AFC East: Seattle Seahawks

Welcome to the Super Bowl, coach. Now about that game you lost 20 years ago. ...

That's pretty much how it went Sunday night for Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who arrived in New Jersey and -- eight questions into his first news conference -- was asked about his ill-fated season as the New York Jets' head coach, 1994. The turning point, as every tortured Jets fan knows, was Dan Marino's game-winning fake spike play in the 12th game.

Carroll
Carroll
"It could have been entirely different had we just hung on and won that game," Carroll said.

Quick history lesson: The Jets were 6-5, playing the Miami Dolphins for a share of first place in the AFC East. The Jets blew a 24-6 lead and lost in the final seconds, when Marino duped the Jets into thinking it was a "clock" play -- except he threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Mark Ingram. Carroll lost the next four games, finished 6-10 and got fired. In came Rich Kotite, who lost 28 of his 32 games.

The fake spike is regarded as one of the pivotal moments in Jets history.

“It didn’t have to be," Carroll said. "When you look back on it, that’s what you would point to because we lost four games after that as well. There was a time in that game when we were ahead and doing great, and it just kind of went south on us. That play has been a pretty famous play, and I’m glad for Dan. That’s the only guy I’m glad for, that he pulled it off. It was a moment when things turned."

Carroll hasn't talked much over the years about his bitter divorce from the Jets, but on the first official night of Super Bowl hype -- before a packed news conference comprised of many local reporters -- he took the high road. He spoke glowingly of his five seasons with the Jets, the first four as the defensive coordinator.

No, he didn't think about it on the long plane ride, "but I have thought about it quite a bit," he said. "It has come up in the week’s preparation already. I’ve always loved playing in New York. I loved the fact that I had a chance to be here for five years. To have a chance to be a head coach in New York is an extraordinary honor because of the history and the following and all that goes along with that.

"Unfortunately it didn’t last very long, but it still was a great experience and I remember it well. I’m really proud to come back here and coach in a game like this, this status, in places we once lived and worked. It’s a special honor to do that.”

Well played.
Buffalo Bills fans never got a chance to see Tarvaris Jackson in action last season. After being acquired by Buffalo in 2012, the journeyman spent all of last season behind former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played 16 games.

Now that Fitzpatrick has been released, Jackson has an opportunity to win Buffalo's starting quarterback job later this summer. Jackson will be the underdog against Kevin Kolb, who recently signed a two-year, $13 million contract.

But new Bills defensive lineman Alan Branch, who played with Jackson in 2011 with the Seattle Seahawks, offered high praise for Jackson and says Buffalo is getting a quality quarterback.

"I'll say this: Tarvaris Jackson is one of the toughest competitors I've seen out there," Branch said in a telephone interview with the AFC East blog this week. “When he played when I was in Seattle, the guy was hurt in more than half the games and he kept playing. He had us winning games, too. We were in every single game. It’s not like we ever got blew out.

"It was a rebuilding process for Seattle. So Jackson didn’t have quite the tools Seattle had last year. But the guy is tough as nails, smart and has a cannon for an arm. Buffalo fans should definitely realize that they got some stature back there."

Jackson had a career year with Seattle in 2011. He started 14 games, went 7-7 as a starter, and threw for 3,091 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Those are decent numbers, especially if Jackson was playing injured. However, Jackson hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since.

The Bills are hoping Jackson can be the same quarterback he was two seasons ago and push Kolb in training camp this summer. Competition should only make both quarterbacks better.
Ryan TannehillRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins have surrounded young QB Ryan Tannehill with big-name talent this offseason.
The Miami Dolphins are the darlings of the offseason. They entered free agency with more than $40 million of cap room and cleaned up by signing the best receiver on the market (Mike Wallace), the top-rated linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe), a pass-catching tight end (Dustin Keller), another athletic linebacker (Philip Wheeler), and kept their own starting players (Brian Hartline, Randy Starks, Chris Clemons).

