MINNEAPOLIS - They have the NFL's rushing leader, the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year and four other Pro Bowl selections.
And the Miami Dolphins still might not make the playoffs.
The late-season swoon that has haunted this franchise for the past six seasons returned with a vengeance yesterday in a 20-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.
Vikings kicker Gary Anderson's 53-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining ended any realistic hopes the Dolphins (9-6) had of earning a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Instead, the Dolphins must win next Sunday at New England (8-6) to capture the AFC East title and guarantee a playoff berth.
"I feel awful right now," Miami's Rob Konrad said. "It seems like it happens to us every year at this time of the year."
While the AFC playoff scenarios will remain muddled until after today's games, the Dolphins risk missing the postseason if they finish 9-7.
"Either we win next week in New England or we could be sitting home for New Year's," said Miami defensive end Jason Taylor. "We are too good to do that. We've got to get going. We need to come ready to play next Sunday and take it to them."
That didn't happen against the Vikings (5-10).
"This is one of those questions you're going to ask yourself every day: How did we lose this game?" Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael said. "We are a much better team than they are. We've got to go back to the drawing board."
Minnesota controlled the clock for 35:54, longer than any other Dolphins opponent this season, while limiting NFL rushing leader Ricky Williams to 67 yards on 15 carries. The Dolphins' offense ran only 39 plays - the lowest total in any NFL game this season - as the defense struggled to get off the field.
The biggest plays for Minnesota's offense involved quarterback Daunte Culpepper (20-for-29 passing for 244 yards), wide receiver Randy Moss (seven catches, 110 yards) or both.
With the Dolphins holding a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, Moss streaked past defensive backs Jamar Fletcher and Shawn Wooden for a 60-yard reception. Three plays later, Moss took a handoff and tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver D'Wayne Bates.
The Dolphins weren't as efficient in their subsequent trip inside Minnesota's red zone. A third-down pass from quarterback Jay Fiedler to wide receiver Cris Carter was tipped away, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a 25-yard Olindo Mare field goal that tied the score at 17 with 6:09 remaining.
"I saw Cris move in on a linebacker and knew he was going to pivot back out," said Fiedler, who had earlier touchdown throws to Chris Chambers and Jed Weaver.
That series marked the last legitimate scoring chance the Dolphins would have, as the Vikings proceeded to chew up 5:52 on a 12-play drive. Minnesota was ready to punt on fourth-and-two from the Dolphins' 45-yard line with 2:07 left, but Vikings coach Mike Tice changed his mind and called for a keeper by Culpepper.
Rather than scramble toward the sideline like the Dolphins had expected from film study, Culpepper quickly turned up the field and plowed ahead for 3 yards. The Vikings then reached the Dolphins' 35 before turning to the 43-year-old Anderson, who hadn't made a field goal from 53 yards since 1998.
"That's about as far as he could kick it," Tice said of the NFL's oldest player. "I think he dropped a kidney out there after he kicked the thing."
Alex Marvez is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.