The Miami Dolphins haven't been able to win a game decided in the closing minutes, which leaves them little or no margin for error as their season heads down the stretch.
At 6-5, the Dolphins might need to sweep their final five games to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. A fourth-quarter flameout at Denver left Miami with the 10th-best record in the AFC, where 11 wins could be required for a postseason berth.
That gives the Dolphins little wiggle room as they prepare to play at the New York Jets next Monday night.
"I don't think the records really matter right now," coach Joe Philbin said Monday. "We have to go win a game against the New York Jets. That's really the only thing that is on my mind and should be on our players' minds at this point. The other stuff — stuff happens. We really don't control what the other teams do. We do control how we play when the ball kicks off next Monday night."
An extra day off this week will be welcome, giving four key injured players more time to mend. Tackle Ja'Wuan James (stinger) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) left Sunday's game, while cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle) and tight end Charles Clay (knee and hamstring) were inactive. All could be back for the Jets game.
Philbin said the Dolphins must play better than Sunday, when they took a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter but lost to the Broncos and Peyton Manning, 39-36. It was the first time since 2000 that the Dolphins lost after entering the fourth quarter with a lead of more than 10 points.
The failure to close out a game was nothing new. Miami blew leads in the final minute of losses to Detroit and Green Bay.
The Dolphins' six victories have each been by at least 13 points, and they've outscored opponents this season by 66 points. But they're only one game above .500 because they're 0-3 in games decided by four points or less.
In the first three quarters the Dolphins have outscored opponents 231-137, which is the second-largest margin in the NFL. But in the fourth period they've been outscored 82-54.
The schedule is favorable the rest of the way, with two games against the last-place Jets and one against the last-place Vikings. More daunting is a game at AFC East leader New England on Dec. 14, and Miami also faces Baltimore at home on Dec. 7.
Regardless of the opponent, Philbin said, his team's play late in games must improve.
"We've won a lot of games by double-digits in the six wins we've had," he said. "We've had some good margin of victory in those games. But you look at the last three losses we've had and they're by three, four and three points. We have to find a way to win some of those games. We are going to be in some more of those games. That's just the way the National Football League typically is."
Miami gave up 22 points in the final quarter Sunday, and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is well aware blown leads have become a recurring problem. The Dolphins rank fourth in the league in yards allowed, but in the fourth quarter they've given up seven touchdown passes while making only one interception.
"There are games that obviously stand out where we didn't play well down the stretch," Coyle said. "We've got to do more things well at critical times."
Miami actually had trouble stopping Denver the entire game. The Dolphins tackled poorly, put little pressure on Manning and allowed 167 yards rushing to C.J. Anderson.
"We didn't play great fundamental football, which has been our trademark since we've been here," Coyle said. "I'm not really sure totally why."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine