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Updated December 25th, 2023 at 17:56 IST

Analysis: Dolphins quiet critics with comeback win over Dallas, extending Cowboys' road failures

The Dolphins (11-4) have been haunted this season by their failures against playoff-caliber teams. They lost to Buffalo, Philadelphia and Kansas City before rallying for a 22-20 victory over Dallas on Jason Sanders’ fifth field goal of the game as time expired.

Reported by: Associated Press Television News
Dolphins
Dolphins | Image:AP
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The Dolphins finally defeated a winning team. The Cowboys still can’t beat winning teams on the road.

One streak ended and another was extended in the NFL’s biggest game Sunday.

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It mattered more for Miami.

The Dolphins (11-4) have been haunted this season by their failures against playoff-caliber teams. They lost to Buffalo, Philadelphia and Kansas City before rallying for a 22-20 victory over Dallas on Jason Sanders’ fifth field goal of the game as time expired.

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Tired of hearing about it, coach Mike McDaniel said he told players he gave them clearance to use an expletive to tell off reporters who mention that losing record leading into the game against Dallas.

The victory quieted the critics.

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“I think it’s really hard to ignore the noise, so to speak, or not hear it,” McDaniel said. “I think you’re going to hear it. And so it’s impossible for people not to know all the things that we’re not capable of doing. But I’m proud for this team because regardless of what people say, you have to get to a mode where you’re solely worried about doing your job and being responsible for that with your teammates. And anything else, you get distracted and lose focus on what actually matters. So I thought this is a big win for this team because it’s always big when you do something that internally you know that you’re capable of.”

Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and the rest of these Dolphins can’t let up now that they’ve wrapped up a postseason berth for the second straight year.

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Next week, they face Baltimore (11-3) for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. If the Ravens beat Miami, and Buffalo beats New England, the Bills-Dolphins matchup in Week 18 will decide the AFC East. So, the Dolphins can go from playing for a first-round bye and home-field advantage one week to fighting for the division.

“I’m so proud of this team for continuing to come in day in, day out and just work on their craft,” said Tagovailoa, who engineered the winning drive. “I don’t think anyone is necessarily worried about what anyone else is saying outside of the guys in the building. Everyone has confidence in each other and themselves. I don’t think winning these games does anything more or anything less. But it sort of reiterates the work that we put in and gives us the satisfaction that the work that we do put in pays off.”

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The Cowboys fell to 0-4 on the road against winning teams after previously losing to San Francisco, Philadelphia and Buffalo.

Dak Prescott and the offense again cost themselves with mistakes. They drove to the Dolphins 1 on the opening drive but fullback Hunter Luepke fumbled the handoff. They didn’t get going until Prescott led a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter but the defense couldn’t make a play.

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Dallas (10-5) remains in the race for the NFC East title. The Eagles (10-4) still must beat the Giants (5-9) on Monday or in Week 18 or the Cowboys would win the division by winning their final two games against Detroit and Washington.

If the Cowboys don’t surpass Philadelphia, they’ll have to get their first road win against a winning team this season in the playoffs to advance.

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“To think you’re ever going to win a championship, you need these games, especially on the road,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said.

Seattle (8-7) and Green Bay (7-8) rallied for must-wins Sunday and the Lions (11-4) won their first division title in 30 years.

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Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers (8-7) continued their impressive run with a convincing 30-12 win over reeling Jacksonville. Tampa Bay is one win away from securing its third straight NFC South.

The Jaguars (8-7) remain in control of the AFC South because both the Colts (8-7) and Texans (8-7) lost. The Browns (10-5) got another standout performance from Joe Flacco in their win at Houston.

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Russell Wilson and the Broncos (7-8) suffered the worst loss of the week in a game Denver had to win to increase its playoff hopes. The lowly Patriots upset the Broncos 26-23 on Chad Ryland’s 56-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.

Week 16 wraps up with three games on Christmas Day featuring four first-place teams.

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The Chiefs (9-5) can wrap up their eighth straight AFC West with a win over Las Vegas (6-8). The Eagles need to beat the Giants to maintain control of their division hopes. The nightcap is a potential Super Bowl preview with the Ravens taking on the 49ers.

A jumbled playoff puzzle is still two weeks away from being set.

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Published December 25th, 2023 at 17:56 IST

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