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The Dolphins Won a Game and Put Their Tank in Jeopardy

Miami, a team trying to lose, beat the Jets, a team trying to win. Now New York is only second to the Bengals in the race for the top pick.

NFL: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

They don’t call it Fitzmagic for nothing. When the Dolphins named Ryan Fitzpatrick their permanent starter in mid-October, they were tempting fate. Because while the 36-year-old veteran isn’t too much of an upgrade over Josh Rosen, he is such a high-variance quarterback that it was only a matter of time before he put a dent in the Dolphins’ apparent goal of tanking their season away to secure the no. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. That finally happened on Sunday in Miami’s 26-18 win over the Jets.

In a game between the two lowest-scoring offenses in the league, Fitzpatrick put together a classic performance, driving the Dolphins to a big halftime lead that the team never relinquished. The 15th-year pro rifled passes to his corps of relative no-name receivers, completing 24 of 36 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

The Dolphins no longer have to worry about the embarrassment of an 0-16 season, but now they have to worry about something else: not getting the no. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Miami’s win will put their historic tank job in jeopardy. The Dolphins won a battle that may cost them the war.

The race for the no. 1 overall pick is suddenly extremely messy. As the only winless team left in the league, the 0-8 Bengals are in the pole position, but this is really a five-team race. After Cincinnati and Miami, the Jets, Falcons, and Redskins all have one win and are neck-and-neck for the draft pick that could deliver an elite quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Jake Fromm, or another elite passer in what is shaping up to be an exciting draft class.

It’s worth reiterating that the first tiebreaker for draft position isn’t head-to-head results, so the Dolphins’ loss to the Redskins in Week 6, for example, doesn’t mean Miami would jump Washington should both teams finish with the same record. The first tiebreaker is strength of schedule, as measured by the record of a team’s opponents; the team that has an easier strength of schedule will be awarded the better picks. Based on betting odds, the Jets have the easiest projected season-long strength of schedule among this group of bottom feeders, followed by the Bengals, Redskins, Dolphins, and Falcons. Suddenly, it’s hard to imagine Miami is the favorite for the no. 1 overall pick anymore—the Bengals and the Jets are the most likely candidates.

Speaking of the Jets, their embarrassment ran deep in this one. Sam Darnold threw only one interception, but it came on one of the worst throws you’ll ever see:

This is the type of turnover Darnold has made all too often in his two seasons. Even New York’s offensive line was fed up with the quarterback—who finished 27-of-39 for 260 yards, one touchdown, and one pick—jawing with him after a botched snap-turned-safety where Darnold appeared to not be paying attention. New York committed 10 penalties for 105 yards. It was a top-to-bottom mess, best summarized by this image of head coach Adam Gase sitting on the bench with his head in a notebook, completely ignored by the rest of his staff:

New York City radio blowhards and Jets fans alike are calling for Gase’s head on a pike. It’s hard to blame them, because while the Dolphins are seemingly attempting to be as bad as possible, the Jets came into the season trying to compete. Sunday’s result was a minor setback for Miami, but it was a complete disaster for New York.