In a season finale chocked full of more dramatic sub-plots than a John Grisham novel, the Dolphins travel to the Meadowlands to play their most hated rival -- the New York Jets -- for possibly the AFC East title and the rights to host a first-round playoff game.
The loser will most likely be left out in the cold with the wild-card berths going to the Indianapolis Colts and probably the Baltimore Ravens. But it won't be as cold as the Dolphins were in their wild 38-31 victory over the feisty, yet reeling Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at frigid Arrowhead Stadium, where the game-time temperature was 10 degrees with a minus-12 wind-chill factor.
It was the coldest game in Dolphins history and the second coldest at Arrowhead. Miami is now 4-6 when playing in temperatures 25 degrees or less.
"It hurt. It was cold to the core," said defensive end Vonnie Holliday. "Shaking, all stories you hear on TV about the frozen tundra ... the frozen snot and ears.
"On the sideline, guys in their coats jockeying for position to get warm. Can it get any colder? I looked up at the sky and the sun and said, 'You took the day off today. Why are you even out?' It was brutal."
If the 10-5 Dolphins tie the 9-6 Jets, and the 10-5 Ravens lose then Miami would get the wild card. The 9-6 Ravens hold the tiebreaker edge over Miami because of their early-season victory over Miami. If the 10-5 Patriots defeat the Bills on the road and the Dolphins tie or lose, they would win the division.
The Dolphins have completed the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history for a 1-15 team, and are one win shy of tying the 1999 Colts for the largest single-season improvement in one season when Indy went from 3-13 to 13-3.
But it wasn't easy. Miami's defense, which hadn't allowed a touchdown in the previous three games, allowed four touchdowns and a season-high 492 yards to the Chiefs' 26th-ranked offense.
This time, it was quarterback Chad Pennington and the offense that did the bailing out. Pennington threw three touchdown passes -- all to tight ends -- with two to Anthony Fasano and one to David Martin.
After allowing Chiefs quarterback Tyler Thigpen to account for three touchdowns in the first half, including two passes and one run, the defense stiffened in the second half. Miami, the NFL leader entering the game with a plus-12 in turnover ratio, forced four more, including three interceptions.
Tied at 31 after Ricky Williams bounced in from 4 yards out in the third quarter, Pennington directed an 8:33, 85-yard march in the fourth quarter that was capped off by a tough catch by Fasano, who then dragged a couple of K.C. defenders into the end zone for the go-ahead 14-yard touchdown with 4:08 left.
Despite a Williams fumble in the waning moments, safety Renaldo Hill 'iced' the victory with a pick to seal Miami's eighth victory in its last nine games -- and a dramatic showdown with the Jets, who can still win the division with a victory next week and a Patriots loss.
In the season-opening 20-14 loss to the Jets, Miami's backfield tandem of Ronnie Brown and Williams were held to a combined 47 yards on 16 carries. The Jets' pass rush also blew past Miami's inexperienced linemen -- including rookies Jake Long and Donald Thomas -- for four sacks and six hurries of Pennington. Pennington wasn't sacked Sunday for the fourth time this season.
Jets Pro Bowl running back Thomas Jones dashed for 101 yards on 4.6 yards per carry, including an untouched 6-yard touchdown sweep that gave the Jets a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Pennington, who has thrown an AFC-low seven interceptions, including one Sunday, was picked off in the end zone by Jets CB Darrelle Revis to end any chance of averting the season-opening loss.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is the only way fate would have it, right? Just don't think it would happen any other way. There wouldn't be any other scenario. This is how sports works." -- QB Chad Pennington, on playing vs. Brett Favre and his former team Sunday with the division title on the line.
TRENDING: The Dolphins scored a touchdown just 18 seconds into the game Sunday. They have scored touchdowns in the first quarter in each of the last three games and eight of their last nine.