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Dolphins need to beat Titans so they can focus on goal of division title

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gestures while walking off the field on Sunday.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gestures while walking off the field on Sunday.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. >> Coach Mike McDaniel’s Miami Dolphins have done a lot of winning this season: They’re 9-3 for the first time in 22 years and are tied for the best record in the AFC. They’ve outscored opponents 384-266 with an offense that leads the NFL in passing, yards per play, yards per rush and red-zone efficiency.

What does McDaniel think of that?

“Call me when it’s a 13-game season,” he said. “That’s all nice, but we have a job to do today. If we shortchange and are worried about anything other than the Tennessee Titans when we’re game planning … then all those conversations and stories literally don’t matter at all.”

Hosting a playoff game is the Dolphins’ long-term goal as they try to close in on their first division title since 2008. This week’s only focus is beating the Tennessee Titans (4-8) on Monday night.

The Titans have just one victory since Oct. 29 and are winless on the road.

Coach Mike Vrabel has insisted his team will not coast to the season’s finish line, despite performing well below expectations.

“You put a lot into it every week,” Vrabel said Wednesday, “and sometimes you put a lot into it and you lose a close game and that’s disappointing. But you’ve got to pick yourself back up. You’ve got to answer the bell. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, especially the Dolphins. And it’s a very good football team. We have to get ready and prepare. A lot of different looks, so there’s a lot to cover.”

The Dolphins have won three straight games and have yet to lose at home, where they are averaging 38.8 points.

Tua Tagovailoa has passed for 3,457 yards and 24 touchdowns. For his career, he’s 18-4 as a starter at Hard Rock Stadium. That .818 winning percentage is the best among active quarterbacks with at least 20 starts at home.

Will Levis, Tennessee’s rookie starter, has 1,266 yards passing with seven touchdowns and two interceptions, and he has caught McDaniel’s attention.

“You watch how guys play with him on the field and you can tell he’s earned the respect of veteran players,” McDaniel said. “And you either have that or you don’t. As a quarterback, there’s nowhere to hide. So it’s cool to watch him progress and I think he is capable of making, I think pretty much every throw.”

LIMITING HILL

Tyreek Hill is coming off a game in which he caught five passes for 157 yards, with touchdowns of 78 and 60 yards. His 1,481 yards receiving are the most by a player through 12 games in the Super Bowl era.

“He’s having an MVP-caliber season,” Titans defensive back Elijah Molden said. “I feel like we have to simplify our defense and make Tua check it down and be great tacklers on the perimeter.”

Vrabel said the Titans won’t be able to replicate Miami’s speed in practices leading up to the game, but they’ll need to work on being sound in their tackling and being in the right spots to limit Hill’s production.

“We’re going to need some extra people to help,” Vrabel said, “and to take great angles, and use your leverage and your help, and all those different things that we talk about when tackling.”

LONGEST GAME IN NFL HISTORY

Tennessee and Miami last played at Hard Rock Stadium in Week 1 of the 2018 season in what became the longest game in NFL history at 7 hours, 8 minutes because of two lightning delays. The Titans had someone getting miniature pizzas from a concession stand to help keep players fed during the delays.

The Dolphins won, 27-20, helped by two kickoffs returned for touchdowns in Vrabel’s head coaching debut.

“Certainly interesting and unique way to start my NFL coaching career,” Vrabel said.

SPECIAL CONCERNS

Vrabel fired special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman on Monday after the Titans had two punts essentially blocked last week against Indianapolis. The first was returned for a touchdown, while the second — on Tennessee’s next attempt — was knocked away before the rusher crashed into punter Ryan Stonehouse’s left leg. Stonehouse will have season-ending surgery, and the Titans signed undrafted rookie Ty Zentner to the practice squad Wednesday.

New special teams coach Tom Quinn, who will oversee the group the rest of this season after joining the Titans as a special teams assistant this offseason, said Zentner will be the team’s holder Sunday.

PROTECT LEVIS

The 33rd pick overall out of Kentucky now has as many starts as Ryan Tannehill this season, and Levis has been sacked just as many times as his predecessor. The Titans gave up six sacks last week, and Miami comes in tied with Buffalo and the Chargers for the third-most sacks this season. The Titans are hoping to protect Levis better with an offensive line that has used eight starting combinations through the first 11 games. This will be the third straight game for a unit anchored by a pair of rookies in left tackle Jaelyn Duncan and left guard Peter Skoronski, the 11th overall pick.

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