On paper, the Dolphins look like a clear playoff contender and the only legitimate challenger to the New England Patriots in the AFC East. The sky could be the limit for Miami this season and beyond.

But there is one catch for the Dolphins: None of this is possible unless second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes the next step.

The Dolphins proceeded this offseason with full confidence that Tannehill is a franchise quarterback. It’s a calculated risk after Tannehill had a promising rookie season where his stats didn't necessarily stand out. He threw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and made his share of rookie mistakes.

However, Miami believes Tannehill showed enough flashes of brilliance to go all-in with him. He played winning football most weeks, and led the Dolphins to a better-than-expected 7-9 record.

There is no time for Tannehill to be a one-hit wonder or have a sophomore slump in 2013. A majority of Miami’s moves in free agency were about making Tannehill a better quarterback.

“Ryan has got 35, 36 games under his belt as starting quarterback combined from a college and pro career, and you would normally like to have 35 games under your belt as a graduating senior,” Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said recently. “So I think that there is a bunch of upside left in Ryan’s potential, and I like what I see so far. I love his intangible makeup, I love his athletic skill set. We have a long way to go, he knows that, but he can get a lot better, I am very confident in that.”

The Dolphins committed $30 million guaranteed to get Tannehill a legitimate deep threat and No. 1 receiver in Wallace. Despite Tannehill's strong arm, Miami was limited with the deep ball last season because of a poor supporting cast. He completed only 14 passes of more than 20 yards last season. Wallace has elite speed and should be able to change that.

Miami also snagged Keller from the rival New York Jets, and former St. Louis Rams receiver Brandon Gibson. Keller is the safety valve Miami lacked at tight end, and Gibson brings another weapon to add to a strong group of receivers that already includes Wallace, Hartline and Davone Bess.

The Dolphins learned when you have a potential franchise quarterback, it's easier to recruit free agents. Gibson, Keller and Wallace all cited Tannehill as one of the key reasons they signed with Miami.

“I watch tons of film and I really think he’s going to be one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL,” Gibson said. “He’s got a big arm, and he’s very intelligent and a very good athlete, and I think that can go a long ways.”

Keller played with embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez in New York for four seasons. Keller leaves the Jets for a quarterback in Miami with a much higher ceiling.

“I’m very impressed with him. I like his game a lot,” Keller said of Tannehill. “I think now you put a Mike Wallace on the team, re-sign Brian Hartline, I love Davone Bess in the slot. You’ve got Charles Clay there working at tight end, too. I think there’s a lot people that they’re going to help him thrive this year, and I’m just happy to be one of the pieces.”

Tannehill is significantly ahead of the curve. The Dolphins' initial plan last season was to let Tannehill sit while Matt Moore or David Garrard ran the team. Instead, Tannehill took advantage of injuries and opportunity and started all 16 games.

In fact, Tannehill’s Total Quarterback Rating, which measures a player's complete performance, was better last season than other big-name quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford. The Dolphins believe Tannehill is just getting started.

Tannehill also flew under the radar last season with a potentially special 2012 quarterback class. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks all shared the spotlight while leading their teams to the playoffs. Tannehill was the only rookie of the four not to lead his team to the playoffs, but those expectations will rise for Miami next season.

"We're looking for improvement from him. There's no question about it," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said at the NFL’s owners meetings. “Part of it’s the decision-making that we think is so important. Part of it’s accuracy. Part of it’s play-making ability at critical times in the course of a game. While we think he made some really nice strides in his first year, there’s still a long way to go, and he’s well aware of that.”

The 2013 Dolphins will be Tannehill’s team, and certainly Tannehill’s offense.

An important part of Tannehill’s sophomore season is that he must take more of a leadership role. The Dolphins are a young team that lost a lot of leadership this offseason. Left tackle Jake Long and running back Reggie Bush bolted in free agency, and linebacker Karlos Dansby was released.

Tannehill will lead one of the youngest teams in the NFL next season. He doesn't get the publicity of fellow draft mates Luck, Wilson and RG III, but he will be just as important to the success of his team.

