After four long months, preceded by a five-week preseason plus the first two weeks of training camp, the Dolphins have arrived at the last game of the regular season Sunday against the New York Jets at Sun Life Stadium.
It’s a regular season finale with a lot on the line, as every Dolphins fan knows, with Miami needing a victory to remain in playoff contention and then needing one of two other games to go their way, either a Cincinnati victory against Baltimore or a San Diego victory against Kansas City.
It was five years ago that the Dolphins faced another win-or-lose season finale, and that one also was against the New York Jets, although that one was a road game. Dolphins fans will remember that the Dolphins won that game, 24-17, to win the AFC East title with an 11-5 record, but what some might forget is that New England ended up missing the playoffs despite also finishing at 11-5.
Perhaps it should serve as a good omen that the last four times the Dolphins have faced the Jets in a season finale they’ve come out on top. In addition to the 2008 game, the Dolphins also beat the Jets in the finale in 2011, 2003 and 1996.
THE DOLPHINS VS. THE JETS IN SEASON FINALES
1968, at Miami, lost 31-7
1969, at Miami, lost 27-9
1979, at Miami, lost 27-24
1980, at Miami, lost 24-17
1983, at Miami, won 34-14
1991, at Miami, lost 23-20 (OT)
1996, at New York, won 31-28
2003, at Miami, won 23-21
2008, at New York, won 24-17
2011, at Miami, won 19-17
Overall, the Dolphins are 5-5 in season finales against the Jets and 18-12 against AFC East opponents (including the Colts before they moved to the newly formed AFC South in 2002).
The Dolphins have had their most success against the Buffalo Bills, with a 5-0 record in season finales. Miami beat Buffalo in 1970 (45-7), 1977 (31-14), 1981 (16-6), 1985 (28-0) and 2001 (34-7). The 2001 game, it should be noted, originally was scheduled for the second week of the season but was postponed because of the 9/11 attacks.
The Dolphins’ overall record in season finales is 25-22, including an 18-13 mark at home and a 7-9 record on the road.
The Dolphins’ longest winning streak in season finales came during the Super Bowl years of the 1970s, as Miami won six in a row from 1970 to 1975. The longest drought, meanwhile, was a four-game slide from 1986 to 1989, which coincided with the longest playoff drought of Don Shula’s head-coaching tenure in Miami.
Not surprisingly, success in season finales more often than not is important to reaching the playoffs. The Dolphins have made the playoffs 18 of the 25 seasons where they won their last regular season games.
By comparison, they have made the playoffs only four times when losing their season finale — in 1979, 1997, 1998 and 1999.
For those Dolphins fans old enough to remember, the team finished on the road only once between its inaugural season of 1966 and 1988, and that was because the players’ strike of 1982 caused the rescheduling of several games and a game at Baltimore was pushed back to the end of the season.
In recent years, though, the trend has reversed. In the past 15 years, the Dolphins closed on the road 10 times.
For the past few years, the NFL schedule has called for all Week 17 games to be played on the last Sunday of the regular season. But in their first 22 seasons, the Dolphins played their season finale on a Saturday nine times, on a Monday night four times, and even had one finale scheduled for a Friday (against the Jets in 1983).
For the record, the Dolphins’ last regular season finale that wasn’t played on a Sunday came in 1997 when they faced the New England Patriots in a Monday night game.
In terms of superlatives, the Dolphins’ most lopsided victory in a season finale was that 1970 game against Buffalo and Miami has recorded two shutouts in its last game of the regular season, including a 16-0 victory against the Baltimore Colts to complete the perfect regular season of 1972.
THE DOLPHINS’ 10 MOST LOPSIDED VICTORIES IN SEASON FINALES
1970, vs. Buffalo, 45-7
1985, vs. Buffalo, 28-0
1973, vs. Detroit, 34-7
1982, at Baltimore, 34-7
2001, vs. Buffalo, 34-7
1971, vs. Green Bay, 27-6
1978, vs. New England, 23-3
1983, vs. N.Y. Jets, 34-14
1995, at St. Louis, 41-22
1977, vs. Buffalo, 31-14
When it comes to individual performances, the Dolphins’ top rushing performance in a season finale was produced by Ricky Williams against New England in 2002 when he ran for 185 yards, followed by Gary Davis’ 172-yard effort against Buffalo in 1977.
Oronde Gadsden and Chris Chambers are tied for the most receiving yards in a Dolphins season finale with 153 each, Gadsden in 1998 and Chambers five years later. Mark Clayton has the third-best performance with his 150 yards against Dallas in 1984.
That Monday night game, of course, capped the Dolphins’ magical 1984 season and Dan Marino’s record-setting passing performance. Marino threw for 340 yards against Dallas that night, and that stands as the highest yardage total for a Dolphins passer in a season finale, ahead of Marino’s 339 yards against Kansas City in 1989 and Jay Fiedler’s 328 yards against the Jets in 2003.