Dolphins still swimming in playoff pool

Ricky Williams scored three times to power the Dolphins rushing attack. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins stayed in the playoff race Thursday night with a gritty performance to beat the Carolina Panthers 24-17 in Bank of America Stadium.

The season sure looked bleak for the Dolphins two months ago. They started 0-3. Quarterback and team MVP Chad Pennington was gone to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Yet here the Dolphins are at .500 and with a great shot at a winning record for the first time this year. So what that Pennington's injury threw second-year quarterback Chad Henne into the maw and Ronnie Brown's season-ending foot fracture left the workload to 32-year-old Ricky Williams?

After banking two victories in a four-day span, the Dolphins will enjoy a weekend off and some extra time to prepare for the reeling Buffalo Bills in Week 12.

The Dolphins have won three of their past four games and still are smarting from narrow losses to elite opposition. They failed to close out games against Indianapolis Colts (late fourth-quarter lead) and New Orleans Saints (up by 21 points late in first half).

In there, the Dolphins can extract plenty of reasons to be confident for the homestretch.

The problem, though, is that there are so many competitive AFC clubs this year. The way it looks at the moment, the only team that will advance from the AFC East will be the team that wins it. The wild-card race appears stacked.

Still, the Dolphins are legitimate wild-card contenders if they can somehow cope with injuries.

As mentioned in the Rapid Reaction post, the already tattered Dolphins have gotten even more frayed. Center Jake Grove and nose tackle Jason Ferguson were the biggest injuries. Their offensive line depth was tested.

"The injuries were tremendous," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "It affected special teams. We had three centers out there. We had guys playing positions they didn't practice.

"They just kept grinding out there."

Ferguson's loss could be mammoth. The Panthers dominated the Dolphins' run defense all night, rolling up 182 yards. Down the stretch, the Dolphins will face the likes of Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshawn Lynch and Rashard Mendenhall.

It won't be easy, but the Dolphins are pretty good at doing things the hard way.