar to the head coach, there is no question on who will be under center in Miami next season. The Tannehill-Philbin tandem will lead the Dolphins again in 2015.

“I’m happy to hear [Philbin is] coming back,” Tannehill said after Sunday's game. “I’m looking forward to it. Let’s keep working on it.”

Tannehill surpassed Carson Palmer for the sixth-most passing yards in the first three seasons in NFL history. He’s started every game since 2012 and has 10,993 passing yards.

The addition of new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has paid off for Tannehill. Together, the pair has improved Miami’s points per game from 19.8 in 2013 to 24.3 this season. And if the Dolphins get 37 points next week against the New York Jets (3-12), they will have 400 points in a season for the first time since the Dan Marino era.

There are still things Tannehill needs to work on. He hasn’t hit on enough deep balls to stretch the defense, and his play speed should improve in his second year in the system. Tannehill -- and Philbin -- also must improve their 23-24 career record. Miami will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.

But the Dolphins are optimistic Tannehill and Philbin will improve and grow in their fourth season together. They still have a chance to lead Miami (8-7) to its first winning season since 2008 with a victory Sunday over the Jets.

“It’s big,” Tannehill said. “Finishing with a winning record was not our goal to start the year. But at this point that’s what we have to aim for. We’re out of the playoff competition. We’re playing for each other right now. To be able finish on a positive note against a division opponent at home is huge.”
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was beaming in the locker room Sunday, following his team's 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Although Miami was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs about 20 minutes earlier, Ross excitedly announced that head coach Joe Philbin will return in 2015.

"He's coming back!" Ross said with a smile, squashing speculation on the contrary.

You cannot fault Ross for choosing continuity. He has tried the other way and it hasn't worked. Ross has fired a head coach (Tony Sparano) and a general manager (Jeff Ireland) and it hasn't resulted in a playoff appearance. Philbin would have become the third high-level executive to be let go in four years.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill and Joe Philbin
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesRyan Tannehill and the Dolphins will miss the playoffs this year, but Joe Philbin says he still expects to compete in the postseason during his tenure as Miami's head coach.
Philbin has his faults, but he made strides in his third season that appeal to ownership. The locker-room chemistry is much better after last year's disastrous bullying scandal. Philbin has the support of his players and has a chance to lead Miami (8-7) to its first winning season since 2008. All the Dolphins must do is beat the lowly New York Jets (3-12) next week at home.

Here are some key statistics in Philbin's favor:

  • Miami's scoring has improved from 19.8 points per game in 2013 to 24.3 points per game this season. Philbin's hiring of first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor played a key role in that improvement.
  • Third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is having a career season. He has set career highs in touchdown passes (26) and passer rating (93.2) with one game remaining to pad those numbers.
  • The Dolphins had three losses this season by four points or less to three playoff teams (Denver, Green Bay and Detroit). If Miami pulled off any of these close games, the season result could have been different.

"Things are happening as an organization. I think everyone feels the buzz that things are changing around here," Ross explained. "They say patience is a virtue, you know. But I'm expecting big things next year -- I will tell you that."

Another aspect in Ross' decision is Philbin's support in the locker room. Following last week's loss to New England, which essentially ended Miami's postseason chances, veterans such as team captain Cameron Wake, receiver Mike Wallace and guard Mike Pouncey all came to Philbin's defense. Each veteran said any fault for the Dolphins' shortcomings is on the players.

Wake, who leads the team with 11.5 sacks, was among the players happy for Philbin on Sunday.

"Coach Philbin is a big part of this franchise," Wake said. "He's obviously part of the success of this team. That's great news and I'm looking forward to it."

According to Ross, this team is close to contending. Ross has been a strong supporter of Philbin, the owner's first hire in 2012. Ross said at the time that he's hopeful Philbin could become the "next Don Shula," which is both high praise and high expectations.

Philbin is 23-24 as a head coach, which is not awful but not great. If Ross doesn't think he can get an elite replacement -- for example, Jim Harbaugh -- why break up the entire regime and start from scratch? The worst move the Dolphins could make would be to hire another first-time coach and allow that person 2-3 more years to learn on the job and make mistakes.