The New England Patriots replaced Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker on offense Wednesday by signing receiver Danny Amendola. But how would they replace Welker on punt returns?

New England answered that question Thursday by signing former Seattle Seahawks return specialist Leon Washington. This will be Washington's second tour of duty in the AFC East. He was drafted by the New York Jets in 2006 and spent four seasons there.

Washington had 1,140 kickoff and punt return yards and one touchdown last season with Seattle. He's had eight kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career.

New England's two primary punt returners last season -- Julian Edelman and Welker -- were unrestricted free agents. Welker signed with the Denver Broncos this week and Edelman remains on the open market. Defensive back Devin McCourty handled kickoff return duties for the Patriots out of necessity.

Washington fills Welker's role on punt returns and takes the pressure off McCourty, a starting safety, on kickoffs. This is an underrated and smart signing by the Patriots.

Should Jets consider QB Matt Cassel?

February, 28, 2013
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The New York Jets are desperate for a quarterback and need to turn over every rock to find competition for the embattled Mark Sanchez.

Should the Jets consider signing Matt Cassel this offseason?

The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is about to be released now that the team has agreed to trade for San Francisco's Alex Smith. The Chiefs have a new head coach in Andy Reid and a new quarterback in Smith. It's time for the Chiefs to part ways with Cassel after four seasons.

Cassel, 30, would not be a long-term solution for New York. He threw for just 1,796 yards with six touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. But Cassel could add immediate competition for Sanchez, which would only make both players better. Cassel also has plenty of starting experience with Kansas City and New England and he made the Pro Bowl in 2010.

Most importantly, Cassel could provide the Jets a cheap alternative. Other options like Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Matt Flynn would require the Jets trading draft picks and accepting a larger salary. The Jets have a tight salary cap this offseason and need to make wise, cost-effective decisions.

Is Rex Ryan destined to fail?

February, 22, 2013
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Rex RyanAP Photo/Bill WippertThe Jets are 14-18 the past two seasons under coach Rex Ryan.
Rex Ryan addressed the media at the NFL combine Thursday as only a shell of the brash, supremely confident coach he once was.

Just two years ago, Ryan stepped to the podium and guaranteed the combine media in Indianapolis that the New York Jets would win the Super Bowl.

This year's prediction for the Jets?

"I did figure this out: I’m not in the prediction world," Ryan said sheepishly. "I’m usually not real good on my predictions."

This is a different version of Ryan. He has been humbled, beaten down and worn out the past two years in New York. Ryan has had to deal with Tebowmania, Mike Tannenbaum’s awful decision-making, Mark Sanchez’s regression, constant infighting and in-house controversies. The Jets went 14-18 the past two seasons under Ryan, but it felt more like 0-32 under the bright lights of New York.

Just barely, Ryan has survived. But long gone is the coach who thought he would win multiple Super Bowls with Gang Green. Ryan is merely a coach trying to survive the circus he helped create the past four seasons. He has only 2013 to make everything right for a Jets team with a lot of holes and a lot of issues.

In many ways, Ryan appears destined to fail. The Jets are tearing down their roster in what amounts to a must-win year for Ryan. New York lacks a franchise quarterback, has limited players on offense and possesses a tight salary cap. In addition, Ryan works for a new general manager, John Idzik, who won't hesitate to hire his head coach if things go poorly.

This upcoming season is make or break for Ryan, but it doesn’t appear he's ready to go out quietly.

"We’re stepping up to plate with a bat in our hand, and we’re not going to let any strikes go by without swinging," Ryan said. "We are going to take our cuts. We may take a cut at a ball in the ground as well, but we are definitely going to take our cuts. When we talk about being aggressive, I don’t know if we really know what that looks like."

There still are a few moments, like this, when Ryan shows some of his old spunk. But much of that swagger is lost, and it mostly comes off as hot air following back-to-back nonwinning seasons.

The Jets were an awful, 6-10 team last season. It’s going to take at least two or three years to rebuild New York into a contender again.

