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Coach Gase’s improbable Dolphins hang on in playoff race

December 3, 2018
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Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke, left, speaks with head coach Adam Gase, during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Only one NFL team has been outgained by nearly 1,200 yards and is still in the playoff picture — the underwhelming, overachieving Miami Dolphins.

They’re 6-6 and part of the crowded AFC wild-card race despite statistics that would sink most teams. The Dolphins rank 29th in the NFL in offense and 29th in defense, 29th in third-down conversions and 28th in red zone scoring.

So how have they managed a lofty .500 record?

“Turnover margin,” coach Adam Gase said Monday. “The amount of turnovers our defense is getting is what we need, and then we don’t turn it over a whole bunch.”

He’s right. The Dolphins are tied for seventh in turnover differential at plus-eight, and third in takeaways with 25. The impact on the scoreboard has been “insane,” Gase said.

Turnover differential was the difference Sunday, when Miami was outgained by Buffalo 415 yards to 175 but won the turnovers battle, 3-1, and the game, 21-17.

It also helped that the Bills’ Charles Clay dropped a fourth-down pass at the goal line in the final minute.

“It’s better to be lucky than good,” Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso said.

Luck might play a small role in explaining the Dolphins’ knack for outperforming the stats. It dates back to Gase’s first season in 2016, when they were outgained by 798 yards but went 10-6. That’s their only playoff team in the past decade.

Someone reminded Gase his team has been outgained this year by 1,168 yards.

“Great,” Gase responded, meaning the opposite of great. His team is on pace to surpass the franchise record disparity of 1,321 in 1967, the Dolphins’ second season.

This year only Cincinnati (5-7) and Arizona (3-9) have larger yardage deficits. To which the Dolphins say: So what.

“It’s all about us putting the ball in the end zone and having the most points at the end of the game,” running back Kenyan Drake said.

Oddsmakers aren’t impressed by that approach: Miami is a touchdown underdog at home Sunday against AFC East leader New England (9-3) .

Gase believes the Dolphins actually should be 8-4. They blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads in losses at Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

As it is, Miami is tied with three other teams in the AFC, one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the sixth seed and final wild-card spot in the AFC.

“Obviously, in order to stay in the hunt, we’ve got to win,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “And we know that.”

For a change, the Dolphins begin the week with no significant new injuries. Ryan Tannehill, playing in his second game since returning from a shoulder injury, shook off several jarring hits to throw three touchdown passes against Buffalo.

“He’s as tough as they come,” Gase said.

The Dolphins have endured so many injuries that Gase said it’s a different team from the one that lost to New England 38-7 in Week 4.

The obvious goal this week will be to keep the score closer, and if the Dolphins do that, don’t discount their chances. In one-score games Gase is 6-1 this year, and 19-6 in his three seasons with the Dolphins.

In other games he’s 3-17. Sometimes relying on turnovers isn’t enough.

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