DAVIE (AP) — For the Miami Dolphins, the improbable has become awfully hard to ignore.
The Dolphins, who set a dismal franchise record by going 1-15 last season and haven't reached the postseason since 2001, are now toying with the possibility of a playoff appearance. Up next for Miami is division-rival Buffalo (6-6), though coach Tony Sparano said it is getting tougher for his team to not think beyond Sunday.
“You try to tell them not to look ahead, you try to tell them not to do all those things,” Sparano said Monday, Dec. 1. “But you're at a point in the schedule right now where not looking ahead is kind of a ridiculous statement.”
Losses across the AFC East on Sunday, Nov. 30 proved fortuitous for the Dolphins (7-5), who haven't been in a playoff race since 2003. The New York Jets, New England Patriots and Buffalo
Bills all fell, making the Dolphins' 16-12 win over St. Louis all the more important.
“It was inconsistent football offensively. It was a grind all day,” Miami quarterback Chad Pennington said Sunday. “You've got to give St. Louis credit. They were ready to play and we were ready to play. We just didn't play well, but at the end we got the job done.”
With four games left, Miami is a game behind the Jets in the AFC East and a game behind the Colts and Ravens in the wild-card race. The Dolphins will play three of their remaining games on the road, including Dec. 28 at the Jets.
“We know that we control kind of our own destiny right now,” said Sparano, who gave players the day off Monday. “At the same time, I've been in some situations where you need help, and that's not a good situation to be in. When you're in those kinds of situations, the best thing that I know how to do is to put your head down, eliminate the distractions and think about the now, what's in front of you right now.”
There is some bad news in front of the Dolphins right now. They will face the Bills at Toronto's Rogers Centre next Sunday, Dec. 7 without guard Justin Smiley, who told reporters on Nov. 30 he had broken his leg.
On Monday, Dec. 1, Sparano said Smiley would miss the rest of the season. The loss is especially significant for rookie tackle Jake Long, who has benefited from Smiley's five years of experience.
“The biggest challenge that those lineman have is the communication part of this whole thing. And Justin, because he's seen things so many times, is able to communicate a little bit clearer,”
Sparano said. “Now where is Jake right now? I think Jake's a lot better off probably because of Justin right now, because they've had this 15, 16 weeks.”
Smiley is the second starter the Dolphins have lost in two weeks. Wide receiver Greg Camarillo suffered a season-ending knee injury against New England on Nov. 23.
“Our guys have the opportunity to step up and with Greg being gone, they've got the opportunity to catch more footballs and be more involved in the offense and it's an exciting time for them,” Pennington said.
Miami is not exactly coming off its strongest performance of the year. The Dolphins made it to the end zone only once against St. Louis, instead leaning on kicker Dan Carpenter to win consecutive road games for the first time since early in the 2006 season. They also racked up 10 penalties, a season high.
“They are a little bit disappointed in how they won,” Sparano said. “But nonetheless, there's a lot of teams yesterday that wish they won.”
AP Photo/Tom Gannam. Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington throws during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, Nov. 30, in St. Louis.