Surprise! Dolphins are back in playoff race

MIAMI – Don’t look now, but amid all the controversy off the field and struggles on it, the Miami Dolphins find themselves back in the postseason hunt.

Yes, those Dolphins.

The same Miami team that’s currently being investigated by the NFL for potential bullying and harassment involving right tackle Jonathan Martin and guard Richie Incognito. The same Miami team that lost to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in its last game.

The NFL is a wild league, and perhaps no team has had more of a roller-coaster season in 2013 than the Dolphins. In what was essentially a must-win game Sunday, Miami improved to 5-5 with a 20-16 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Miami is now just a tiebreaker behind the New York Jets (5-5) for the sixth seed in the AFC. But the Dolphins will play New York twice in December, so, in many ways, they control their own playoff destiny.

“I told the guys in the locker room after the Tampa Bay game, you either have faith and confidence in one another or you don’t,” coach Joe Philbin said. “You can’t swing back and forth based on a particular outcome of a single game.”

The Dolphins held it together during a very tough week. Philbin and his players were constantly peppered with questions about Martin and Incognito, and new developments in the the story came to the surface nearly every day.

However, the Dolphins put together a good week of preparation, and it showed against the Chargers. The Dolphins took a lead in the third quarter that it never relinquished after tight end Charles Clay rumbled for a 39-yard touchdown. Miami did a good job of closing out the game in the fourth quarter, something that has been an issue this season.

Last week the Dolphins were embarrassed and considered on their last legs after losing to the Buccaneers. But one big win changes the outlook of their season with six games remaining.

“Stuff is going to happen, everything is not going to be perfect at all times,” said Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, who got a key interception. “But as professionals, we have to go out and play a football game. That’s our job, and that’s what we came out and did. We just focused on football all week.”

Next week will only get tougher for the Dolphins. The NFL is coming to town to ask questions about the Martin-Incognito controversy. The Dolphins also have another tough game, this time against the red-hot Carolina Panthers, who have won five straight.

How the Dolphins handle this situation is up to them. They control their own fate for the final wild-card spot, despite an up-and-down 10-game stretch to start the season.

“That’s something we have our eyes on,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick said of the playoffs. “But it can slip away from you just as quick as you got it. So we have to stay on top of it, get rest and let everything else fall into place.”