Thanks to a third consecutive winning season – the first time that's happened since 2001-03 – the Dolphins are headed back to the postseason for the first time since 2016. Miami capped off the rookie season of head coach Mike McDaniel with an 11-6 nail biter over the rival Jets.
The win, paired with a Buffalo win over New England, propels Miami into the seventh seed in the AFC playoffs. It also sets up a rubber match with the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in Orchard Park, New York for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins' 11-6 win over the Jets.
1. Smothering defense
This game always felt like it would come down to a big defensive stand or a splash play on that side of the ball. Turns out, it was both for the Dolphins, who got a stop on the Jets' penultimate drive and then finished the deal with a game-ending safety.
Neither team found the end zone, but Miami's ability to keep Jets quarterback Joe Flacco under constant duress, while completely shutting down the run game, gave the Dolphins chance after chance to bring it home.
"A six-point outing is tough any way you cut it in the National Football League, and I've been really, really proud of them specifically in the last three weeks," McDaniel said. "I thought that down the stretch, when we needed it most, they'd really come through. So yeah, I can't say enough about that effort when this team needed it."
The Jets ran for just 38 yards on 20 carries – their lowest output of the season in terms of total rushing and yards per attempt. Those early-down efforts set up opportunities on passing downs, as the Dolphins produced a season-high 10 quarterback hits in the game.
Jaelan Phillips' four quarterback hits were the most by a Miami defender in a game this season. It gave him 17 for the season, which ranked tied for sixth among all edge defenders (per Pro Football Focus' classification). Christian Wilkins led the way with three run stops. He ended the season with 55 run stops, 11 more than the second-place finisher among interior defensive lineman (DeForest Bucker).
Xavien Howard and Kader Kohou combined for five passes defensed in the game. For Kohou, it brought his season total to 10. He led all undrafted rookies with those 10 passes defensed and also paced rookie UDFAs with 852 snaps played and 72 tackles.
2. Breaking tackles and breaking hearts
In addition to slowing the Jets ground game, Miami posted one of its best games on the ground this season en route to locking up the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC.
Jeff Wilson Jr. led the way with 72 yards on the ground while Raheem Mostert tallied 71 at a clip of 6.5 yards per rush. Salvon Ahmed's seven-yard scamper put the Dolphins well within Sanders' range as Miami averaged better than five yards per carry en route to possessing the football for 35 minutes and 25 seconds in the game.
The effort of these former 49ers teammates reunited in Miami might've been the headline of the day. Combined, Wilson and Mostert combined to force 10 missed tackles (PFF). Both players had three runs of 10-plus yards and nearly hit four yards on average after initial contact – Mostert at 3.82 and Wilson Jr. at 3.31.
Mostert finishes the regular season at 4.9 yards per rush while Wilson checks in at 4.7. In total, Miami averaged 4.3 yards per carry, its best team total since 2018 (4.7).
3. Sanders' three-piece
Hitting a game-winning 50-yard field goal to propel your team to the postseason is a lot of things. One of those things is elevator-worthy.
The 2020 first-team All Pro had his ups and downs this season, particularly on kicks of 50-or-more yards. When all the chips were on the table, however, Sanders hit one down the middle to put Miami on top with just 18 seconds to play. Next Sunday in Buffalo, like a lot of these Dolphins, will be the first playoff game in Sanders' career. Yesterday, however, sure felt like a playoff atmosphere.
"That's what makes it more special," Sanders said. "And that's why I am more happy about these guys, the way they fight. They never give up. They put in good hard work at practice all week and sometimes it shows and sometimes it doesn't, but they're working hard and it's cool to see it pay off."
Sanders also connected on a pair of 37-yard field goals. giving him three makes in a game for the fourth time this season. It also gave him 26 made field goals on the year; the second-highest total of his career (33 in 2021).