The talk all week by both teams was of desperation, a must-win showdown between the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
One of the AFC East rivals brought that sense of urgency to the game. The other might need to start thinking about next season.
Ryan Tannehill threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, leading Miami to a 23-3 victory over the listless Jets on Sunday that helped the Dolphins keep pace in the AFC postseason picture.
"December is where you either step up or fall down," Tannehill said. "We knew that coming in. I think the guys are ready to buckle down and take it one game at a time."
Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace caught touchdown passes for Miami (6-6), which converted two turnovers by the Jets (5-7) into 10 points and drove struggling Geno Smith out of the game. Tannehill finished 28 of 43 with an interception as the Dolphins took control in the second half after dominating the stats sheet in the first two quarters.
Miami is still the only team in the league to score fewer than 28 points in every game, but the Dolphins improved to 3-2 since the bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin rocked the franchise.
"It was big," Hartline said. "You go the opposite way and you fall to 5-7 and it's pretty slim pickins the rest of the year."
The Jets will find that out after losing their third straight game since stunning the New Orleans Saints a month ago. New York controlled its playoff destiny after that win on Nov. 3. Now, the Jets are barely hanging on in the postseason picture.
"It was an awful performance by us," coach Rex Ryan said.
Ryan is also now forced to consider who will be under center next week against Oakland: Smith, Matt Simms, who replaced him to start the second half for "a spark," or David Garrard, who hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2010.
Here are five things that led to the Dolphins' victory over the Jets at MetLife Stadium:
QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: Smith has been brutal the last seven games, with one touchdown and 11 interceptions.
Is it time for the second-round pick to sit? Or, should the Jets let him try to work himself out of his funk? With the playoffs an unlikely scenario, New York might opt to find out if Smith could be the quarterback of the future or if they need to find another one in the draft.
Smith was booed loudly at times throughout while going 4 for 10 for 29 yards with an interception and an 8.3 quarterback rating before being replaced by Simms. The son of former Giants star Phil Simms didn't fare much better, going 9 for 18 for 79 yards with an interception. He was sacked three times.
"I have complete confidence in myself," a defiant Smith said. "It's been tough these last three weeks, but I think I am the best option for this team."
STRANGE STAT SHEET: The Dolphins dominated during the first two quarters, outgaining the Jets 265 yards to 39, with 16 first downs to New York's 2. Miami also held the ball for 24 minutes, 12 seconds, with New York having it for just 5:48.
The Dolphins ran more plays (50) in the first half than the Jets had total yards. Despite all that, Miami still only led 6-0 at halftime.
"Obviously, there were some opportunities we didn't capitalize on," coach Joe Philbin said. "We would've liked to have more points at that stage of the game, but the feeling was good."
Miami took control in the second half and finished by outgaining New York 453-177.
SPUTTERING JETS: New York appeared to be a legitimate playoff contender just a few weeks ago.
Now, there have to be real questions about whether Ryan can survive as coach if the Jets finish below .500, and if he can keep the locker room together amid the losing.
"I love playing for Rex, and everybody does," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. "When our backs are up against the wall, we're going to come out fighting and Rex is right there beside us."
DOLPHINS' D: Miami came in with the 19th-ranked defense, but certainly made things miserable for Smith and the Jets.
Olivier Vernon had 2½ sacks, Koa Misi also had a sack and Philip Wheeler had a half-sack and a fumble recovery. Dannell Ellerbe and Brent Grimes each had an interception as the Jets couldn't get anything going all game.
LEAKY DEFENSE: The Jets' defense couldn't get off the field in the first half, and things weren't much better in the last two quarters.
They couldn't get much of a pass rush on Tannehill against an offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked a franchise-record 45 times. Quinton Coples had the only sack, and the 28th-ranked offense piled up the yards as the Jets missed tackles throughout.
"That was the biggest disappointment," Ryan said, "without question."
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