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Dolphins knock off Rams; get back into playoff race

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This time last week, all of us Dolphin fans were sitting here in despair, wondering if the Dolphins had just blown their shot at an improbable playoff birth.  One week later, we all feel rejuvenated - even after a classic "ugly" win by the Fins in St. Louis.

This seems to be a reoccurring theme for the 2008 Miami Dolphins.  Some of their best wins have come in excellent performances against good teams.  But others have come in "different" performances against teams in which the Dolphins were actually heavy favorites.  The Seahawks and Raiders games come to mind.  Well you can also add to that list Sunday's game against the Rams.

The offense struggled.  Against one of the NFL's worst defenses - statistically speaking, the Fins were only able to find the endzone one time.  Chad Pennington was only able to complete 56% of his passes and didn't even top 170 yards through the air.  There were some dropped balls by receivers.  Running backs simply tripped before the line of scrimmage from time to time.  And on one of the most exciting offensive plays, a play that saw Ronnie Brown take a toss, scramble, and throw a completion on the run to David Martin, the end result was a turnover when Martin fumbled the ball away to St. Louis.

Of course, the offense wasn't all bad.  The running game really did get going, with the backs combining for 134 yards on 32 carries.  We also found out that Davone Bess can indeed be a key part of the offense and help take up some of the slack created by Greg Camarillo's knee injury.  Bess made a number of plays, catching 6 balls for 84 yards - including 2 key receptions on 3rd downs.  One converted a 3rd & 9 on Miami's only TD drive - with Ronnie Brown taking it into the endzone just 2 plays later.  The other was on a 3rd & 2 and kept alive a drive that would end with one of Dan Carpenter's field goals.  Let's hope for continued production from Bess.

But it was the defense - despite allowing chunks of yards to Steven Jackson on the ground - that really deserves the credit for Sunday's win.  They exemplified the old "bend but don't break" cliche - never allowing the Rams into the endzone - which includes 2 drives that saw the Rams inside Miami's 20 only to have to settle for 2 field goals.  It wasn't a dominating performance by any means - no matter what the 3 interceptions and 12 points against would lead you to think.  But they did enough in a game where they needed to step up and carry a sluggish offensive unit.

The bottom line?  The Dolphins went on the road, committed 10 penalties, converted just 33% of their 3rd downs, allowed the Rams to convert 50% of their 3rd downs, and lost the time-of-possession battle by 3 minutes.  But they found a way to win.

As you probably heard, Justin Smiley broke his right leg today and his season is over.  So now the Dolphins must continue on this stretch run without their best interior lineman and Jake Long's buddy on the left side.  Who replaces him?

There are two options right now, though neither will really replace what smiley meant to this unit.  Andy Alleman will likely get the first shot.  He's been playing some snaps each game over the past few weeks.  On Sunday, he played basically 3 quarters in relief of Smiley.  And he played well - from what I could tell.  The running game didn't seem to suffer and Chad Pennington, though pressured a few times, was never sacked.  If I recall correctly, there may have been one time where Alleman's man clearly beat him to force a QB pressure.  After the game, Alleman said the only play he wasn't happy about was his false start penalty late in the 4th quarter.  But with increased reps, those kinds of mistakes should be minimal.

While Alleman is probably the likely choice to replace Smiley, recently signed veteran Al Johnson could also get a shot.  Johnson was signed last week.  He's a once promising player who signed a 4 year, $17 million deal back in 2007 with Arizona but has had injury issues for most of his time in Arizona.  He has experience with Tony Sparano, though - having spent 2003 to 2006 in Dallas, starting 31 games over those 4 years.  He'll likely push Alleman for the starting job once he gets acclimated to the system.

Incase you missed it, Sunday was a very good day for the Dolphins.  And their win was only just the beginning.  Two critical 4:00 games broke right for the Dolphins.  The Steelers knocked off the Patriots in New England and the Jets fell at home to the Broncos.  What does this all mean?

The Jets now sit atop the AFC East with an 8-4 record.  The Dolphins and Pats are a game back at 7-5.  Now for the good news.  If the Dolphins win all of their remaining games, they will win the division.  That's right - the Dolphins are 4 wins away from an AFC East crown.  Crazy, right?

Here's why.  If the Dolphins win out, they'd sit at 11-5.  The Patriots, at best, would also be 11-5.  And if the Jets won all their games except for their final one against the Dolphins, they would also be 11-5.  Onto the tie-breakers.

#1: Head-to-head - Each team would have split with each other.  No winner.
#2: Division record - All 3 teams would be at 4-2.
#3: Common games - Other than division games, each team played 8 common games against the teams from the AFC and NFC West.  The Dolphins would be 7-1, as would the Patriots.  The Jets would only be 5-3.  They're out.
#4: Conference record - Dolphins would be 8-4.  Pats 7-5.  Dolphins are champs.

So even after that tough loss at home to the Pats, the Dolphins do indeed control their own destiny.  Not bad.  A team that won just 1 game a season ago now controls their own destiny with 4 games left.

-I never thought I'd say this, but "get well soon, Jason Allen."  Joey Thomas stinks.  Period.

-Ten penalties?  Really?  Damn - this team is going to get ripped into by Sparano this week.  Unacceptable.

-Congratulations to Dan Carpenter, or DC$$, on setting a new NFL rookie record for consecutive field goals made.  He's hit 11 straight and is now 16 of 18 on the season - including 8/10 from 40+ yards.

-Can we please feed Ronnie Brown the ball?  He needs 20+ touches every game.

-Another bad drop by Teddy Ginn.  It's got to be his concentration, though, because he looks so smooth catching the ball every other time.  He'll come around.  He's developing nicely.

-Another Brandon London sighting.  You know, for a guy with just 2 catches, he sure has a lot of fans.

-Where the hell was the pass rush today?  The Rams are one of the worst at protecting the quarterback, but rarely was Marc Bulger under much pressure.  Is Joey Porter running out of gas?  Probably not.  From what I saw, he's facing a ton of double-teams, meaning those around him have to step up.

-Matt Roth might be better suited as a role player and not a starter at strong-side OLB.  An upgrade is needed in the offseason.

It's amazing how far this team has come.  I know I have said this a lot this year, but I'm just enjoying the ride.  I never thought this team could be a playoff contender so quickly.  But, all of a sudden, the Dolphins are just 4 games away from doing the unthinkable.  Will it happen?  I don't know.  Its not going to be easy - that's for sure.  But to just be in this position is amazing.

It's once again fun to be a Dolphins' fan.  That's all you can ask for.