Dolphins, Jets motivated to finish dismal seasons strong
East Rutherford, N.J. — Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins are in a much different spot than they were the last time they faced the New York Jets.
Last month, they were one of the league's midseason laughingstocks, still looking for their first victory of the season. Then they went out and embarrassed the Jets 26-18.
The Dolphins (3-9) could sweep the season series with a win Sunday at MetLife Stadium, adding another chapter to an AFC East rivalry that has lacked juice in recent seasons as both teams have struggled.
"We're really trying to find ourselves and improve, and we've only won three games this year, so there's a lot of things internally that we're just trying to focus on and fix and get better at," Fitzpatrick said. "Some of those questions and then historically and in the past, some things that have happened, that is not really our focus right now. We're kind of hyper-focused on the now and getting ourselves better."
The Dolphins have plenty of motivation in the season's final month, even though they've been out of the playoff race for weeks, and each win hurts their chances of landing a franchise quarterback in next year's draft.
After an 0-7 start, Miami has won three of five games, including victories over playoff contenders Indianapolis and Philadelphia.
"It just shows that we can compete with anybody and we can beat really good teams," first-round draft pick Christian Wilkins said. "We will keep building. I know that this might not be the season that we wanted, or the fans wanted, but winning gives us a little extra sense of motivation."
Meanwhile, the Jets (4-8) are in a similar spot as the Dolphins in what has been a season marked by inconsistency, injuries and humiliating losses.
New York had its three-game winning streak stopped last week with a 22-6 loss to previously winless Cincinnati. If the loss to Miami on Nov. 3 was tough to swallow, that one was even worse. The Jets became the first team in NFL history to lose to two teams that were 0-7 or worse in the same season.
"It's frustrating, obviously," running back Le'Veon Bell said, "but we have to find a way to get better."
The Jets had scored 34 points in each of their previous three games — all wins — but couldn't get anything going against the Bengals. They were called for 10 penalties, including seven on the offensive line, and quarterback Sam Darnold was hurt by several drops.
"I think, for us, it was too many penalties," Darnold said. "For me, I have to hit my guys, I have to be more accurate. I felt like we couldn't get into a rhythm and it hurt us. ... We didn't come out flat, that wasn't an issue for us. It was really just a matter of executing, which was the issue."
Jets safety Jamal Adams appears likely to miss the first game of his three-year NFL career because of a sprained left ankle.
Adams was hurt early in the game at Cincinnati, but pushed through it and wasn't his usual playmaking self. He has been one of New York's bright spots this season and his absence would have a big impact on the defense.
Marcus Maye would likely slide into Adams' strong safety spot, with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams trying to use a combination of Blake Countess, Bennett Jackson and Matthias Farley, if he's healthy, in the other spot.
Fitzpatrick threw last week for a season-high 365 yards, and in the past five games has passed for 902 yards and five scores.
Fitzpatrick said despite the Dolphins' record, his first season in Miami has been a positive experience.
"I feel like I'm better now than I've ever been," said Fitzpatrick, who turned 37 last month. "In terms of what I'm doing and my focus and preparation and going out there with the group I have, my confidence is at an all-time high in terms of all that stuff."
The Dolphins still rank last in the NFL in yards per play. But lately, when they do get a chance to score, they're taking advantage.
Miami is third in the league with a red zone touchdown conversion rate of 68%. In the first four games, the Dolphins were at 17%. Since Week 6, they're at 80%, which ranks first in the league during that span.
"It's practice and execution, and players making plays in those situations," coach Brian Flores said. "Look, in the red zone in this league, the field is condensed so you have to make good throws, you have to make good catches in tight coverage. Players have to go up and make plays. We've had that."
The Jets remain the toughest defense to run against, allowing an NFL-low 75.3 yards rushing per game and just 2.89 yards per carry.
New York is also leading the league with 98 tackles for no gain or negative yardage, excluding kneel-downs, according to Radar360. The next closest is Tampa Bay with 71.
Only one player has rushed for 100 yards or more against the Jets this season: Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott, who had 105 in Week 6.