EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Miami Dolphins entered the final month of the regular season knowing exactly what’s at stake. Win, and their postseason hopes look a lot better. Lose, and they might have to start considering next year.
Ryan Tannehill threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, leading Miami to a 23-3 victory over the listless New York Jets on Sunday that helped the Dolphins keep pace in the AFC postseason picture.
“We didn’t talk about it a lot,” Tannehill said. “We knew the situation. We’re not stupid. Everyone was aware of it.”
The Dolphins also drove struggling rookie Geno Smith out of the game, sending the Jets’ shaky quarterback situation into a mess of uncertainty while severely damaging their playoff dreams.
“It was an awful performance by us,” coach Rex Ryan said. “We got outplayed in all three phases of the game, and I know our fans deserved a hell of a lot better than that.”
Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace caught touchdown passes for Miami (6-6), which converted two turnovers into 10 points. 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.
“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.”
The Jets (5-7) lost their third straight, and now Ryan is forced to consider who will be under center next week against Oakland: Smith, Matt Simms, who replaced him to start the first half, or David Garrard, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2010.
“I can’t answer that question right now,” Ryan said. “We need to see it and get everybody’s opinion and do what we think is in the best interest of our team.”
Smith was booed loudly at times throughout by the MetLife Stadium crowd while going 4 for 10 for 29 yards with an interception and an 8.3 quarterback rating. He has one touchdown and 11 interceptions in his past seven games, and overthrew receivers a few times in this one and couldn’t get the offense moving.
“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.”
Simms, the son of former Giants star Phil Simms, came in to cheers to start the third quarter, but didn’t fare much better while going 9 for 18 for 79 yards with an interception. He was sacked three times
Philip Wheeler recovered a fumble by Simms on the Jets’ second possession of the third quarter. The Dolphins took advantage, getting a 31-yard catch-and-run for a score by Hartline that made it 13-0.
Nick Folk finally got the Jets on the scoreboard with a 20-yard field goal in the third quarter.
New York’s momentum was quickly squashed as Wallace caught a short pass from Tannehill and ran through a poor tackle try by Dee Milliner for a 28-yard touchdown and a 20-3 lead with just over a minute left in the third quarter. That sent many Jets fans heading for the exits early.
“We haven’t been finishing this whole season,” said Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, who had 2½ sacks. “That’s one thing the coaches have stressed to us. I feel like we got that job done today.”
Caleb Sturgis ended a scoreless snoozer with a 34-yard field goal with 44 seconds left in the opening half, making up for an earlier miss.
Smith gave the ball back to Miami moments later with his 19th interception on a pass he tried to force to Greg Salas. Dannell Ellerbe stepped in front of Salas with 22 seconds remaining, leading to a 43-yarder by Sturgis.
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 5:43.
The Dolphins ran more plays (50) in the first half than the Jets had total yards. Miami finished by outgaining New York 453-177.
“We had some opportunities and we were moving the ball well,” Tannehill said. “We came with the mindset we are going to score touchdowns in the second half.”
NOTES: Hartline led the Dolphins with nine receptions for 127 yards, and Tannehill topped 3,000 yards passing for each of his first two seasons. … Jets KR-WR Josh Cribbs left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. … Jets WR Santonio Holmes was active after not practicing all week with a hamstring issue, but saw few snaps and had no catches. “It was a coaches’ decision,” Holmes said. Ryan said the team was trying to “pace” Holmes.