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Jets last game is a must win

December 27, 2008 8:33:12 PM PST
The Miami Dolphins have been one of the NFL's surprising success stories, turning around the fortunes of a franchise marred by a one-win fiasco a year ago. Sure, they feel pretty good about themselves these days. Just don't mistake that for satisfaction.

"Our story is not done," Dolphins center Samson Satele said. "We haven't written the ending yet. Right now, we are just trying to make it a good ending, not a bad ending. We just have to work hard and get this win."

After going 1-15 last season, the Dolphins are 10-5 and on the verge of winning the wacky AFC East. They'll get their first division title since 2000 with a victory Sunday against the New York Jets (9-6).

"This is for it all," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.

"You've got to approach this game that way. If we win, we play next week. If we don't, we pack our stuff, we pack up and get ready for the offseason program."

With a win, Miami would tie the 1999 Indianapolis Colts, who went from 3-13 to 13-3, for the only 10-game improvements in NFL history. Despite all that, the Dolphins still aren't being discussed among the AFC's elite teams.

"It really doesn't matter whether they take us seriously or not," linebacker Joey Porter said. "We're a game away from winning the division and hosting a playoff game. Whether they take us seriously or not, we're in a great situation to where we control our own destiny."

The Jets were able to say the same thing until a week ago, when they lost at Seattle and dropped out of first place. Just a month earlier, New York was being mentioned as a potential Super Bowl contender. Now, it needs to win Sunday and hope either New England or Baltimore loses just to make the playoffs.

"Everything that's come previous to this game is the past," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "We just have to make it happen, man. It's one game. We have no reason to hold anything back."

While the Jets have struggled down the stretch by losing three of their last four since impressive road victories at New England and Tennessee, the Dolphins have been terrific. They've won four straight and eight of their last nine to put themselves a win from their first playoff appearance in seven seasons.

"You dream about these days," cornerback Will Allen said. "It's one game and everything is riding on it."

The teams have been bitter rivals for decades and an already juicy story line this time around is intensified by Miami quarterback Chad Pennington's return to Meadowlands.

"You can't just say that it's any other game because we all know what's happened," Dolphins tight end David Martin said.

For anyone needing a review: Pennington spent his first eight seasons with the Jets, becoming a fan favorite before undergoing two serious shoulder operations and constant criticism of his arm strength. He was benched last season in favor of Kellen Clemens, entered training camp in a competition for the starting job, and was released in early August when New York acquired Brett Favre from Green Bay.

Pennington was signed by Miami less than 48 hours later and has since developed into a bona fide MVP candidate. His 96.4 quarterback rating is second in the NFL, and his 3,453 yards passing are a career high. He also has 17 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, showing the efficiency and smart decision making that made him so effective at times with the Jets.

"He's been quietly our savior," Porter said.

Meanwhile, Favre added instant relevance to a franchise lacking it for years. He helped lead the Jets to a 20-14 season-opening win over Pennington and the Dolphins in Miami, and New York appeared ready to assume supremacy in the AFC East at 8-3.

Then came the slump punctuated by a shaky Favre, who has thrown just one touchdown pass and six interceptions in the last four games while acknowledging that there could be health issues with his right shoulder. Many fans and members of the media said it will be viewed as a mistake if the Jets fail to make the postseason with Favre while the Dolphins get in with Pennington.

"It's not about me and Chad Pennington," Favre said, "although that's what basically plays out most of the time, especially when we're playing against them, the fact that they're where they are and we have kind of fallen to where we are."

While Pennington appears to have revived his career in Miami, Favre's future is unclear. He said earlier this week he had yet to make a decision on playing beyond this season, making Sunday's game perhaps the final time Favre takes the field in a brilliant 18-year career.

"I just know that Chad probably would love to get this one for a lot of reasons, most importantly where their team will end up," Favre said. "The fact that it will be, 'Hey, Chad, beat your old team.' I'm aware of all that stuff. I don't pay a whole lot of attention. I really don't.

"I guess it does make for a good script."


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