Playoff hopes for Packers, Dolphins on diverging paths

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The Packers, beneficiaries of results from Christmas Eve games, did their part by beating the Dolphins 26-20 on Sunday. Green Bay (7-8) overcame a 10-point second-quarter deficit, intercepted Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa three times and scored 16 unanswered points to close the gap on the final NFC wild card berth.

Green Bay still needs additional help to overtake Washington (7-7-1), but finished December with three consecutive wins.

“I don’t think we’ve struggled with confidence but definitely haven’t had a lot of believers outside of the locker room, I don’t think, so maybe this will give us a couple on the bandwagon,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But we’ve been in a good rhythm, practice energy, cohesion and been playing a little bit better complementary football.”

The Packers finish the regular season with home games against NFC North champion Minnesota and a 7-8 Detroit team that’s also in pursuit of the playoffs, though the Lions’ loss to Carolina on Saturday helped Green Bay gain ground.

By winning out, the Packers also would eliminate Seattle (7-8) because of a better conference record if both ended at 9-8.

“We’ve just got to win,” said Packers defensive back Rasul Douglas, whose final interception of Tagovailoa under two minutes sealed the win. “Not too far looking at everybody doing what they’re supposed to do, we know it’s all on us.”

Meanwhile, the Dolphins closed December winless — a major shift from five weeks ago, when the Dolphins (8-7) shared the AFC East lead with the Buffalo Bills. Four straight losses has Miami barely grasping to the third AFC wild card spot.

But the Dolphins also have benefited from others’ losses: Division rival New England (7-8) has lost two straight and the New York Jets (7-8) are on a four-game slide.

The Dolphins will visit the Patriots on Sunday and conclude the regular season at home against the Jets on Jan. 8.

“I would say it’s easy to keep the confidence up with this group,” Tagovailoa said. “We all believe in each other. We all love one another. We’re all invested into each other. I don’t think it’s a time for us to blink. We just move on and we learn from it. We have another tough team to go and play.”

Even with a win against New England, the Dolphins are not assured a playoff berth. If the Jets win at Seattle on Sunday, they can clinch the final spot with a victory over Miami on Jan. 8. The Jets would eliminate Miami by sweeping their two division games.

“Nothing’s really changed moving forward except for the fact we are expecting to cleanse ourselves of this feeling,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “We’re going to have to wait another week to try to get it right.”

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