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Dolphins knock off Jets; win AFC East

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"Well, it's always a sweet feeling to be a champion.  And that's what we are - we're AFC East Champions."

Those are the words of Chad Pennington following the Dolphins 24-17 win over the Jets in the Meadowlands.  And dam, it sure is a sweet feeling - and a feeling that we haven't felt in quite some time.

And to make things even better, the Dolphins not only won the division and punched their ticket into the playoffs, but they also kept the Patriots out of the playoffs.  Even better, the Dolphins could have basically ended Eric Mangini's head coaching career, at least in NY.  And better yet, the final image of Brett Favre's career could be of him throwing 3 interceptions in this game against the Dolphins.

Amazing.

Let's talk about the game:

TRULY A GREAT "TEAM"
Time and time again this season, we saw different players step up for Miami and make key plays.  For a while, it seemed like we had a new "hero" every game to celebrate.  Well on Sunday, the Dolphins really showed just how special this "team" is - as seemingly every player made a key play at a significant moment in their 7 point win.

Of course, it all starts with Chad Pennington and his leadership and poise.  The man just knows how to win, doesn't he?  There's no question in my mind that this offense has taken on Chad's personality.  Under pressure, this unit just goes out and makes plays - despite being rather young and inexperienced.

And that leads me to this group of wide receivers.  Ted Ginn had 2 of the most important catches of the season for the Dolphins.  It's these kinds of flashes that do nothing but get you excited over what kind of player Teddy could easily become.  Davone Bess does nothing but catch the ball and create positive yardage.  He didn't do anything spectacular.  Instead, he just catches the ball cleanly and turns upfield to pick up whatever yardage he can.  And fire up that Brandon London bandwagon.  His one reception was HUGE.  His lunging 10 yard catch on 3rd & 5 kept alive a TD drive that put the Dolphins up 21-17 - and the Fins never looked back.

Oh - and that TD that gave Miami their 21-17 lead was scored by Anthony Fasano, who made a remarkable catch in the endzone.  What a stud tight end he's become!  His 3 catches were critical today.  His first came on a 3rd & 5 and gave Miami a first down to keep their first TD drive alive.  And his final catch of the game was that 20 yard TD pass from Pennington.

And you can't forget about the running backs.  All 4 of them made key plays.  Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for 107 yards rushing and averaged over 5 yards per carry.  Lousaka Polite was effective running up the middle when called upon - picking up a 3rd & 2 and a 2nd & 1.  Yes, he was stopped on a 3rd & 1 later in the game for the first time this year.  But even still, he's effective at doing his job.  Patrick Cobbs wasn't a big part of today's gameplan, but still converted a 3rd down early in the game with a reception.

With all that said, it was this defense that really impressed me in this game.  The key number to me is 23 - the rushing total for Thomas Jones, who was the AFC's leading rusher.  Stopping the run really allowed the Dolphins to keep the Jets in 3rd & long situations.  Yes, Leon Washington got his yardage.  But taking Jones out of this game really changed things around.

And it's no coincidence that Channing Crowder was back and flying around to lead the way for Miami's improved rushing defense.  He led the team with 9 solo tackles.  And there's no question that his value goes beyond just his play on the field.  He's a leader and I hope the Dolphins pay the man this offseason.

Andre Goodman had the game of his life, huh?  Another impending free agent, Goodman is really making a case to be re-signed.  He plays the ball really well - better than I remember him doing in years past.  And he very rarely ever bites on a double move - which led to his first interception of Brett Favre.

And rounding out the defensive trifecta who will be free agents after the season is Yeremiah Bell, who again continues to do nothing but make plays.  He made one tackle for a loss and deflected away 2 key passes.  And he leveled Brett Favre one last time on NY's final possession.  Let's hope he returns next season.

But the defensive standouts don't stop there.  Phillip Merling made the biggest play of his young career - and one that will he hard to top, when he read the screen pass, picked off Favre, and returned it 25 yards for the TD.  A game-changing play right there by the rookie.  And, again, terrific awareness to not "take the bait" and instead recognize what the Jets were trying to do.

Vonnie Holliday played his best game of the season on Sunday.  And Charlie Anderson came up with the huge blocked punt that set up Dan Carpenter for his lone field goal.

Again, I could go on and on.  But the point is that this is truly a team.  There isn't one standout player that opposing teams must gameplan for.  Instead, any player can step up and make critical plays at critical moments.  And that's what has made this season so much fun.  And this is why the Dolphins will not be an easy out in the playoffs.

UP NEXT: BALTIMORE RAVENS
How poetic can this season get?  The Dolphins have come back from 1-15 to "move the hyphen" and go 11-5, winning the division.  They had to beat their starting QB's former team in their stadium to do so.  Now they will host the Ravens.  And the Ravens, you'll remember were the team the Dolphins hosted the last time they reached the playoffs back during the '01 season.  The Fins lost 20-3.  Oh - and the Ravens' offensive coordinator just happens to be the guy who was the head coach in Miami last year overseeing that 1-15 disaster.

Poetic, isn't it?

Next Sunday, 1pm eastern.  The Dolphins host the Ravens in the 1st round of the playoffs.  No sleep again this week for me.

QUICK HITS
-Still too many miscues.  The penalties make me want to freakin' puke.  That has to stop.  You don't win playoff games by committing penalties.  Snapping the ball over the punter's head also doesn't help.

-Missed opportunities almost killed this team.  Ricky's dropped pass and Ronnue's underthrown ball to Joey Haynos were two plays that could have really changed this game.  Luckily, in the end, it didn't matter.  But in the playoffs, you need to take advantage of those opportunities.

-The Wildcat is not dead.

-Jake Long owned Calvin Pace on Sunday.  Long is really going to be special.  He's already borderline great, to be honest.  Once he matures and gains experience, he's going to be a Hall of Fame caliber left tackle.

-Does Joey Porter still play for this team?  Alright - so that was a little harsh.  But he sure has hit a wall - and is the main reason that the Fins can't seem to get pressure on the QB.  Teams aren't even double-teaming Porter anymore.  Let's hope he gets rejuvenated playing against Cam Cam.

-Is it wrong to love a head coach like I love Tony Sparano?  Did anyone notice him slapping Ronnie's helmet after his big 4th quarter run on that final possession?  Or how about when he chest-bumped Joey Porter?  Damn I love his fire!!

-Dan Carpenter is MONEY!!  A pressure-packed 48 yard FG in the swirling winds of the Meadowlands?  Is he really a rookie?  I'm not buying it.

FINAL THOUGHT
And the ride continues...

This has been the most amazing, most improbable season ever.  Most importantly, it's been the most enjoyable football season ever for me personally.  Watching a young team like this grow week in and week out is a pleasure.  And I just have a feeling that this ride isn't going to end too soon.

GO DOLPHINS!!!
THE 2008 AFC EAST CHAMPIONS!!!