NFL: Dolphins savoring 1st playoff berth since 2001

DAVIE, Fla. — It was early Monday by the time Miami Dolphins tackle Vernon Carey got home from work and climbed into bed, too excited about making the postseason to sleep.

So he watched TV. Soon his wife stirred.

“She was like, `Babe, you’re in the playoffs!’ And I was like, `I know!”’ Carey said with a grin. “I’ve been waiting five years to hear that. It was a great moment.”

The longest playoff drought in Dolphins history ended Sunday when they beat the New York Jets on the road to win the AFC East title. Miami’s first postseason game in seven years will be Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

For a veteran like Carey, the revival of the franchise is especially sweet. He has endured a lot of losing since the Dolphins drafted him in 2004, including last year’s 1-15 debacle.

Miami moved the hyphen and is now 11-5.

“It’s a great feeling, coming from where we were,” Carey said. “I’ve cried a couple of times this year. It’s a great experience, and if we can seize the moment, we can make it a bigger story.”

Three more wins for a Super Bowl berth might be asking a bit much. The Dolphins have benefited from a soft schedule, a reward for being so awful in 2007 — the last time they faced a team that’s in the playoffs was Oct. 19. The opponent then: the Ravens, who won 27-13 at Miami.

Baltimore physically dominated the Dolphins, who had trouble running the ball, mounted little pass rush and couldn’t stop Willis McGahee. When the defeat dropped Miami’s record to 2-4, a playoff berth seemed at least another year away.

“We had no identity,” cornerback Andre Goodman said. “It was like, `Who are we?’ We didn’t know who we were. But now I think we have a pretty good idea.”

What they are is flawed but feisty.

The Dolphins’ leading rusher is ranked 19th in the league. Their leading receiver is tied for 46th. Their defense is ranked 15th.

But Miami wins close games, including the past three by a touchdown or less. Since the loss to Baltimore, the Dolphins have won nine of 10, including five in a row. Rookie coach Tony Sparano, Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter and reclamation project Chad Pennington are all contenders for postseason awards.

While the Dolphins are three-point underdogs even playing at home Sunday, they seem to feed on such low expectations.

“We were 1-15 last year,” Goodman said. “You can’t expect to be heavyweights just because you’re 11-5.”

The 10-game improvement matched the 1999 Indianapolis Colts for the greatest leap forward in NFL history.

“From worst to first,” owner Wayne Huizenga said. “Fantastic.”

“We shocked the world,” linebacker Matt Roth said. “We shocked ourselves.”

Miami’s first division title since 2000 even exceeded the expectations of the new regime led by Bill Parcells. Sparano spent his first months on the job searching for salvage from the wreckage of 2007, rather than thinking playoffs.

But while some may regard the Dolphins’ success as a fluke, Sparano said they’ve earned what they achieved while facing virtual elimination each week for the past month.

“We have every right to be where we are right now,” he said. “That’s the nice thing about this tournament — you play your way into it.

“I know Sunday is the showcase, but it has been a showcase now for a lot of weeks. There are a lot of teams that couldn’t do what these guys just did. There were some teams out there that controlled their own destiny, and for whatever the reason, they didn’t do it. Well, these guys did.”

While the playoff berth represents a breakthrough for such veterans as Carey, Roth, Yeremiah Bell, Vonnie Holliday and Channing Crowder, a few can draw on postseason experience. Linebacker Joey Porter helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win a Super Bowl, and linebacker Reggie Torbor did the same with the New York Giants. Pennington led the Jets to the playoffs three times.

“We are proud of what we have been able to do, but we are not satisfied,” Pennington said. “I’ve been in this situation before, and I feel like there is some unfinished business.”

Carey agreed. The big tackle who had a hard time going to sleep said this isn’t the time to be resting on laurels.

“What we’ve done means something,” he said. “But it really doesn’t mean anything until you get to the top.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III celebrates after scoring against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of Sunday’s game in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Grading the Seahawks in their 37-27 win over the Panthers

Seattle turns in a solid all-around performance in front of the 2013 Super Bowl winners.

Monroe’s Mason Davis (1) celebrates with Trent Bublitz (11) after Bublitz’s touchdown reception against Edmonds-Woodway on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at Edmonds School District Stadium in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Reader poll: Make your picks for Week 5 prep football games

Do you think you can beat the experts in our weekly high… Continue reading

Arlington’s defense stuffs Ferndale running back Talan Bungard on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at Arlington High School in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Arlington steamrolls Ferndale in 3A Wesco North showdown

The Eagles light up offense in the first half, finish business to earn a 46-14 win.

Lake Stevens High School head football coach Tom Tri hoists his team’s championship trophy during a community parade and celebration Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2022-23 Man of the Year in Sports: Tom Tri

The Lake Stevens coach guided the Vikings to Snohomish County’s first large classification football state title in more than 30 years.

West Linn’s Ryan Vandenbrink (23) runs with the ball during a football game between Lake Stevens and West Linn at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens, Washington on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. West Linn won, 49-30. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Turnovers cost Lake Stevens in loss to Oregon power West Linn

The Vikings’ run of 35 straight home wins in the regular season ends in an interstate showdown of big-school state champions.

Marysville Pilchuck’s Christian Van Natta lifts the ball in the air to celebrate a turnover during the game against Marysville Getchell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Prep football roundup for Friday, Sept. 22

Prep football roundup for Friday, Sept. 22: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report… Continue reading

Lynnwood teammates mob senior Abbie Orr (4) after her impressive dig led to a point against Jackson during a volleyball match Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at Lynnwood High School in Bothell, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lynnwood volleyball team continues rise to prominence

After ending a 20-year state drought last season, the Royals are surging again and have vaulted to No. 3 in Class 3A in the new WSVCA poll.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) scrambles up field during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Seahawks set to host Panthers, honor past while focused on present

Seattle will honor the 10-year anniversary of its only Super Bowl championship during Sunday’s game.

Jackson High’s Ben Lee lunges to get to the ball against Kamiak on Thursday, Sep. 22, 2022, at the Kamiak Tennis Courts in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Prep boys tennis season preview: Players and teams to watch

A look at the area’s top athletes and teams on the tennis court this fall.

Most Read