Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin paused Monday when asked about his team's first two-game winning streak since December.
"Say that stat again?" Philbin said.
Maybe he found it difficult to believe, or maybe he wanted to savor the achievement for a moment. Sunday's 27-13 victory at Jacksonville was the second in eight days for the Dolphins, lifting them to 4-3 and the improving playoff chances for a team that hasn't been to the postseason since 2008.
And perhaps it's a sign of progress that the Dolphins weren't doing cartwheels. Instead, there was lots of head-shaking about a sputtering offense and leaky run defense against the woeful Jaguars.
Philbin was glad to see his players unimpressed by their unimpressive win.
"Some wise man said, 'Dissatisfaction is the basis of all progress,'" Philbin said. "I think it's good. But it's not easy to win. I told the team there's no need to apologize for the game. We made some plays when we had to."
Even so, Philbin and his staff believe a better performance will be necessary to keep the winning streak going, especially given the schedule.
The next four games are against teams with a combined record of 22-9, including three opponents ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC. The rugged stretch begins Sunday at home against San Diego (5-3).
"We just have to improve," Philbin said. "We have to keep the focus on ourselves. Sunday will be the halfway point in terms of games played. We should be able to have worked through some of these kinks that all teams work through. The production really has to start increasing."
The offense scored only one touchdown at Jacksonville, and the Dolphins needed a pair of TD returns on interceptions for their winning margin. Ryan Tannehill passed for only 196 yards, threw a costly interception and was sacked three times, increasing his sack total over the past two games to seven.
The Dolphins did flash some big-play ability for a change. Tannehill threw a season-long completion of 50 yards to Mike Wallace, and three other plays gained at least 30 yards.
"I'm happy with those, and we would like more," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "That's where you would like to take the next step offensively — making some of the more explosive plays."
There were plenty of big plays from the defense, include returns of 81 yards by Louis Delmas and 22 yards by Brent Grimes for scores. It was the first game since 1998 in which the Dolphins scored twice on interceptions.
They have only six interceptions this year but lead the NFL with 259 return yards, an average of 43.2 per interception.
Meanwhile, Miami is allowing only 10.2 yards per pass, lowest in the league. That ranking will be tested in the next month by San Diego's Philip Rivers, Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Denver's Peyton Manning.
"The challenges get bigger every week, and the games become more important as we get here in the middle of the season and beyond," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "I'm confident that there's nobody we face where we don't feel we can go out and if we execute, we'll have an opportunity to win."
This week, for the first time all year, the Dolphins have a shot at a three-game winning streak. That sounds good to Philbin.
"The measure of excellent teams in this league," he said, "are the ones that can do it on a consistent basis."
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