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Dolphins, for first time in a while, have look of a playoff team

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The last time the Miami Dolphins were this hot, Boyz II Men topped the music charts with “End of the Road,” Disney’s “Aladdin” was the country's highest-grossing film and Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd president of the United States.

The year was 1992, when a Hall of Fame coach named Don Shula and a Hall of Fame quarterback named Dan Marino led the Dolphins to a 6-0 start.

Twenty-four years later, the Dolphins are sizzling to that degree once again. Miami won its sixth straight game Sunday with a 31-24 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in front of an announced crowd of 65,856 at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Dolphins improved to 7-4 to further solidify their position in the AFC wild-card race. More importantly, they have the look of a legitimate playoff team.

Playoff teams overcome injuries. The Dolphins played Sunday without three starters on their offensive line: left tackle Branden Albert (wrist), left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) and Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip). Backups Sam Young, Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen held their own to help Miami produce 358 yards of total offense.

Playoff teams have their best players consistently perform at a high level. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns and has just one turnover in his past five games. Linebacker Kiko Alonso, who leads the team in tackles, added 11 more stops and an interception in the third quarter. Defensive end Cameron Wake registered a quarterback sack in his fourth straight game, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh made the game-saving tackle on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the final play.

Playoff teams avoid letdowns. The Dolphins reversed an ugly trend in recent years of playing down to their competition. Miami jumped out to a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter over lowly San Francisco (1-10), which went into desperation mode and scored 10 late points. The Dolphins also have been nearly unbeatable at home this year with a 5-1 record.

Miami has just one playoff appearance in the past 15 years, but the aforementioned factors show that this could be the year that run of futility comes to an end. The Dolphins are showing impressive maturity for a young team. They have 29 players age 25 or younger, and this is the first time many on Miami’s roster are experiencing this level of success at the pro level. But Miami has kept its focus during this lengthy winning streak.

Sunday’s game against the 49ers was a warm-up compared to what Miami has up next. The Dolphins will travel to face the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) in a big game with playoff implications for both teams. The Ravens are in the hunt for the AFC North title and a wild-card spot. The winner will own an important, head-to-head tiebreaker.