Unfortunately for Ryan, he doesn't have another two or three years. Here are the many issues Ryan must overcome to save his job in 2013:
  • Fix quarterback quandary: Sanchez is not the long-term solution in New York. The problem is the Jets were the last to realize it. New York inexplicably gave Sanchez a $58.25 million contract extension last March and is stuck with Sanchez's $8.25 million guaranteed salary this season. The Jets want competition at quarterback but have limited options. New York does not have the cap room to trade for Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. But a trade for Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Matt Flynn is more realistic. Flynn is familiar with the West Coast offense, which the Jets are implementing under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Drafting a quarterback is another option for the Jets, although there are a lot of questions about this year's class.
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  • Find resolution with Revis: The Jets have found a way to upset their best player. New York didn’t deny reports of putting Revis on the trade block last month, and now that Revis is angry, the team has gone into full spin mode. The Jets say they haven't had conversations with teams about Revis, but it's only February. That doesn’t mean there won’t be trade discussions closer to the draft or before the season. Revis will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014 and should become one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive players. The Jets probably can't afford Revis' price tag and would be smart to test the market to see what they can get in return. But trading Revis helps the Jets in the long run and hurts Ryan's chances to succeed next season.
  • Further manage the cap: The Jets had to cut five veterans this week, including starting linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, to get under the salary cap. New York slashed about $30 million in salary. But with free agency and an incoming draft class, New York still has more cuts on the way. Idzik was hired, in part, because of his ability to manage the cap. But making wholesale changes makes it increasingly tough to field a competitive team. Again, it’s best for the Jets in the long run but doesn’t help Ryan this year.

Still, Idzik sounds confident that he can field a competitive team in New York next season.

"We're going to be attacking. We're going to be aggressive. We're going to be physical. We're going to play smart," Idzik said this week.

Unless Idzik can fix all of New York’s problems in one offseason, it's hard to see Ryan thriving next season and leading the Jets to the playoffs. Three consecutive seasons without a winning record and missing the playoffs doesn’t bode well for Ryan’s future.

Ryan started fast in New York with back-to-back AFC title games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. But at this point, his tenure with the Jets appears to be running on fumes.

Richard Sherman keeps jabbing at Revis

February, 21, 2013
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What started as a Twitter war this week has now become a multimedia frenzy.

In the past 24 hours, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has gone on multiple television platforms to discuss his beef with New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. It started on Twitter when Sherman was asked to list his top cornerbacks in the NFL and Revis was curiously left off the list. Revis, who is widely-regarded as the league's best corner, took exception and had harsh words for Sherman.

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On Thursday, Sherman continued his verbal barbs toward Revis with an appearance on the NFL Network. Sherman explained, among other things, why he feels he’s a better corner than Revis.

"Impact -- in terms of making plays -- force fumbles, picks, sacks, changing the game," Sherman said. "Shutting down a side of the field changes the game to a point -- I do it from time to time -- but you don’t make the same kind of impact that you do when you have [interceptions], force fumbles, and create turnovers."

Revis rarely talks trash but took the bait from Sherman, who is known to get under people's skin. Revis said Sherman "just steady putting my name in his mouth to get notoriety," which Sherman obviously wasn’t going to take lightly.

“He came off disrespectful, so words need to be said,” Sherman explained. “Apparently, he is going to disrespect my game. I don’t know what he has done -- stats wise -- to earn the right to talk down to people. He has never had more than six [interceptions] in a season so let’s quiet down.”

At the heart of this war of words is competition. It’s clear Sherman is chasing the top spot, and Revis isn’t ready to hand over the reigns.

Now it’s your turn to chime in. Using our SportsNation poll, vote on who is the best cornerback in the NFL: Revis, Sherman or someone else?

Revis, Sherman involved in Twitter war

February, 20, 2013
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Here is something we don't see every day: Two of the top cornerbacks in the NFL engaged in a Twitter war on Wednesday.

New York Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis and Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowler Richard Sherman clearly had a lot to say to each another. From the looks of it, Sherman doesn't think Revis is one of the top corners in the NFL and Revis took exception.


