DAVIE, Fla. -- Several times this season the Dolphins needed a big play and their defense came through.
Cincinnati with defensive end Cameron Wake's game-winning sack/safety. Indianapolis with cornerback Brent Grimes' fourth-quarter interception in the end zone. New England with safety Michael Thomas' game-saving interception in the end zone. Baltimore with defensive end Dion Jordan hitting quarterback Joe Flacco's arm, which resulted on safety Reshad Jones' fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown.
It's time for the Dolphins' defense to do it again.
The Dolphins (8-7) have their playoff hopes on the line Sunday when the New York Jets (7-8) visit Sun Life Stadium, and it's the defense that has to lead the charge.
The offense, which averages 20.7 points per game, 28th in the NFL, is OK. They're capable.
But the defense, which allows 21.0 points per game, 20th in the league, has playmakers. They change games, and they do it on a consistent basis.
"I have a lot of faith in these guys," coach Joe Philbin said. "They prepare well, they've competed hard. I definitely have confidence in them."
The Jets will do their part to help the Dolphins' defense. Quarterback Geno Smith, the local kid who attended Miramar High School, has thrown 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, the latter statistic tied for second-most in the NFL. But that's about as far as the Jets can go. The rest is up to Dolphins' defenders and their ability to make plays.
Although the Dolphins hammered the Jets, 23-3, when the teams met on Dec. 1, the victory margin was a bit unusual. Ten Dolphins games have been decided by six points or fewer. The Dolphins have proven adept at making those game-winning and game-saving plays. But cornerback Nolan Carroll wants to take it a step further.
"We need to be more consistent with making plays," Carroll said. "When it comes to crunch time we do a good job at it, but we want to be able to do it consistently all the time. We want to be one of those teams that's known for, 'Hey, when they're defense is on the field we've got to be accountable for every single guy on that field because all of them want to make a play, all of them have knack for making a play.'"
Interestingly, the Dolphins have showed the last part of what Carroll said. Every defensive back who sees major playing time -- Carroll and Grimes, and safeties Jimmy Wilson, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons -- has at least one interception. Every defensive end that sees major playing time -- Wake, Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby and Dion Jordan -- has at least two sacks. But Vernon (11.5 sacks) and Wake (8.5 sacks) are the major forces. In fact, both have made game-changing or game-winning plays.
Grimes calls Wake's sack-safety on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton the Dolphins' Defensive Play of the Year.
"You've got to with the sack to win the game," he said. "You don't see that too often."
You also don't see the Dolphins' defense choking at the end of a game too often. Tampa Bay (a 22-19 loss) and Carolina (a 20-16 loss) might have been times where the defense was pushed around late a bit. But overall these guys have been solid, and that's what's had them ready to make the crucial late-game plays they've needed.
"I didn't know all of our games were going to come down to the wire like this, no, I didn't know that," Grimes said, "but I knew a lot of people are able to make plays on this defense."
Even the Dolphins' linebackers have gotten in on the play-making. Dannell Ellerbe has two interceptions and two fumbles recovered. Philip Wheeler has one fumble recovery.
The Dolphins' defense could have to make the plays to get this team to the playoffs. And that's fine with them.
"We wouldn't want it any other way," Wake said, "than the defense to have to make a play to seal a game."
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