The Miami Dolphins had been struggling of late, losing three of their last six games.
But Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, the Dolphins won, 23-17, to assure themselves of the home-field advantage in next week’s wild-card playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It’s always good to win; it gives you momentum,” said Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino, who completed 14 of 26 passes for 192 yards. “But the big thing is that we get to play at home.”
The Dolphins finished with a 12-4 record, their best since they last made the playoffs in 1985.
“We’ve come a long way,” Coach Don Shula said. “There won’t be too many records better than 12-4 in the NFL. We’re one of the top teams.”
The Colts, eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, finished 7-9, their worst record since 1986.
“A lot of people said we were playing for nothing,” said Indianapolis Coach Ron Meyer, who finished with a losing mark for the first time in eight seasons as a pro coach. “I didn’t see it. I thought we played hard.”
Dolphin running back Sammie Smith, inconsistent during his two NFL seasons, carried a career-high 29 times for 108 yards.
“We’ve taken lot of criticism about our running game,” said Smith, who had only 45 yards rushing in the Dolphins’ four losses. “Whenever the line pushes off the ball the way they did today, I can run the ball. It’s as simple as that.”
Smith also scored on a 53-yard touchdown pass play from Marino, Smith’s longest gain as a pro. Smith sneaked over the middle, made the catch in stride and outran the secondary.
“We practiced that play all year but only tried it once before,” Smith said. “The guy who was supposed to cover me (linebacker Jeff Herrod) blitzed, and I knew right away I’d be open for the touchdown.”
Miami also benefited from two plays by defensive end Jeff Cross that produced nine points.
Cross set up the only touchdown of the second half when he rushed in from Colt quarterback Jeff George’s blind side and knocked the ball out of his hands. Lineman Brian Sochia, an eighth-year pro, picked up the fumble and raced 13 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
“I knew it was on the ground, but I couldn’t find it,” Cross said. “Next thing I knew, Sochia scooped it up, and it was six points.”
Miami scored a first-half safety when George was penalized for intentional grounding while trying to elude Cross in the end zone. George, concluding his rookie season, also had two passes intercepted by Jarvis Williams.
Indianapolis scored the final points on a 55-yard field goal by Dean Biasucci--the longest ever against Miami--with 5:18 left.
Only 13 seconds remained by the time the Colts got the ball back at their 20, and the clock ran out after they reached the Dolphins’ 47.
Eric Dickerson gained 110 yards in 20 carries for the Colts. George, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 222 yards, connected on touchdown pass plays of 15 yards to Albert Bentley and 64 yards to Jessie Hester.
“We have some great talent,” George said, looking forward to next season. “It’s just a matter of time before we turn things around.”