In a roundabout way, this is a classic case of a younger player challenging for the top spot.

Revis, 27, missed most of last season with a knee injury but is still viewed as the best cornerback in football. He's proved it over the past six seasons. Sherman, 24, just finished his second year and is coming on strong.

Sherman further explained his anti-Revis stance on ESPN's NFL32.

“I guess he’s mad, you know,” Sherman said. "Something is going on his side where he’s upset. But he’s been out of the game for a year. What have you done for me lately? That’s the game. That’s how it is and that’s how it’s going to be.”

Revis is not a big trash-talker, but Sherman has a way of getting under a person's skin. Expect this to be further motivation for Revis to get back to 100 percent and prove to younger corners like Sherman that "Revis Island" remains unmatched.
The New England Patriots were 0-3 this season against the two teams competing in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII. The Baltimore Ravens beat New England both the regular season and playoffs, and the San Francisco 49ers entered Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots in December.

Both teams taught the Patriots a valuable lesson: New England must improve its overall physicality in 2013.

The Patriots advanced to the AFC title game and was just one step away from making the Super Bowl. But New England got beaten up and pounded this season when facing top teams like San Francisco and Baltimore. The 49ers and Ravens accounted for three of the Patriots’ five losses, and the common theme was that New England lost to the more physical teams. Indeed, the Seattle Seahawks used the same blueprint of beating up the Patriots to win in Week 6.

The Patriots are not a soft team, but there are finesse elements in their schemes. For example, New England runs a spread offense that relies much more on tempo than physicality. Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd are good, finesse players upon whom San Francisco and Baltimore pounded for four quarters. On defense, New England could not consistently get to the quarterback, and receivers and tight ends had no fear making tough catches against its secondary.

New England doesn't need to tweak much to remain in the title hunt in 2013. But being more physical is one thing the Patriots should work on if they want to get past bruising teams like the Ravens and 49ers.
Jets general manager John Idzik said something Monday on WFAN radio that could make some New York fans nervous.

"I feel comfortable with Mark [Sanchez] being a Jet," Idzik said, according to ESPNNewYork.com.

But the new Jets boss properly hedged his bets with his next statement.

"I told him we're going to add competition and everyone should be up for it," Idzik added. "It's going to make Mark, and everybody else, better."

Idzik properly addressed New York's quarterback situation as it currently stands.

New York will search for the best quarterback possible to improve the position. But Idzik has a tight salary cap this offseason and it will be a challenge to find attractive options. If a suitable replacement cannot be found, Idzik says the Jets feel "comfortable" going with Sanchez for one more year because they would have no choice.

Money obviously plays a factor. The Jets owe Sanchez $8.25 million in guaranteed salary in 2013. Cutting Sanchez would be even more detrimental with more than twice the cap hit.

Seahawks backup Matt Flynn has been mentioned as a trade possibility due to Idzik's ties in Seattle. A top rookie draft pick also is a possibility to add competition. But it appears to be a sure thing that Sanchez remains on the Jets' roster next season. It is Sanchez's role as a starter or backup that is still to be determined.
Now that the New York Jets have hired a new general manager, the next big question is: Can former Seattle Seahawks executive John Idzik find a quarterback to compete with or supplant Mark Sanchez?

There is a backup in Seattle who should now catch New York's attention: Matt Flynn. Idzik was part of a front office that liked Flynn enough to sign the quarterback to a three-year, $19.5 million contract. It turns out Seattle drafted a better quarterback in rookie standout Russell Wilson. That makes Flynn a tradable asset this offseason.

The Jets will definitely be in the market for a quarterback. Sanchez had four years to prove he was the long-term solution and regressed. He is due $8.25 million in guaranteed salary next season. However, that doesn’t mean a starting job is secured.

Many have mentioned the idea of a straight-up trade involving Flynn and Sanchez, but I doubt that would happen. Pete Carroll was Sanchez's college coach at USC, but that doesn't mean Carroll and the Seahawks are willing to pay $8.25 million in 2013 for a struggling backup.

