Just about every member of the Miami Dolphins had a different bye-week itinerary.
Richie Incognito went to the beach and did little else. Brian Hartline watched Ohio State. Paul Soliai walked in a 5-kilometer race for breast cancer awareness and tried to avoid even thinking about football. Lamar Miller tailgated at the Miami-Florida State game. Cameron Wake attempted, somewhat unsuccessfully, to ignore his alarm clock.
"Then you start getting that itch," Wake said.
And there's nothing like a matchup with the New York Jets to snap the Dolphins out of vacation mode.
Three days off was enough for the Dolphins, who returned to work on Monday officially mediocre in terms of record yet with the knowledge that if the season was now complete, they would be in the AFC playoffs. Granted, there's still a ton of football left to play, but for a team that didn't exactly deal with the highest of preseason expectations, there's reason for moods to be pleasant these days.
"One thing I said to the team today, part one of the statement was, 'Progress has been made. There's no doubt about it,'" Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "Part two of the statement was, 'There's a heck of a lot of work still left to be done.' I see us playing better football than we were earlier in the season, no question. But we're still not where we need to be."
The Dolphins (3-3) visit the Jets (3-4) on Sunday.
"Looking forward to going to their stadium and being a different team than we were three or four weeks ago," Hartline said.
Of the 16 teams in the AFC, nine are either 3-3 or 3-4 — New England, at a surprising-for-the-Patriots 4-3, not only leads the AFC East but has the third-best record in the conference. One win can help a team escape the pack right now, one loss can send a team spiraling toward the bottom of the pack, and division games seem even more important than usual with so many teams off to similar starts.
"We can't predict what's going to happen later on down the road," Soliai said. "We've just got to focus on this game."
That doesn't figure to be a problem — especially with it being Jets Week.
The Jets have already won in Miami this season, a 23-20 overtime victory on Sept. 23 in a game where Dan Carpenter missed two field goals and the Dolphins lost both a 10-0 lead and running back Reggie Bush.
If Miami had won that game, the Dolphins would be 4-2 and currently atop the division.
"We've got to do something this week, you know, that we haven't done since I've been here and that's sweep Miami," Jets coach Rex Ryan said Monday. "So that's got to be it. That's the only thing that's got to be on our mind."
One clear advantage of having the bye week: The Dolphins got to look ahead on Monday, while the Jets certainly spent at least some of the day looking back and lamenting their 29-26 overtime loss at New England on Sunday.
"It does feel good to get away from it," Wake said. "But at the same time, it's such a great feeling being back. And of course, you couldn't ask for more than Jets Week."
Miami spent a few days last week working on some parts of the Jets game plan, then took a long weekend and practiced again Monday with the Jets in mind.
The Dolphins will be off Tuesday, the NFL's traditional rest day, before resuming game week per usual on Wednesday.
"Sometimes, historically, off a bye week your volume of your game plan is too big because you think, 'Well, we've got an extra practice day and extra time to study these guys,'" Philbin said. "Sometimes that's not always the best recipe. So we've been keeping a lid on it. We don't want to have our volume go way up in any phase, even though we may have, quote, an extra practice. I don't think the game's going to be won by brilliance in the coaching room."
Notes: Rookie running back Jonas Gray returned to practice, but remains on the Dolphins' reserve/non-football-injury list. "We've got a 21-day window to look at him and see what he does," Philbin said. ... Each of Miami's last four games have been decided by four points or less.
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