Ross believes keeping Philbin and first-year general manager Dennis Hickey together for another year could end the Dolphins' six-year playoff drought. Hickey made several solid moves this year, most notably drafting left tackle Ja'Wuan James and receiver Jarvis Landry. Hickey also signed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and safety Louis Delmas, who all contributed. Hickey wasn't the problem in Miami.

Sure, there is a chance the Dolphins could be in this same spot one year from now, missing out on the playoffs. But if that's the case, Philbin and the Dolphins can make a clean break, the coach having fulfilled the final year of his contract.

But there's also a possibility Philbin rewards the Dolphins for their patience and develops into the coach Ross thinks he can be in 2015. That would provide a long-term payoff.

Philbin must do better in his in-game management, especially in close games. The Dolphins also must play better late in the season. Philbin failed to win big games in December for the second straight season and that's a major reason Miami is not in the playoffs. Improvement in those two areas would go a long way.

"I want to compete for championships while I'm the head coach of the Miami Dolphins," Philbin said Sunday night. "That's what I told Mr. Ross I was going to do. I'm disappointed that we're not in [the playoffs]."

Keeping Philbin is a calculated risk, but it's worth a try.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 37-35 victory Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: The Dolphins needed a late comeback to pick up a much-needed win after two consecutive losses. Rookie defensive lineman Terrence Fede blocked a punt to give Miami a safety and a wild finish. It certainly wasn't pretty. But the victory gives the Dolphins (8-7) and head coach Joe Philbin a chance to finish with a winning season. However, Sunday's win by the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5) eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention.

Stock watch: Running back Lamar Miller was a threat on the ground and through the air. He finished with 92 rushing yards and 58 receiving yards. Miller is 79 rushing yards from his first 1,000-yard season. In terms of stock down, Miami's defense gave up a lot of points to Vikings rookie quarterback and Miami native Teddy Bridgewater (259 yards, two touchdowns). Minnesota's 35 points marked its second-highest output of the season.

Wake’s milestone: Cameron Wake recorded two sacks on Bridgewater to notch 11.5 on the season. This is the third time Wake has recorded double-digit sacks in his career. He also became the fourth Dolphin to accomplish the feat. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Wake's first sack of the day triggered a $750,000 bonus in the defensive end's contract.

Game ball: Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill had one of his best games of the season. He threw for 396 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Tannehill also showed toughness by absorbing some big shots and continuing to lead the offense to five touchdown drives.

What’s next: The Dolphins will wrap up their 2014 season the same way they did last year by hosting the rival New York Jets (3-12). Miami likely will be favored to win at home, but anything is possible in this AFC East matchup. The Dolphins won the first meeting 16-13 in Week 13.

Dolphins-Vikings inactives

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Here are the players you won't see in Sunday's game between the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings:

Dolphins (7-7)
Vikings (6-8)
Analysis: There are no surprises from Miami’s perspective. Dallas Thomas and Daniel Thomas were both listed doubtful during the week and will not play. Backup right tackle Jason Fox will make his first start of the season at right tackle. The Vikings have a good defensive line and will test Fox. Miami also is much healthier at linebacker. Starters Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi are active after missing last week’s loss to the New England Patriots.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (7-7) are on a path towards their sixth consecutive non-playoff season. But one player who is having a consistent season is starting tailback Lamar Miller.

Miller
 Miami’s third-year tailback already set new career highs for rushing yards (829) and touchdowns (six) this season. Miller is just 171 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season, and that goal is within reach with two games remaining against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) and New York Jets (3-11).

“You know, it would be great just to reach 1,000 yards,” Miller said. “I just have to continue to do what I do, come to work every day and try to get better.”

Miller has thrived in first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's new scheme. Miami’s spread, quick-hitting offense has allowed Miller to find more creases in the defense and make plays in open space, which are strengths.

This season Miller is doing a much better job of getting to the second level. He's run for a career-high 45 first downs, nearly doubling his previous career best of 26 first downs in 2013. Miller also increased his yards per carry from 4.0 last season to 4.7 this season.

“I think he’s made better decisions running the ball,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It’s not always perfect, like the quarterback is not perfect every single time in decision-making. He does a good job, and I think he's done a better job. Less shuffling, less dancing, more running.”

