EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Look out, mediocre AFC. There’s a surprise team that is pushing for a playoff spot.
That team is the Miami Dolphins (4-3).
Miami won its third straight game Sunday with a 30-9 blowout of the rival New York Jets. The Dolphins are quietly playing some of the best football in the league and will be a tough matchup in the second half of the season.
The Dolphins entered MetLife Stadium at a crossroads. They would either make a statement against the Jets or fall back into the pack of mediocre teams.
Miami chose to make an emphatic statement and appears to be getting better as the season progresses. The Dolphins were subpar in September with a 1-3 record but stellar in October at 3-0.
What can we expect from Miami in November and December?
Although it’s early, it is time to start thinking of playoff possibilities in Miami. Here is what we know at the midpoint of the season:
The AFC East is having another down year. The Jets (3-5) appear to be toast, and the Buffalo Bills (3-4) also appear on the verge of collapsing. That leaves the Dolphins and reigning AFC champion New England Patriots (5-3) as the only AFC East teams truly in the running for a playoff spot. The Patriots are clearly the class of the division. But Miami is in position to push New England and compete for a wild card.
Speaking of wild cards, it is wide-open in the AFC. The Dolphins are one of six teams in the conference with a winning record. The Dolphins are competing with the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3), Indianapolis Colts (4-3) and San Diego Chargers (3-4) for two wild-card spots.
With three straight victories, the Dolphins have the longest winning streak in the AFC. So why not Miami?
"It shows the NFL what we can do,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said of the win. "I think we deserve a little bit of respect now that we’re winning football games."
Pouncey was smiling during his interview, partly because he was engaged in the war of words this week with Jets defensive end Aaron Maybin. Miami’s offense played well, and Maybin did not record a tackle.
In fact, not many Jets showed up to play after doing a lot of trash talking during the week.
“Talking means nothing, as you’ve seen today,” Pouncey said with a smile. “When you play against another team that runs their mouth, we’re going to go out and play harder. That’s just part of the game.”
Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore deserves a lot of credit for staying ready.
Moore, last year’s starter, was in danger of being the third quarterback in training camp but kept working hard. An injury to David Garrard moved Moore up the depth chart. Moore stepped in Sunday when rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill hyperextended his knee and bruised his quad in the first quarter.
Moore proved he’s one of the top backup quarterbacks in the league by keeping the Dolphins' offense going. Miami led 10-0 when Tannehill was injured and won by 21 points. Moore played efficiently and was 11-of-19 for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Tannehill said he's optimistic about playing next week. But Miami should go into the game against the Indianapolis Colts feeling comfortable either way.
“We have a luxury not to have a drop-off at quarterback, no matter what happens,” Dolphins receiver Marlon Moore said. “So if Tannehill goes down, we have the luxury of having another starting-caliber quarterback coming in.”
It was never more apparent Sunday that these two AFC East teams are headed in opposite directions.
Miami is contending but also has good, young talent making contributions. The Dolphins have a franchise quarterback in Tannehill. Miami also has plenty of cap room and draft picks to make some major moves in 2013.
New York, on the other hand, is an aging team past its prime. The Jets had their shot in 2009 and 2010 when they went to back-to-back AFC title games. This group is too old and beaten down to make a similar run with the same players. It’s time to start the rebuilding process in New York.
That also brings up a major question at quarterback. Is Sanchez the answer?
This is Sanchez's fourth season, and he continues to be inconsistent. Sanchez had another bad game against Miami, completing 28 of 53 passes for 283 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also lost a fumble. Most of Sanchez’s yards were gained in garbage time. He was booed by the home crowd in the second half.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said he didn’t consider a quarterback change in the game. But one has to wonder whether there will be discussions behind closed doors about whether to insert popular backup quarterback Tim Tebow for New York’s next game against the Seattle Seahawks in two weeks. The Jets, who have a bye in Week 9, would have two weeks to prepare Tebow to start.
None of those are concerns for the Dolphins. Miami doesn’t have to see the Jets again this season and is heading for bigger and better things.
“I think the future is bright for this football team,” Pouncey said. “You don’t want to speak too much on it, but I think if we just keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to win a lot of football games this year.”