At 5-6, both Dolphins and Jets treating latest matchup as a must-win game
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Mike Pouncey needs no rah-rah speeches or reminders about how crucial the latest matchup in the Dolphins-Jets rivalry is.
Playoff game in Week 13? Well, this one between 5-6 teams is pretty close.
After all, the winner Sunday will walk out of MetLife Stadium with its postseason hopes still intact. The loser can start thinking about next season.
"We know where we stand," said Pouncey, Miami's center. "We know we can't lose another game."
Both teams are treating it that way, and it's no exaggeration. Miami and New York are part of a jumbled group of six teams aiming for the final AFC playoff spot. After Baltimore's win over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving, the loser between the Dolphins and Jets would be a game back in the loss column — and each has also been defeated by the Ravens.
"We're behind the 8-ball and we put ourselves there," Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We're stuck behind a bunch of (teams) that are 5-6 and some people have the tiebreaker over us, so we have to win the rest of them."
The Dolphins are 2-2 since the bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin rocked the franchise. Injuries, inconsistent play and an offensive line that has allowed Ryan Tannehill to be sacked a franchise-record 44 times have made them difficult to gauge.
"If we want to be ascending at this point," Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace said, "we have to go to other people's houses and kick in the door and take over like it's our house."
The Jets are 4-1 at home so far, but their NFL-record streak of alternating wins and losses ended last Sunday with their second straight defeat. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has one touchdown throw and 10 interceptions in his last six games, hardly appearing like the leader of a team headed to the playoffs.
"We all know how important this game is," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "You can sense it. Not that all games aren't, we know it is, but this one is definitely a critical game for us and Miami as well. We all see that."
Here are five things to watch for when the Dolphins and Jets square off:
HEATED RIVALS: Whether they've been good or bad, these teams have had some memorable — and wild — matchups over the years.
The Mud Bowl. The Marino-O'Brien Shootout. The Fake Spike. The Monday Night Miracle at the Meadowlands. Sal Alosi's sideline trip of Nolan Carroll. With their playoff hopes on the line, there could be a new chapter added Sunday.
One thing's for sure: These teams can't stand each other. Never have.
"It's the Jets, man," Pouncey said. "What do you think? We don't like the Jets."
STRUGGLING SMITH: Smith has completed a total of 25 passes in his past three games as Marty Mornhinweg's offense has appeared extremely conservative.
While defensive game plans and injuries to key players such as wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley have contributed, Smith has not been making good decisions. That might have something to do with the lack of downfield chances. Smith had 17 completions of 20 or more yards in September, 10 in October and just five in three games in November.
"You just don't want to be the team that he gets his confidence back," Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said.
"You know he can make all the throws," cornerback Brent Grimes added. "He's showed that he can on tape. You just don't want him to get hot on you."
RUN STUFFED: Miami's already-subpar running game has an even bigger challenge this weekend.
With Daniel Thomas sidelined because of a sprained ankle, the Dolphins have Marcus Thigpen, who has three career carries, as the backup behind starter Lamar Miller. Miami ranks 26th in rushing, and will face a Jets defense that's No. 1 in yards rushing allowed per game (72.6) and per carry (2.9).
SECONDARY PROBLEMS: The Jets continue to get beaten on long pass plays, and that could be a problem against the speedy Wallace.
Top cornerback Antonio Cromartie is questionable with an ailing hip, which means it could be struggling rookie Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson or Darrin Walls drawing the assignment on Wallace for a defense that ranks 23rd against the pass.
"This is a job," Jets safety Ed Reed said. "That's what it comes down to, being where you are supposed to be and trusting that the next guy is going to be where he is supposed to be."
POINTS AT A PREMIUM: If the Jets can somehow put up 28 points, they might be in business.
Miami is the only team in the league that has not scored more than 27 points in any game this season, and the Dolphins have 20 or less in five games, including each of their last three.
New York, however, has scored 27 or more just three times this season — with seven games under 20.
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine and freelance writer Sandra Harwitt in Davie, Fla., contributed.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org