Sunday’s loss against the San Francisco 49ers was a disappointing one for the Miami Dolphins, especially since the Kansas City Chiefs also lost, meaning the Dolphins would’ve been up to No. 1 in the AFC had they won.
Instead, the 33-17 defeat bumped Miami (8-4) down to second in the division and No. 6 in the AFC playoff picture. The division-rival Buffalo Bills now lead the AFC East and the conference.
But everything the Dolphins want to accomplish is still in front of them. And, truthfully, a loss to an NFC opponent isn’t as consequential at the end of the season when it comes to postseason tiebreakers.
Regardless, at 8-4, the Dolphins are two games in front of the first teams out of the AFC playoffs, the 6-6 New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers, with five games left.
As it stands after Sunday, the Dolphins have an 87 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Where the real postseason implications come are in the next two weeks.
First, against the Chargers, one of those teams hoping to keep their playoff hopes alive, at SoFi Stadium on Sunday night. Winning at Los Angeles, independent of other Week 14 results, lifts the Dolphins’ playoff probability all the way up to 97 percent. A loss, and that figure is down to 75 percent.
If Miami wins back-to-back games against the Chargers and Bills — again, independent of other results — its playoff chances skyrocket up to greater than 99 percent. Plus, there’s the bonus of the Dolphins reinserting themselves atop the AFC East with a season sweep of Buffalo. They’d have a 71 percent chance of winning the division at that point, and that secures a top-four seed and home playoff game.
It was a quiet Dolphins locker room after Sunday’s loss at Levi’s Stadium, humbled by a loss to third-string quarterback Brock Purdy after knocking out Jimmy Garoppolo early. But coach Mike McDaniel is encouraged that his team will respond after facing a top defense and playoff contender on the road.
“As frustrating as it was, I think that we are well-equipped and we have the guys in the locker room that, collectively, will take this piece of adversity and get better from it, and that’s the objective,” McDaniel said. “The biggest thing I wanted from this game is to really go out there and feel a playoff-type atmosphere and do everything that they could to try to win that game. When you do that, I think you can actually — win or lose — you can actually get better from it.”
Said defensive lineman Christian Wilkins: “If we want to be the team we can be and want to be, you have to have experiences like this.”
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa knows he has to be significantly better after missing on several throws in a subpar 18-of-33 performance for 295 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, which came on back-to-back passes in a pivotal second-half stretch.
“This is nothing for us to worry about, but it is an opportunity to get better from,” Tagovailoa said.
He and the Dolphins must cut down on turnovers (four at San Francisco), get better on third downs (0 for 7) and get the run game going (33 yards on eight carries).
The Miami defense also looks to start playing well on the road as its home performances have not been able to translate to similar success outside Hard Rock Stadium. On Sunday, it came against 49ers backup quarterback Brock Purdy, the last pick of the past draft.
“We just got to get better at a few leaky things here and there,” linebacker Elandon Roberts said. “It’s a great opportunity that we can take from that game from the standpoint of being able to see, ‘OK, what can we get better at?’ It really was a lot of little things.”
Tagovailoa’s health will be monitored this week after backup Skylar Thompson entered for him due to the ankle injury Tagovailoa received treatment for throughout the week. He said he came out of the game physically “as good as I can be” but the team and medical staff will “assess some things.”
The Dolphins are also hopeful to get left tackle Terron Armstead back into the lineup after he missed Sunday’s loss to a pectoral strain. For help at the tackle position, Miami signed veteran Eric Fisher on Monday while placing right tackle Austin Jackson on injured reserve.
This story will be updated.