For Dolphins, path to playoffs goes through Titans and former QB Ryan Tannehill

The Miami Dolphins, the first team in NFL history to win seven straight games and also lose seven consecutive games in the same season, are set to visit the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

Miami (8-7) will make the playoffs if it beats the Titans (10-5) and New England (9-6) to close out the regular season.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores said his players deserve credit for how they have responded to a brutal 1-7 start.

“The guys keep fighting,” Flores said.

While that’s true, the Dolphins have also been fortunate. During this winning streak — the second-longest active run in the NFL — the Dolphins have beaten just one team that does not have a losing record. That team is Baltimore, which is barely above .500 at 8-7.

The Dolphins are now tasked with defeating Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, who spent six seasons as Miami’s starting quarterback, struggling with mediocre talent surrounding him. Tannehill had a 42-46 record as Miami’s starting QB.

In Tennessee, however, Tannehill has produced a sterling 28-13 record.

But, with star running back Derrick Henry out since Halloween due to a foot injury, more pressure has fallen on Tannehill. Henry last year became just the eighth NFL player to rush for 2,000 yards in one season. He was on pace to break the league record when he got hurt, and his return could happen this season.

In the meantime, Tannehill has been intercepted a league-high 14 times this season as defenses no longer fear the Titans’ run game.

Last weekend, however, Tannehill helped Tennessee rally from a 10-point halftime deficit as the Titans beat the 49ers 20-17 on Randy Bullock’s 44-yard field goal with four seconds left. Tannehill passed for 169 second-half yards.

“We’re not dead yet,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said of the Titans, who have lost three of their past five games.

A win over the Dolphins would give the Titans their second straight AFC South championship.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown, who came off injured reserve for the 49ers game, is Tannehill’s top target. Brown caught a career-high 11 passes for 145 yards against the 49ers. For the season, he has 57 receptions for 760 yards. This is his third year in the NFL, and he’s hoping for his third 1,000-yard season.

The Titans, who opened as 3 1/2-point favorites over the Dolphins, will be playing on nine days of rest.

Miami, after its game at New Orleans on Monday, will have only five days of rest.

Otherwise, the teams are fairly similar in that they each have a dynamic, young wide receiver — Brown for Tennessee and Jaylen Waddle for Miami — and suffocating run defenses.

Waddle on Monday set the Dolphins rookie record for receiving yards with 941 on 96 catches.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has made a living this year out of short and safe passes to Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki (67 catches for 707 yards).

But Tagovailoa, who leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.1), seems to make just enough plays to win games, and that was the case against the Saints. In that game, Tagovailoa’s biggest throw was a 40-yard dime lofted over the top of a defender, who was draped all over Mack Holllins. That third-down throw led to Miami’s only offensive touchdown of the game.

Tagovailoa is 12-7 in two years as Miami’s QB, but he has also been intercepted three times in the past two games.

Defensively, the Titans rank second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (86.7). Miami ranks seventh (102.3).

Against the pass, Miami leads the NFL with 45 sacks. Tennessee is tied for 10th with 37 sacks.

The Titans’ pass-blocking against that fierce Dolphins rush is a matchup to watch. Tennessee, missing both starters on the left side, allowed four sacks to the 49ers. However, left guard Rodger Saffold was activated from the COVID-protocol list this week. And left tackle Taylor Lewan, who missed the 49ers game due to a back injury, also returned to practice. Both players are expected to start Sunday.

Titans starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has an ankle injury, was limited in practice this week, and that could be a factor on Sunday.

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