MIAMI (AP) – Ronnie Brown’s second season in the NFL will end Sunday, when the Miami Dolphins close another playoff-free campaign at Indianapolis.

He’s in no hurry to begin that offseason.

Even with the Dolphins now officially eliminated from postseason contention for a fifth straight year, Brown is eager to get a couple more chances to play this season. Sidelined since breaking his left hand in Miami’s win at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, Brown expected to make his return Christmas night when the Dolphins (6-8) hosted the New York Jets (8-6) in a Monday night matchup of AFC East rivals.

“It’s been three weeks that I haven’t been able to go on the field and feel like I can contribute a little bit,” Brown said. “I finally get the opportunity to go out on the field, so I’m looking forward to it.”

His cast came off and he pronounced himself ready to return to work on Dec. 18, less than 24 hours after the Dolphins were ousted from the playoff mix. Even if the standings say these final two games are meaningless for Miami, Brown seriously begs to differ.

So, too, does Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who said he planned on using the best players available in the season’s final two weeks.

With 783 yards on the ground this season, Brown still had an outside shot of reaching the 1,000-yard mark in 2006 – although he and Sammy Morris, who took over as the starter after Brown got hurt, would likely wind up splitting carries.

over the final two weeks.

And while Morris has certainly performed admirably – he had the Dolphins’ two longest runs from scrimmage this season, a 55-yarder against Detroit and a 44-yarder against New England earlier this month – Miami clearly missed Brown, too.

Miami strung together four straight wins before Brown broke his hand, averaging 23.8 points per game. In the three games with Brown sidelined, the Dolphins went 1-2 and averaged 10.3 points per game.

“Ronnie wants to play,” Saban said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there with his teammates. We want him to play We certainly are not going to put him at risk.”

Brown planned some added precautions for the rest of the season, including wearing a specially made pad under his glove on his left hand to further protect the bone. He did not expect to be impaired either holding – he is left-handed – or catching the football.

“It’s all about how I feel and how comfortable I am with it,” Brown said. “I’m not thinking about it too much. I’m not worrying about what the other team thinks. They’re going to know what the injury is.”

Brown came into the NFL two seasons ago still carrying some disappointment over how Auburn posted a perfect 13-0 record in his final season with the Tigers, yet got no shot at a national championship.

He hasn’t gotten any title shots with the Dolphins yet, either.

But that’s why he wants to play in these final two games, to help Miami build toward making a run in 2007.

“You always want to be in the playoffs,” Brown said. “But we started last year and had some things we had to work on with a new coaching staff and all of that. But we’re getting there. Once we get that continuity as a team, then we’ll be all right.”

AP-ES-12-25-06 1438EST


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