DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins came to work Monday still alive in the AFC playoff race, which surprised them.
If the season ended today ...
Given the team's 7-8 record and poor performances in the past two games, it was difficult for even the Dolphins to think of themselves as a potential playoff team.
Not that the Dolphins should get their hopes up -- they're the longest of long shots. Merely explaining what must happen for them to reach the playoffs is a tall order.
"I have no idea," tight end Anthony Fasano said. "I don't know if many people do know. Everyone ahead of us needs to lose?"
That's a good guess. To earn a wild-card berth, the Dolphins must win their regular-season finale Sunday against Pittsburgh (8-7) while four other wild-card contenders lose.
"We're still alive," coach Tony Sparano said with a notable lack of enthusiasm. "A lot of things have got to happen. You just worry about winning the game instead of anything else."
The week before, Miami fell behind Tennessee 24-6 before rallying and losing in overtime, 27-24.
A team that once showed a knack for fast starts has lately stumbled out of the gate, as if 1 p.m. kickoffs caught them by surprise. Sparano's voice rose in anger as he discussed the problem and the team's failure to heed his prodding.
"You start to stand around waiting for somebody to make the play, which is exactly what I talked about last week: 'Don't stand around and wait for somebody else to do it. You be the guy,'" Sparano said.
He declined to use injuries as an excuse, although the list has become long. The latest additions include inside linebacker Channing Crowder and running back Ricky Williams, both sidelined Sunday.
Crowder came out after two plays with a right foot injury and was on crutches Monday, suggesting he's unlikely to be available against the Steelers. Williams missed most of the second half with a sore right shoulder but said the injury wasn't serious.
Sparano anticipates motivation will be easy to find.
"After what happened out there Sunday, I would hope it's not very hard to regroup and bounce back," he said. "There are a lot of prideful players in that locker room. They have been gritty and feisty the entire year. That didn't happen yesterday in the first half. I think when your feelings get hurt a little bit, there's only one way to answer that. You bounce back. That's what we'll do."
"I take great pride in the fact our team gets better as the season goes on," Sparano said. "We didn't get better in that phase. I take that personally."
The Dolphins have one more game to get it right. Sparano said he'll go all-out to win and won't use the regular-season finale as a chance to audition young reserves for next season.
"This game is an important game to me," he said. "It's not a preseason game."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press