Dolphins provide Jets with payback and spoiler opportunity

Jets tight end Kellen Winslow (81) is tackled

Jets tight end Kellen Winslow (81) is tackled by Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (52) during the first half. (Dec. 1, 2013) (Credit: Lee S. Weissman)

This is about personal pride and payback.

The Jets may not be playing for a postseason berth, but Sunday's game in South Florida carries as much significance for them as it does for the Dolphins -- just in a different way.

In what could be Rex Ryan's final game as their coach, the Jets are aiming to prove they're the better ballclub. With a win at Sun Life Stadium, the Jets would improve to 8-8 and knock the Dolphins (8-7) out of the playoff hunt.

Naturally, Ryan's players would much rather be vying for the final AFC wild-card spot. But there's a sense of satisfaction that comes with playing spoiler, too -- especially against a division rival.

"Oh, for sure," tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. said with a smile. "We're out of it. So why not? It's just the love of the game, competition and just going out, like, 'Hey, it was us. It was us that knocked them out.' "

It was the Dolphins, however, who beat up on the Jets last time around.

Quarterback Geno Smith, who grew up about five minutes from Sun Life Stadium, was benched at halftime of their 23-3 beatdown Dec. 1. "It was something I had to learn from," said Smith, who has four touchdown passes, two TD runs and an average rating of 83.5 since being benched for a third time.

But the rookie -- who in his previous game at Sun Life Stadium threw six touchdown passes to lead West Virginia to a 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl in January -- believes he and his teammates are much improved since their last meeting with the Dolphins.

"Overall, I just think we didn't play well as a team and now we have a second chance, kind of a measuring stick for us dating back to that game," Smith said. "So it will be fun and interesting to see how we play on Sunday."

The Jets' 177 yards of total offense were the fewest allowed by Miami this season. The 453 yards the Jets yielded were the third-most allowed under Ryan and the Dolphins' highest output this season.

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for a season-high 331 yards against the Jets' secondary. And now the Dolphins are looking to complete their first sweep of the Jets since 2009.

But despite the lopsided statistics from their previous meeting, cornerback Antonio Cromartie didn't hesitate when asked if the Jets have improved since Week 13. "I felt like we were the better team then," he said. "Do I feel like we're a better team now? Yeah. We're running the ball a whole lot better, we're playing the pass a whole lot better. I think the biggest thing for us is just making sure we're putting it all together."

Ryan called their December meeting the "low point" of the season. And that's why he's anxious to prove his players can win back-to-back games for the first time this season.

"This team whipped us probably more than any team in the league," Ryan said. "Our worst performance was against Miami the last time at our place. And so we think we've improved as a team and we certainly have the opportunity to prove it Sunday against Miami, with all that they have playing for it. So we'll know if we've improved."

The Dolphins, of course, would love nothing more than to crush the Jets' spirit and clinch a playoff spot at the same time.

"As a Dolphin, the minute you get here, you kind of realize that's a game that a lot of guys circle on their calendar," Miami defensive end Cameron Wake said.

But the game carries as much weight and incentive for the Jets, players said. Reaching the .500 mark might not seem like a lofty goal, but it's a step in the right direction, Austin Howard said.

"When you look back at our season, I don't think we should have lost half of these games. But we did," the right tackle said. "It's frustrating. But now it's time to turn the tables around and get things going again."

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