A big, big victory

The Dolphins' 22-20 victory against Cincinnati on Halloween wasn't just thrilling, it was oh, so needed. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find an October game that ever had this much significance for the Dolphins. For any NFL team, for that matter. It was that huge. Really.

Think about everything that had been going on and you'll see why it's not a stretch.

The Dolphins had lost their previous four games. They had let a 17-3 lead slip through their fingers the week before against the New England Patriots and they were in danger of suffering the same fate against Cincinnati.

Off the field, star center Mike Pouncey had been served a subpoena outside the Dolphins locker room after the game in New England and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team the next day apparently because of a nervous breakdown.

So let's say that things were not going well. A loss against Cincinnati not only would have given the Dophins a 3-5 record at the halfway mark of the season, it very well might have precipitated a complete free fall for Miami.

There was just such an ominous feeling at Sun Life Stadium after Cincinnati took a 20-17 lead with just 1:24 left.

Here we go again. Another late-game failure. The losing streak continues. And then Ryan Tannehill got sacked on first down on the drive that followed the Bengals' go-ahead field goal.

But things turned around so incredibly from that point.

Tannehill led the Dolphins into field goal range, making a couple of clutch throws, including a nice rainbow to Brian Hartline to the left sideline.

Then the Dolphins were able to tie the game on a 46-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis, who had arrived at his own crossroads after missing five of his previous six attempts, including one earlier in the Bengals game.

And then Cameron Wake won it in overtime with his sack/safety. A Wake-off safety, someone called it. Sudden life was another way to put it.

Just like that, the Dolphins found themselves with a 4-4 record at the halfway mark and very much in the thick of an AFC playoff race that sure seems like it's down to one spot left because of Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis, New England and Cincinnati.

The Dolphins' competition will come from San Diego, Baltimore, maybe Houston, perhaps Pittsburgh, maybe even Tennessee.

Regardless, the Dolphins need to be in the conversation.

Even if the overtime victory didn't make that huge of a difference in the standings, the Dolphins at 3-5 with everything going around the team couldn't have been taken seriously as playoff contenders.

Now, they have to be.

Of course, several issues remain for the Dolphins to solve if they're going to make a legitimate run at the postseason. They need to shore up their run defense, getting better in short-yardage situations on offense, continue to minimize turnovers and hope for continued improvement from the offensive line, even with Martin's suddenly cloudy situation.

The Dolphins are far from a perfect team. At 4-4, their record says they're average.

But had they lost against Cincinnati, they wouldn't have been merely below average despite their 3-5 record. They would have been tumbling.

The slide has been stopped. Now the Dolphins have to make sure it was the start of a turnaround and not merely a brief interruption.

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