Between the acrimony and the injuries, between the blowout losses and the near-miss defeats, the Miami Dolphins somehow have stayed in the AFC playoff picture to the final weekend.
It hasn't been easy, though.
"There have been so many up and down moments," said tight end Ferrell Edmunds, "you don't know what to expect sometimes."
On Sunday, the Dolphins (8-7) try to rescue a season on the brink when they face the New York Jets (7-8) at Joe Robbie Stadium. The winner goes to the playoffs, the loser goes home. In the final week of the NFL's regular season, this is the only do-or-die game.
That the Dolphins are still alive is remarkable in itself. They have been wracked by contract disputes, injuries and a leaky defense. Five players missed games because of holdouts this season, including University of Maryland alumni J.B. Brown and Edmunds. And 21 have missed games because of injuries, including linebacker John Offerdahl, the team's best defender.
The result is a defense that has been torched for 40 or more points three times -- all blowout losses. The Dolphins also had the misfortune to lose three games by a total of 12 points.
The darkest day of Miami's season, though, was last Sunday in San Diego, when the Dolphins could have clinched the AFC's final playoff berth with a victory. Instead, they blew a 23-10 lead and surrendered four fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 38-30 loss to the Chargers.
"We fell apart," said Brown, a cornerback. "There's no explanation for it. But I don't think there will be any carry-over. This is our last chance to get in the playoffs."
Brown, like the Dolphins, is remarkable for his perseverance. He was a 12th-round draft choice, 315th overall, in 1989. He played for three losing teams at Maryland and had been switched from safety to cornerback at one point. When his Maryland career ended, he wasn't invited to the NFL's combine meetings or to any all-star games.
"A lot of [NFL] teams didn't know the potential I had," Brown said. "That's what it was, potential, because I didn't have the numbers at Maryland."
He made the Dolphins as a nickel back as a rookie. Last year, he became the first Dolphin to earn a starting job as a last-round draft choice, starting all 18 games at right cornerback in a 13-5 playoff season.
Brown missed one game this year because of a preseason holdout, then reclaimed his job in Week 6 and has started every game since then. He has become a mainstay on defense with 48 tackles, seven passes defensed and one interception.
"I've proved to myself I can play in this league, that I can compete on this level," he said.
Edmunds has been to the past two Pro Bowls, but won't go this year. The four-year veteran missed one game with his holdout and then missed seven more with a deep thigh bruise that calcified. It was, he said, the first time in his career an injury had kept him out of a game.
In limited action, he has nine receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown. "In the games I've played in, I've played well," he said.
Edmunds' role as changed. He has been less of a receiver and more of a blocker this season. That's part of the reason Mark Higgs, with 868 yards, has a chance to become the club's first 1,000-yard rusher since Delvin Williams in 1978.
"This year we've got a running game," Edmunds said. "They use me a lot in blocking situations. If that's what it takes for the team to win, I'm willing to accept that role. I look at myself as a pretty good blocker."
The Dolphins-Jets games have been shootouts over the years. The two teams have combined for 60.1 points per game in their past 11 meetings. Typical scores have been 51-45, 40-33, 44-30. Earlier this year, the Jets won in the Meadowlands, 41-23.
"Every time we play them, it's the team with the ball last that wins," Edmunds said.
And the teams that wins Sunday's game lasts.