What would you do if you were lying flat back on your back and an opponent was stomping on your throat?
Charger defensive tackle Joe Phillips reacted violently Sunday afternoon late in the third period at Joe Robbie Stadium. And the resulting penalty may have cost his team a football game.
The Chargers were leading by 11 points in a game they eventually lost, 31-28. They had just forced Miami quarterback Dan Marino to throw 3 straight incomplete passes at his 15-yard line.
In quarterback Mark Malone’s Charger debut as a starter, San Diego scored 4 offensive touchdowns in the first 3 periods, only 2 fewer than it managed in its first 6 games.
But suddenly Phillips was aware of a Dolphin, who turned out to be right guard Harry Galbreath, on top of him.
“All I remember was somebody’s foot was in my throat,” Phillips said. “So I went after him. I guess my lower brain took over. I don’t remember what I did to the guy. They told me I punched him. When I came off the field the coaches asked me if it was worth it.”
Said Galbreath: “He was rushing me on the play and I turned him and put him down. He got mad and then I stepped on him.”
On purpose? “Not really,” Galbreath said.
Whatever, it was the break the Dolphins needed. Though Marino’s third-down pass was incomplete, Phillips was called for a personal foul, giving the Dolphins a first down.
Marino, who passed for 300 yards for the first time this year, needed just 8 plays to drive the Dolphins 85 yards. Lorenzo Hampton’s 2-yard dive over left tackle drew Miami to within 28-24.
Four plays later Charger running back Lionel James lost his second fumble of the half when Reyna Thompson knocked the ball loose and Don McNeal recovered at the Miami 41. This time Marino (26 of 45 for 329 yards) led Miami to the end zone in 4 plays. The big gain was a 51-yard completion to Mark Duper who beat Charger cornerback Elvis Patterson badly.
When running back Troy Stradford raced around right end for 3 yards and a touchdown, the Dolphins (4-3) necessary to secure their third straight win. The Chargers (2-5) were unable to get to within field goal range in the last 11 minutes.
“All penalties are dumb,” said Ron Lynn, Chargers’ defensive coordinator. “And this was obviously at a very inopportune time.”
The Chargers squandered a 14-0 lead at home against the Saints last week. This time they blew an 11-point lead with 15 minutes left.
But Malone, subbing for injured Babe Laufenberg, had 25 completions in 38 attempts for 294 yards and spearheaded an offense that outgained the Dolphins 396 yards to 375. It was the Charger offense’s highest total of the season and the first time it has outproduced an opponent.
The Chargers entered the game ranked 28th in the league in total yardage and points scored. Gary Anderson, their leading rusher, was on the bench with a thigh injury. But they deployed three wide receivers at the outset and hustled 87 yards on 7 plays with the opening kickoff to score on a 15-yard fade pattern from Malone to rookie wide receiver Quinn Early.
The Dolphins answered with 6-yard touchdown pass from Marino to Duper late in the first period. And they went ahead 10-7 midway through the second period on a 22-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz.
But Malone scored on a 1-yard dive and 4 plays after Leonard Coleman recovered a Stradford fumble, Malone spotted rookie Darren Flutie over the middle on an adjusted route for a 21-yard touchdown. That made it 21-10 at halftime.
The teams exchanged third period touchdowns, Curtis Adams’ 1-yard run canceling out Hampton’s 2-yard burst off right tackle. Hampton’s score was set up by James’ lost fumble of a Reggie Roby punt.
“Maybe this was the beginning of something worthwhile,” said Jerry Rhome, Charger offensive coordinator.
Then again, perhaps it was just another kick in the throat.