DAVIE, Fla. – Calling for a fake punt with four minutes left is risky stuff from a rookie coach, especially one as even-keel as Joe Philbin.
The Miami Dolphins coach concedes Las Vegas isn't for him.
"I work too hard for my money," Philbin said Monday. "I'm not a gambler."
He does play the odds though, which paid off in Miami's 17-14 win Sunday over the St. Louis Rams. A successful fake punt was one of several key plays by the Dolphins down the stretch before St. Louis missed a 66-yard field goal on the final play.
With consecutive wins by a total of seven points, Miami (3-3) is showing a newfound knack for winning close games.
"We have a sense of urgency right now," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "We have potential to be great, so everybody's chipping in and just doing their part."
At .500, the Dolphins are far from great, but they do share the AFC East lead with the division's three other teams. Miami has a bye before playing its first division road game next week against the New York Jets.
"It's a whole new season for us," receiver Marlon Moore said. "The sky is the limit."
There's a sense of enormous progress over the past year, because Miami was 0-7 at the end of October 2011. And narrow victories have been critical to the turnaround.
The Dolphins lost five games by a total of 11 points last season, when they finished 6-10. They endured back-to-back overtime losses this year to fall to 1-3.
But Miami hung on a week ago to win at Cincinnati, 17-13, and dug in again against the Rams, who drove 52 yards before stalling at midfield in the final seconds.
The mood in the Miami locker room has changed, veteran guard Richie Incognito said.
"It's a different feeling," he said. "We are all believing that we can win."
The latest victory required some serendipity. The Dolphins gave up 462 yards, the most they've allowed in a victory since 2008. They rushed for only 19 yards, the fourth-lowest total in team history. They ran only 49 plays.
But for the second week in a row, they won with just 17 points.
Many elements are involved in learning how to prevail in close games, Philbin said.
"Hopefully the chemistry is a little better, the resolve is a little stronger, the urgency to make a play is there," he said. "Our guys hopefully have watched the tape and learned from some of the prior mistakes and made adjustments."
The coach did his part with the fake-punt call. Chris Clemons, the up back, took the snap and ran for 3 yards on fourth and 1 from the Dolphins' 40-yard line.
That allowed the Dolphins to keep the ball for another 2½ minutes before the Rams got it back at their own 3 with 1:41 to go.
"I thought we needed a play," Philbin said. "We didn't want to kick the ball back to them right then and there. It worked. It was well conceived by our special teams staff, and our guys practiced it well.
"If you're going to practice this stuff, you can't go 17 weeks and never use it. Do you believe in it or not? You've got to have faith that the guys can execute."
Trickery can only do so much, however. Philbin's mostly interested in mistake-free football, and there Miami has made strides as well, winning the turnover battle the past two weeks.
While the ground game stalled against the Rams, rookie Ryan Tannehill had his most efficient performance yet, completing 72 percent of his passes and earning a quarterback rating of 112, both season highs. Since tossing an overtime interception that led to a loss at Arizona, Tannehill has thrown 55 passes without a turnover in the past two games.
His passer rating in the fourth quarter is a solid 90.8, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The rookie is learning how to close out games, just like his teammates.
"We're a couple plays away from being 5-1," Tannehill said. "It's just about finding a way to make plays at the end of the game. We did that the last two weeks. We've just got to continue to do it, and we've built some confidence getting these last two wins."
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