Vikings, Dolphins search for motivation

Published 5:10 am Friday, December 19, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — With the Miami Dolphins at 7-7 and all but eliminated from the playoffs, defensive tackle Jared Odrick talked about playing out the season.

“We’re on a team that’s .500,” he said. “If you don’t believe that you’re a .500 team, you have to go out there and prove it. We’ve got two more games to do that.”

So a winning record would be a significant achievement?

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“Finishing 9-7?” Odrick said. “Finishing 9-7 and not going to the playoffs doesn’t mean a thing.”

If more Dolphins could reverse direction so quickly, they might be Super Bowl-bound.

It’s tough to blame Odrick for having trouble convincing himself that Sunday’s game matters. Motivation can be difficult for teams out of the playoff chase, and that’s the challenge both teams face when the Dolphins play the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

Here are things to know about the matchup between also-rans:

THE STAKES: The game means a lot to Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, whose job is in jeopardy after lopsided losses the past two weeks likely ensured a third consecutive season out of the playoffs.

Players have been vocal in defending Philbin and his staff.

“I don’t think it’s the coaches’ fault,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “I think it’s our fault. I don’t think we’ve played up to our potential throughout our games. I don’t think we’ve played a full 60 minutes, except maybe two or three times. We’re selling ourselves short — the players, not the coaches.”

Another loss might seal Philbin’s fate, while a sweep of the final two games would give Miami its first winning season since 2008, a sign of progress that could influence owner Stephen Ross.

In the absence of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have been out of the race since Thanksgiving. But they’ve won two of their past three games to give them a shot at a .500 finish under first-year coach Mike Zimmer.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “That’s what you want to see out of a club that’s under a new regime.”

QB HOMECOMING: There likely will be lots of empty seats Sunday, but don’t blame Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Miami native will have plenty of family and friends in attendance, although he couldn’t provide an exact count because his mother handles ticket requests.

“I’m pretty loved back home in Miami, and a lot of people tell me that I’m a role model in my community,” Bridgewater said. “So it’ll be amazing to see how many turn out there and get to see me play in person for the first time.”

Bridgewater grew up a Dolphins fan and attended a couple of their games before heading off to Louisville. He said he envisioned himself playing in the stadium someday.

“As a child I had high dreams and aspirations,” he said. “Making it to the National Football League and to be able to play there my first year in the NFL, it’s pretty amazing.”

Bridgewater will make his 11th start, passing Fran Tarkenton and Christian Ponder for the most by Vikings rookie quarterback.

GOING LONG: Miami’s Ryan Tannehill is finally showing progress with his accuracy on long passes.

In last week’s loss at New England, Tannehill threw deep to Wallace for 50 yards on the first play, and went long to Wallace for a 32-yard score at the end of the first half. Another deep throw into the end zone was dropped.

“He had a number of deep balls that were as good as any we have seen him throw in games,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “We have seen improvement in practice, and we kind of felt like that it should be showing up in the game.”

For the season, Tannehill is 8 for 36 (22 percent) on throws of more than 20 yards.

COACHING PALS: Zimmer said his friendship with Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle could be a factor in the game. They worked together with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008-11, when Zimmer was defensive coordinator and Coyle coached the secondary.

“I’ve played against guys that have been with me before, and they’ll run a play and you will say, ‘Ah, I told them about that,”’ Zimmer said. “It’s one play here or there.”

WINTER IN MIAMI: The Vikings practice in their field house with the doors open to simulate colder conditions for late-season games, but this week the doors were closed and the heat turned up to prep for Miami.

“It will be 80 degrees,” Zimmer said before one workout. “Not sunny, but it will be 80 degrees.”