EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Miami Dolphins are right smack in the middle of the AFC playoff picture, and Joe Philbin knows that now is the time for his team to make a push.
Coming off a 39-36 loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the Dolphins (6-5) are eager to bounce back when they take on the rival New York Jets (2-9) on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
"I like the way this team has competed, really since we've started this whole thing," Philbin said. "I told them we have a great opportunity, it's December 1 by the time we kick the ball off in New York. Really good football teams play their best football in December and I'm confident that we are going to play an excellent game up in New York."
The Dolphins are in a mix of seven non-division leaders in the AFC who are either 6-5 and 7-4 heading into this weekend's games. They need to keep pace to avoid missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year.
"It's a division game and we need to win this," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "This game is a big one because it's double-weighted. We need it if we want to go to the playoffs."
A major reason for optimism is the elevated play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill the last two months. In each of his last four games, he has completed over 70 percent of his passes.
"He knows where to go with the ball and he's just, 'Boom!'" Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He's kind of in rhythm."
Meanwhile, Ryan's quarterback situation is in flux, with the Jets turning back to Geno Smith after he was benched the last three games in favor of Michael Vick. The team is out of the playoff picture, so Ryan wants to see what the Jets' young players — Smith especially — do as New York plays out the stretch.
"Let's see how far he's come," Ryan said of Smith. "We've given him a few weeks off. Let's see how it handles it."
Here are a few other things to look for when the Dolphins and Jets square off Monday night:
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE?: Being the road team in this rivalry hasn't been a bad thing lately.
The team playing away from home has won seven of the last 10 games in the series, dating to the start of the 2009 season, with the road team winning the last four. The Dolphins have won the last two against the Jets at MetLife Stadium, and are 4-1 overall there against teams coached by Ryan.
"I would certainly love to duplicate what we've been doing up there and change what's been happening down here," Philbin said.
REX'S WRECK: After consecutive trips to the AFC title games in his first two seasons, the Jets will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season under Ryan.
That's not sitting well with fans, many of whom have taken aim at Ryan and general manager John Idzik and calling for both to be gone after the season.
"I assume and I expect to coach here for five weeks," Ryan said. "After the season, as everybody says, that's when we'll be evaluated and we'll go from there."
DEFENSIVE REBOUNDS: After giving up 22 points in the fourth quarter last week against Manning and the Broncos, the Dolphins' defense is looking to bounce back in a big way.
Miami is ranked fifth overall and fourth against the pass, but the Dolphins allowed 39 points after giving up a total of 29 combined in the three previous games against Buffalo, Detroit and San Diego.
"Every game is not going to be a goose egg on defense," defensive end Cameron Wake said. "We're going to have games where it comes down to the last drive, whether it's the offense driving to score or the defense going to get a stop."
SHAKY SMITH: The Jets' quarterback carousel has stopped on Smith again, and he's eager to prove he can be a franchise-type quarterback.
Time, however, is running out. Smith has been turnover prone — 31 interceptions, six lost fumbles — in his two seasons, and Vick had just one interception in his three starts in his place. If Smith is shaky the rest of the way, the Jets will undoubtedly be in the market for a new quarterback next season via the draft or free agency.
INJURIES: New York is likely to be without defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson because of a toe injury that sidelined him all week in practice.
Jace Amaro, who leads rookie tight ends in catches and yards, also hadn't practiced while going through the NFL's protocol for head injuries.
Dolphins tight end Charles Clay returned to practice this week after missing Miami's game against Denver with hamstring and knee issues.
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Davie, Florida, contributed.
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