Although Miller has improved in several areas, he mentioned there are still things he must work on to become a complete running back. For example, Miller citied pass protection and catching out of the backfield. Taking on blockers has been a struggle for Miller throughout his career, and he's dropped a few passes this season.

But running is Miller's biggest priority and he's done it well. Perhaps what is most impressive is Miller is approaching 1,000 yards rushing without getting nearly as many carries as other feature tailbacks around the NFL. Miller only received more than 16 carries once in a game this season while constantly rotating with backups Damien Williams and Daniel Thomas. But Miller is making the most of his opportunities.

Miller needs to average 85.5 rushing yards in the final two weeks to reach the 1,000-yard milestone.

“Every time I get the ball, I try to make a big play for this team,” Miller said. “Once I get it, I just try to be decisive, make the right reads and use my vision.”

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

DAVIE, Fla. – To get a sense of the Miami Dolphins' ideal mindset in the final two games, look no further than the credo written on the wall inside the team's locker room.

“I will never accept defeat,” the Dolphins’ credo states in bold letters. “I will never quit.”

We will find out Sunday if the Dolphins (7-7) live up to their year-long motto when they host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) in a battle of mediocre teams. This game essentially has nothing at stake. Miami still has a small chance for the postseason but was virtually eliminated following back-to-back losses to the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.

However, Dolphins players insisted that they will fight to the end. They still have a shot to finish with a winning season for the first time since 2008.

“The thing is that winning two games means something, so we take things one game at a time,” Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. “So beating Minnesota means something. Beating New York means something. But finishing 9-7 and not getting into the playoffs really doesn't mean anything.”

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill even cited a famous football line from former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards.

“You play to win the game,” Tannehill said Wednesday.

Joe Philbin, who is 22-24 as Miami’s head coach, finds himself in a challenging spot the next two weeks. Rumors are swirling that Philbin could be coaching his final two games with the Dolphins after potentially missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Philbin is doing his best to block out the noise, but he still must motivate his players to perform well in the final two games.

For players, this serves as an audition. Change is inevitable on a roster when teams are not successful, and Miami will have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason with high-priced veterans and prospective free agents.

Last year, Miami was in the playoff hunt until the final game. This season feels much different because the season essentially ended in Gillette Stadium in Week 15, leaving the team to deal with two uneventful games before wrapping up another disappointing season.

It will be up to leaders such as defensive end Cameron Wake and Tannehill to keep the team focused.

“You play for each other, you play for your team and you play to represent yourself and what you stand for as a person and as a player,” Tannehill said. “I don’t have any problem getting motivation. I love to compete, regardless of if the playoffs are on the line or not.”
The NFL draft is several months away and there are still two weeks of football left to play.

However, it’s not too early to look ahead to the offseason. Earlier this week, we previewed the offensive and defensive free agents. On Wednesday, ESPN's Todd McShay offered his first mock draft.

Here are some thoughts on McShay's selection for Miami:

Selection: No. 16

McShay's pick: Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

McShay's quote: “Thompson is a unique talent with an outstanding combination of size, speed and athleticism, and he could help upgrade Miami at linebacker.”

Analysis: It’s hard to pinpoint Miami’s biggest need at this early stage. But linebacker could be near the top of the list. The Dolphins have decisions to make with high-priced linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. Both underachieved and are candidates to become salary-cap casualties. If that’s the case, Thompson could be a possibility. Miami had a nice find in second-year outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins. But the other two positions are open for next season.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins began their practice week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here are some notes from Wednesday’s session:
  • Both starting linebackers Koa Misi (hamstring, knee) and Jelani Jenkins (foot) returned to practice. The Dolphins definitely missed their starters in Sunday’s 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Misi and Jenkins practicing on Wednesday is a good early sign for Miami. Backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) also is practicing for the first time in four weeks.
  • Dolphins starting right tackle Dallas Thomas did not practice during the portion open to the media. Thomas injured his ankle in Sunday’s game against New England. Backup right tackle Jason Fox would be first in line if Thomas cannot play. Rookie Billy Turner also will get reps during the practice week.
  • Backup running back Daniel Thomas (ankle) also did not practice in portion open to the media. Backup offensive lineman Nate Garner (illness) was not present.

The Dolphins changed their practice schedule this week. They will hold Thursday and Friday sessions partially open to the media.

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