The Seahawks are smarter than that. If Idzik and the Jets want Flynn bad enough, Seattle would be better served securing a quality draft pick (or two) in order to continue building its team.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 50, Bills 17

December, 16, 2012
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Some thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 50-17 blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: The Bills lose their second straight game to fall to 5-9 on the season. I don't know whether coach Chan Gailey can survive this kind of awful performance. He has the public backing of general manager Buddy Nix, but performances like this make Gailey harder and harder to defend after this season. The Bills looked ill-prepared for this game and fell behind 31-7 in the second quarter. The season is already over for Buffalo, and this game makes you question whether players will play their hardest for Gailey down the stretch.

What I liked: There wasn't much to like from Buffalo's perspective. Dynamic tailback C.J. Spiller rushed for 103 yards on 17 carries. But the game was a blowout, so Spiller's impact was minimal. Spiller did record his first 1,000-yard rushing season and did it with the second fewest carries (154) in NFL history. Buffalo receiver Steve Johnson also had a nice game with eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

What I didn’t like: It’s one thing to lose, but the Bills did not look ready to play and were embarrassed. That is a sign of both devising poor game plans and players not showing up. Buffalo's defense was atrocious and allowed 31 points in the first half. The Bills had no answer for Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who ran and threw circles around Buffalo. The rookie passed for 205 yards and ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns. What makes things worse is the Bills passed over Wilson three times in the draft. The offense could score only meaningless points after the team already was down three touchdowns in the first half. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also threw two interceptions, which included a pick-six and a lost fumble.

What’s next: The Bills will end their disappointing season with back-to-back division games. Next week Buffalo will travel to play the Miami Dolphins (6-8). Then the Bills will end their season at home against the rival New York Jets (6-7).

Does Tannehill lack the clutch gene?

December, 13, 2012
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The quarterback class of 2012 could be one of the deepest in recent memory. The Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck), Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III) and Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson) are all happy with their rookies. There is a strong chance two or three of these quarterbacks will lead their teams to the playoffs.

The Miami Dolphins (5-8) feel they have a good rookie quarterback, too, in No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill. However, there’s something with Tannehill that really stands out: Tannehill drastically trails his rookie counterparts in fourth-quarter comebacks.

Is Tannehill not clutch?

Tannehill has the lowest Total Quarterback Rating of all four rookie quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins have five losses by seven or fewer points this season. Tannehill's inconsistent play in fourth quarters is a major reason.



Despite throwing for a lot of fourth-quarter yards, it hasn't resulted in victories for Tannehill. His only fourth-quarter comeback came against the Seattle Seahawks at home in Week 12.

Tannehill failed to produce in the clutch in recent losses to the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. If any of these games had a different outcome, Miami would still be in wild-card contention.

Tannehill is a young player who only had 19 career starts in college. He's learning on the job, but so are Luck, RGIII and Wilson. Tannehill's inability to come through in the clutch is concerning, but it's still too early to make a firm determination.

Dolphins make December meaningful again

November, 25, 2012
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Ryan Tannehill Steve Mitchell/US PresswireQuarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins could be headed towards a playoff run.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins will have a meaningful December game next week against the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots.

Let that sink in for a second.

The Dolphins have come a long way in just a few short months. That was evident on Sunday when Miami pulled off a 24-21 upset victory over the Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Sun Life Stadium. Miami improved to 5-6 and, at the very least, set the table for an interesting final month of the season.

It has been a crazy roller-coaster ride for Miami that started in July and was documented during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series. Four months later, that same Miami team that was a national laughingstock in the summer finds itself in the thick of the wild-card race in late fall.

Many, including the AFC East blog, picked Miami to finish last in the division. Instead, the Dolphins are just one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) and Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) for the sixth seed in the AFC. Miami beat Cincinnati earlier this year and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker if it came down to it.

How did this happen?

It starts with character and toughness. The Dolphins might lack talent on paper, but they make up for it with effort and a no-quit attitude most weeks on the field. All of that was on display during Sunday's come-from-behind win.

