Miami Dolphins: put champagne away; not seriously injured, you play

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) is injured on this play late in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016. The Dolphins won, 34-31, in overtime. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is injured on this play late in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Saturday. The Dolphins won, 34-31. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell was one of the first players out of the locker room at Buffalo on Saturday, as he did not play due to an ankle injury.

A reporter waiting for the room to open suggested to Maxwell he should root for Kansas City on Christmas night.

“Maybe you can get an extra week of rest,” I said.

But then I thought more about it. I thought about if the now playoff-bound Dolphins should “rest” or “shut down” any and all players whose bodies might benefit from it in a playoff game at Pittsburgh or Houston on January 7 or 8.

And I changed my mind.

If Maxwell’s recovery puts him in a position that he would have played if this was Week 2 at New England, he should play at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, against the Patriots.

The same guideline should be used for offensive tackle Branden Albert (wrist), running back Jay Ajayi (shoulder), Jermon Bushrod (shoulder), guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder), linebacker Kiko Alonso (hamstring/hand) and any others who have shown admirable toughness in playing through serious pain and injury.

We don’t yet know the extent of injury to safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (described as neck, but he also had his arm in a sling), but his comeback schedule should be consistent with that of any NFL regular-season game.

Because Adam Gase has treated each and every game in an identical fashion.

Win this week. Focus on this week. Go 1-0, this week.

The Miami Dolphins have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and players on social media, understandably, reacted with delight and glee Sunday night.

But Gase, who trained under Alabama coach (and yes, he briefly coached in the NFL) Nick Saban, will likely attempt to refocus his mostly youthful squad, and approach this week like any other.

And yes, as some fans have pointed out, there is still an outside chance Miami could attain the AFC’s number five seed and avoid Pittsburgh and New England in the first two rounds.

A trip to Houston is more advantageous, though nothing for this team is guaranteed.

But it’s about more than that.

These are the Patriots.

This is the team that has humiliated the AFC East, year after year, making the idea of parity, well, a idea.

There are key players who won’t be a part of this ride.

How difficult will it be for center Mike Pouncey to watch, especially if Miami’s playoff game is at Pittsburgh, where his twin brother Maurkice is a standout Steeler?

“Nightmare,” he said.

How difficult will it be for safety Reshad Jones, also out for the season, to watch his team play when neither he nor Pouncey nor many other veteran Dolphins (see: Cameron Wake) have ever suited up on a playoff stage?

The Dolphins are not a dynasty in position to debate resting “healthy” or “healthy enough” players.

Part of Miami’s cultural change has been about instilling more toughness, responsibility and accountability.

Aggressiveness.

The Dolphins have accomplished something and it should not be downplayed, but celebrated — for one night.

But then, all involved should think about what players like Pouncey and Jones would give up for a chance to play for the Dolphins in the playoffs. And how badly would they would wanted to play this Sunday.

If quarterback Ryan Tannehill were considered healthy, there would have been some debate and discussion about if he should suit up or if Matt Moore should be given a chance.

To keep Tannehill healthy. To get Moore some reps.

If he were healthy enough, I suspect Tannehill would have wanted to play. Instead, Tannehill, with ACL and MCL injuries, is doing everything he can to get back onto the field for a playoff game.

Instead, this Sunday is another opportunity for Gase to call plays into Moore’s headset and for Moore to develop further chemistry with his teammates, in case he’s needed in the playoffs.

And yes, Moore deserves the protection of each and every available “healthy-enough” offensive lineman.

This game — the next game, as Gase says and players echo — means a lot, too.

Because it’s the Patriots.

Because it’s 16 of 16, a chance to keep the positive momentum of this unexpected journey moving forward.

An NFL player can be injured in any game, not just ones played with playoff tickets punched.

There is plenty of time to rest and recover in the offseason.

Gase should be the NFL’s Coach of the Year, a win on Sunday or not. Gase has pushed almost every correct button since his arrival (and in brutally honest fashion, publicly admonished himself when he hasn’t).

And so I suspect the Miami Dolphins, clinched or not, champagne popped or not, will go full throttle this week.

If you’re not seriously injured, you play.

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