Sports

'Stakes go up' for Dolphins in push to end playoff drought

DAVIE, Fla. — Even though Adam Gase is the youngest coach in the NFL, he has more experience with meaningful December games than many of his Miami Dolphins players.

And when Gase says the season's about to change, he's not talking about winter.

"The later you get in the season, with every game the importance increases," he said Monday. "The stakes go up. Everything starts to feel different in December."

For the Dolphins (7-4), that's especially true this year. A six-game winning streak has them in control of their playoff future heading into Sunday's road game against the Baltimore Ravens (6-5).

"They're in the hunt, too," said ninth-year pro Branden Albert, one of the Dolphins' elder statesmen. "It's going to be a tough game. It's a game you want to play."

The opportunity's a novel one for the Dolphins, who have their best record through 11 games since 2003. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2008, and only one current player — long snapper John Denney — was then on the team.

"I don't know how many guys we have who have actually been through this, players who have had experience where December gets a little interesting," Gase said. "It's minimal."

Gase, 38, is in his first year as an NFL head coach. But he was the offensive co-ordinator of the Denver Broncos when they reached the 2014 Super Bowl.

Many Dolphins players, including fifth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, have never even been on a team that finished over .500. They're looking to remedy that in the next month.

"We just have to stick to what we're doing," Tannehill said. "Nothing changes around here."

One more victory would give the Dolphins their longest winning streak since 1985, but they're not exactly dominating the league.

The past five victories have all come by a touchdown or less. On Sunday against woeful San Francisco, the Dolphins gave up a season-high 475 yards and needed a stop at their 2-yard line on the final play to win 31-24.

Against Baltimore, Miami may be without starters in the offensive line for the third week in a row.

Gase said it's unlikely centre Mike Pouncey (hip) will return Sunday, and left tackle Albert (left wrist) said he's uncertain about his availability. Left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) is the most likely to return.

Without the trio, the ground game lacked its usual punch against the 49ers, and Jay Ajayi was held to 45 yards in 18 carries. But Tannehill threw for 285 yards and three scores without a turnover.

"We know there are going to be games we may not be able to run the ball, and we're going to have to pass the ball like 30, 40 times," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "I love it."

Denver's loss Sunday night to Kansas City gave the Dolphins the edge in the race for the final AFC wild-card spot. But players say they're paying no attention to the standings.

"People bring it up, but I really don't care," Albert said. "You can't pay attention to that. You concentrate on individual games, because you never know how things are going to end up."

Spoken like a veteran.

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine