Miami Dolphins: 2013 Week 11 SD at MIA

MIAMI – Don’t look now, but amid all the controversy off the field and struggles on it, the Miami Dolphins find themselves back in the postseason hunt.

Yes, those Dolphins.

The same Miami team that’s currently being investigated by the NFL for potential bullying and harassment involving right tackle Jonathan Martin and guard Richie Incognito. The same Miami team that lost to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in its last game.

[+] EnlargeCharles Clay and Lamar Miller
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCharles Clay (left) caught the TD that put Miami ahead for good.
The NFL is a wild league, and perhaps no team has had more of a roller-coaster season in 2013 than the Dolphins. In what was essentially a must-win game Sunday, Miami improved to 5-5 with a 20-16 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Miami is now just a tiebreaker behind the New York Jets (5-5) for the sixth seed in the AFC. But the Dolphins will play New York twice in December, so, in many ways, they control their own playoff destiny.

“I told the guys in the locker room after the Tampa Bay game, you either have faith and confidence in one another or you don’t,” coach Joe Philbin said. “You can’t swing back and forth based on a particular outcome of a single game.”

The Dolphins held it together during a very tough week. Philbin and his players were constantly peppered with questions about Martin and Incognito, and new developments in the the story came to the surface nearly every day.

However, the Dolphins put together a good week of preparation, and it showed against the Chargers. The Dolphins took a lead in the third quarter that it never relinquished after tight end Charles Clay rumbled for a 39-yard touchdown. Miami did a good job of closing out the game in the fourth quarter, something that has been an issue this season.

Last week the Dolphins were embarrassed and considered on their last legs after losing to the Buccaneers. But one big win changes the outlook of their season with six games remaining.

“Stuff is going to happen, everything is not going to be perfect at all times,” said Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, who got a key interception. “But as professionals, we have to go out and play a football game. That’s our job, and that’s what we came out and did. We just focused on football all week.”

Next week will only get tougher for the Dolphins. The NFL is coming to town to ask questions about the Martin-Incognito controversy. The Dolphins also have another tough game, this time against the red-hot Carolina Panthers, who have won five straight.

How the Dolphins handle this situation is up to them. They control their own fate for the final wild-card spot, despite an up-and-down 10-game stretch to start the season.

“That’s something we have our eyes on,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick said of the playoffs. “But it can slip away from you just as quick as you got it. So we have to stay on top of it, get rest and let everything else fall into place.”

Locker Room Buzz: Miami Dolphins

November, 17, 2013
MIAMI -- Observed in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 20-16 win against the San Diego Chargers.
Happy times: It was a much more joyous locker room Sunday than what we’ve seen recently from the Dolphins (5-5). Many players were smiling and were very happy after picking up a key win against San Diego (4-6). The Dolphins had lost five of their past six games before Sunday. But now they are back at .500 and in the playoff hunt.

Checked out: Dolphins tailback Daniel Thomas had a solid game, rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. However, Thomas went into the X-ray room afterward to get checked out for an unspecified injury. Thomas finished the game and it didn't appear the injury was serious.

Brenner gets congrats: Miami backup lineman Sam Brenner made his first career start at guard after center Mike Pouncey was a late scratch with an illness. Brenner held his own and helped the Dolphins rush for 104 yards on 19 carries. Brenner received a lot of congrats from his fellow offensive linemen in the locker room for stepping up.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

November, 17, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 20-16 win against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

What it means: Despite all their issues on and off the field, the Dolphins (5-5) are back in the thick of the AFC playoff race after a big win. Miami is tied with the division-rival New York Jets (5-5) for the sixth seed in the conference. The Dolphins still play the Jets twice in the month of December, and both games are shaping up to be important.

Stock watch: Someone who improved their stock was Miami tight end Charles Clay. He had a big day with six receptions, 90 yards and a 39-yard touchdown catch where he ran through three would-be tacklers. Miami’s running game also improved, but had a low bar to work with. The Dolphins rushed for 104 yards against the Chargers after gaining a franchise-low 2 yards last week in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As far as stock down, Miami’s pass protection was an issue again. Without starting center Mike Pouncey, the Dolphins’ offensive line allowed four more sacks, which upped the total to 41 this season. The Dolphins’ run defense also allowed 154 rushing yards, and has underachieved in that area most of this season.

Focus a premium: The Dolphins will have some trouble staying focused during the upcoming practice week. NFL investigators are expected to visit the practice facility to talk to multiple players, coaches and executives about Jonathan Martin's claims of bullying and harassment. Martin met with NFL lead investigator Ted Wells for seven hours last week, which should provide plenty of questions for Dolphins personnel once Wells arrives. Miami still has a game to prepare for, and must handle this distraction.

What’s next: The games do not get any easier for the Dolphins. They will host the streaking Carolina Panthers, who have won five straight. Miami will get a chance to scout Carolina on Monday. The Panthers will be coming off a short week, and have a big game against the New England Patriots on ESPN’s "Monday Night Football."

Dolphins inactives: Garner to center

November, 17, 2013
MIAMI -- Here are the Miami Dolphins' players you won’t see in Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers:
The Dolphins will start Nate Garner at center in place of Pouncey. Sam Brenner, who was just promoted off the practice squad, will start at guard.