DAVIE, Fla. -- When the Miami Dolphins went through most of October without a win, a total collapse seemed more likely than a playoff run.
But now they have a chance to clinch a playoff berth Sunday. And if they do it, the Dolphins will be one of 27 teams to lose four straight games during the regular season but still qualify for the playoffs.
Of the eight teams to do it since divisional realignment in 2002, four of them made it past the first round of the playoffs, three made it to the conference championship game, two reached the Super Bowl, and the 2011 New York Giants won the Lombardi Trophy.
"We had a pretty good locker room and everyone stuck together, nobody pointed a finger at one another," said former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, whose 2002 Oakland team shook off a four-game, midseason losing streak to win seven of its last eight games and reach the Super Bowl. "We kept our poise, we dealt with adversity and I think we came out of it as a football team.
"I see a little bit of that with the Dolphins. They're 5-2 since the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito deal, they've won four of their last five games and that's a locker room that's probably a better locker room then it was seven weeks ago."
The Dolphins started the season 3-0 and then dropped their next four games. They just barely won the next game, defeating Cincinnati in overtime on Halloween days after Martin left the team and accused Incognito of harassment.
The locker room harassment scandal didn't really blow up until after the Bengals win. Incognito was suspended days later, the Dolphins made national headlines for all the wrong reasons and they dropped their next game in Tampa Bay.
Since then the Dolphins have won four of their last five games and are on a three-game winning streak. They are favored to win their final two games against Buffalo and the New York Jets, which would guarantee them a playoff berth.
They could clinch a playoff berth as soon as Sunday if they defeat the Bills, Baltimore loses at home to New England and Cincinnati loses at home to Minnesota.
It's even possible, although unlikely, that the Dolphins could win the AFC East. They'd need to win their final two games while New England would have to lose at Baltimore and at home to Buffalo in the season finale.
Despite all the playoff talk, Dolphins players know nothing is certain. Buffalo already defeated them earlier this year in Miami, the third game of the Dolphins' slide
But even during the losing streak, players said there was a different vibe this year than in past seasons when Miami had similar slides.
"When stuff started to get hard and the pressure started to build up, we started making mistakes. We started doing things not characteristic of us," cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "This year, I don't see it. I see us finishing games, guys wanting to make plays and everybody working together as a team to get the job done."
Carroll credited Coach Joe Philbin for keeping the team focused during the losing streak.
"We grew together as a team, together as brothers, together as a family," Carroll said. "We told ourselves 'if we can finish the season strong, if we can make a run, as long as we can get into the tournament, nothing else matters.'
"We're resilient. We've been through a lot of crazy stuff and we've stuck together."
Philbin was the tight ends coach on the 2004 Packers team that won its opener then dropped four in a row before winning nine of their final 11 games and winning the NFC North. They lost at home to the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs.
He said the key for the Dolphins has been to not "get too low or too high."
"You can't get caught up in, 'we've won x-amount of games in a row, we've lost x-amount of games in a row,'" Philbin said. "The focus has to be on preparing the team to play the game that they have right in front of them."
Center Mike Pouncey said he knew the Dolphins were close during the four-game losing streak. Miami began the slide with a 38-17 loss in New Orleans, but then dropped home games to Buffalo and Baltimore by three points each.
They then blew a 17-3 halftime lead in New England, losing 27-17.
"The way we were losing football games, it's not like we were getting blown out," Pouncey said. "It was coming down to the last play, the last series. We just understood that we had to fix it in practice and finish games better."
Gannon said his 2002 Raiders had a 34-10 win in Denver that became a statement game and propelled the Raiders. He believes the Dolphins win over New England last week could have a similar effect.
"A game like that turns out to be a transformational game where all of a sudden the quarterback, everybody else is looked at differently," he said. "Some people go, 'yeah, we just beat (New England quarterback Tom) Brady, hell, we can go on the road and beat anybody."
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