“I think you’re going to have growth when you put in as much work as we do,” Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said. “If you’re not growing and you’re not making improvements, then a lot of that work is being wasted. It just shows we’re taking that work from the practice field to the game.”

Whether these young Dolphins make the playoffs is insignificant. The accomplishment is merely getting to this point.

The Dolphins are playing with house money in the final five weeks. No one expects Miami to make the postseason, especially with its brutal upcoming schedule. If the Dolphins do make it, that would be icing on their cake.

But this once-downtrodden franchise proved in the first 11 games that Miami is back on the upswing. The turnaround won’t happen overnight, but you can steadily see more and more seeds for success being planted.

This week’s lesson was handling adversity.

After losing three straight, the Dolphins trailed by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and could have accepted a fourth straight loss. Instead, Miami showed its resilience by scoring 10 unanswered points in the final eight minutes to win a tough game.

“Character is built through experiences like having a three-game losing streak,” Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “[Sunday] showed our resolve. We played well and we came out and played together.”

The Dolphins can go only as far as rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes them. Many didn’t think Tannehill would play at all in his rookie season. But he won his fifth start Sunday and passed Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most passing yards (2,373) by a Miami rookie.

Tannehill outdueled fellow rookie Russell Wilson by throwing for 253 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Tannehill saved his best for a seven-play, 70-yard drive in the final 1:32 of the game.

Tannehill was 3-for-5 on the final drive and rushed for 15 yards to keep Miami marching down the field. He moved the Dolphins to Seattle’s 29-yard line to set up Dan Carpenter’s 43-yard winning field goal.

“With Tannehill back there at quarterback, we have so much confidence that he will win us the game,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said. “And that’s why, no matter what happens, we win or we lose, we’re always going to believe in him because he’s a great football player.”

Miami’s magic carpet ride probably won’t last long. The Patriots, who have won five straight, are coming to town as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. New England is averaging 47.5 points in its past four games.

Miami doesn’t have the firepower or talent to compete with New England, which is undefeated against the AFC East this season. It will take a near-perfect performance by the Dolphins to pull off this kind of monumental upset.

But Sunday’s come-from-behind win against a solid Seattle team -- which beat New England this year -- certainly raised a few eyebrows. The Dolphins will enter the Week 13 game with a lot of confidence.

"When you look at it, every game is a playoff game from now on," Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "Now is the time, and this is it. … We are tough. You have to play dang-near flawless to beat us."

 

MIAMI -- Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins’ 24-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: The Dolphins improve to 5-6 and snap a three-game losing streak. Seattle is a tough team that owns victories over the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. So this victory by the Dolphins counts as one of the best of the season. It shows the Dolphins are not going to lie down the rest of the season and are still mathematically in the playoff hunt. At the very least, Miami has something to play for in December.

Tannehill edges Wilson: Sunday’s game presented an underrated battle of rookie quarterbacks. Seattle third-round pick Russell Wilson showed his athleticism and elusiveness. He threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for an additional 38 yards. Ryan Tannehill overcame some early adversity and showed mental toughness. He threw for 253 yards, one touchdown and an interception. But Tannehill did his best work on the final drive by getting Miami in field goal position. Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter nailed a 44-yard field goal to end the game. Tannehill improved to 1-1 against fellow rookie quarterbacks this season. He lost to Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts in October.

AFC East flashback: Former New York Jets tailback Leon Washington, now with the Seahawks, stuck it to his former rival with a big play in the fourth quarter. Washington returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Washington played many games in Miami as a member of the Jets and probably enjoyed producing against his former division rival.

Run defense returns: Miami’s usually stout run defense has fallen off in recent weeks. But the Dolphins made it a point to stuff Seattle tailback Marshawn Lynch. The Dolphins held Lynch to just 46 yards on 19 carries.

What’s next: The Dolphins continue their toughest stretch of the season. Next week they host the reigning AFC champion Patriots (8-3) at Sun Life Stadium.

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