Pass protection an issue for contending Dolphins

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Even with a makeshift offensive line, the Miami Dolphins may yet forge a path to the playoffs.

The Dolphins find themselves back in the mix for a postseason berth, thanks to a prime-time victory over AFC East nemesis Buffalo. Miami now has 10 days to prepare for AFC West leader Denver, and the top priority will be to shore up a line still adjusting to left tackle Branden Albert's season-ending knee injury.

The Dolphins are 6-4, their best record at the 10-game mark since 2008, which not coincidentally is the last time they made the playoffs. A 5-2 conference mark helps their wild-card chances, and so should the two games remaining against the last-place New York Jets.

But the Dolphins need to pass-protect better than they did Thursday. For the second time in five days, Ryan Tannehill took a pounding, including five sacks in the 22-9 comeback victory.

Rookie Ja'Wuan James played well at left tackle in place of Albert, who was sidelined Sunday. But new right tackle Dallas Thomas struggled against Mario Williams, who had 3 1/2 sacks, and the offense sputtered until the final 22 minutes.

Tannehill came in with a sore shoulder and ankle, thanks to numerous hits he took in last week's loss at Detroit. Thursday's drubbing was even worse, but Tannehill has been sacked so often in the past - including a franchise-record 58 last year - that he found the protection by his teammates acceptable.

''I thought that they played well,'' he said. ''Most of the night I was able to get the ball out of my hands and get through my reads.''

Tannehill threw for 240 yards and two scores with no interceptions, helping Miami end a streak of three consecutive losses to Buffalo. He improved to 16-1 when his passer rating is above 90.

The Dolphins also rushed for 125 yards, averaging 5.2 per carry, which helped the linemen's final grade with coach Joe Philbin.

''I thought overall they were competitive,'' Philbin said. ''I liked how they blocked in the running game.

''It's hard to say we had great protection when you get sacked five times. There's definitely room for development there. I didn't think it was terrible, even though the numbers suggest it wasn't good, but certainly it has to get better.''

After reviewing the video, Philbin sounded as though he was inclined to stick with Thomas, a second-year pro whose previous starts had been at guard.

''I thought he did some really good things in the run game,'' Philbin said. ''I'm impressed with what he did there. There were some good things in pass protection. There were a couple of plays that need improvement in pass protection, sure.''

A long break after a busy week will allow time for further review - and recharge. Philbin appeared physically exhausted Friday after the quick turnaround between games and said his players would be off until Tuesday.

When asked if his assistants will be in the office Saturday and Sunday, the workaholic coach smiled.

''No, the staff is going to have some time off too, absolutely,'' he said. ''Are you trying to kill us?''

Tannehill said the break before the final push toward the playoffs will be welcome.

''Any time that you can get a few extra days or a few extra hours away to clear you mind - we all put in a lot of hard work, countless hours getting ready for games,'' he said. ''Clear your mind and get healthy, I think, is the biggest thing, just to allow the guys that have been banged up to get healthy.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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