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Chargers Are Short-Circuited Before Destination Is Reached : AFC: Marino throws three touchdown passes in 31-0 victory to end San Diego’s eight-game winning streak and season.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Diego Charger quarterback Stan Humphries talked with Dan Marino for the first time at a social function before last year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis, and Sunday that conversation came back to haunt him.

“He said it meant everything to him to get back to the Super Bowl,” Humphries said. “He said it’s something he dreams about all the time, and I mean I could tell how important it was to him. I saw it in his eyes.”

The Joe Robbie Stadium scoreboard also reflected Marino’s determination. Miami (12-5) blitzed the Chargers, 31-0, in an AFC divisional playoff game with Marino throwing three touchdown passes during the first half before 71,224.

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“We’re one step closer to that goal of winning a Super Bowl,” Marino said. “That’s why this one is nice.”

The Dolphins, who split with Buffalo this season, will play the Bills (13-5) at Miami on Sunday for the AFC championship.

“They didn’t do anything other than what we expected,” Charger Coach Bobby Ross said. “They just did it better.”

San Diego (12-6), which had an eight-game winning streak end, had given up no more than 27 points before Sunday. It was the team’s worst defeat since 1988.

“We came alive and scored some touchdowns,” Miami Coach Don Shula said. “We got some great field position and then took advantage of it with touchdown passes. Marino was outstanding.”

Marino led the Dolphins to Super Bowl XIX in his second NFL season, but San Francisco won, 38-16. For the past seven years, Marino, 31, has played well, but grown older while his opportunities to return to the Super Bowl have slipped away.

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“He’s special,” said Charger General Manager Bobby Beathard. “It shows you what happens when a guy like Marino gets that opportunity. In my mind he’s the best in football, and I thought that before this game.”

The Dolphins’ offense, however, was struggling. In the team’s final 6 1/2 games it had six offensive touchdowns. It needed a boost, and rookie cornerback Troy Vincent provided it.

Vincent, who had battled a stomach virus the past two days, put Marino in position to score the game’s first points by intercepting a Humphries pass intended for Anthony Miller at the San Diego 48-yard line.

“When you make a big play in a game like this, when everybody is watching on national TV, you get excited and the enthusiasm gets to be contagious,” Vincent said. “It just picks the whole team up.”

Marino led his team to the one-yard line after Vincent’s interception. After Bobby Humphrey failed to run it in, Marino faked a handoff to Humphrey and took advantage of a mistake in the Charger secondary to complete a one-yard touchdown pass to running back Tony Paige.

“It was a mess-up in communication,” San Diego safety Darren Carrington said. “I saw Keith Jackson wide open and went to him, hoping someone else would get Paige. But nobody did.”

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A few minutes later Vincent grabbed a pass that had bounced off the hands of Charger wide receiver Nate Lewis and returned it to the San Diego 37-yard line.

On came Marino, who threw 28 yards to Mark Duper and the final nine yards to Jackson. Jackson, who signed with the Dolphins as a free agent after winning his release from Philadelphia in court earlier this season, ran around the end zone to celebrate before handing the ball to a fan in the stands.

“He’s a fine football player who knows a lot about getting open,” Shula said. “The thing that we thought he would give us, which he did today, was that target down the middle of the field. A guy that Dan could go to and count on.”

The Chargers tried to respond before halftime, but Miami linebacker Bryan Cox intercepted a Humphries pass intended for Shawn Jefferson at the San Diego 42-yard line.

“I had one of those days you would like to forget about for the rest of your life,” Humphries said after completing 18 of 44 passes for 140 yards, with four interceptions.

The Dolphins took possession with 54 seconds to play in the second quarter. Marino needed only 27 seconds to push his team ahead, 21-0. He caught the Chargers’ secondary changing coverages and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to an open Jackson.

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“Normally, I just lay out in the flats and catch a lot of those short passes,” Jackson said, “but we saw they were in man-to-man coverage, so I turned it up the field and Danny laid it out for a touchdown.”

The Chargers were in man-to-man coverage, but some were also playing zone.

“We made a change right before the snap, but didn’t really need to make it,” Carrington said. “We were mixed up and we were in both coverages, but nobody picked up Jackson.”

Marino completed 17 of 29 passes for 167 yards, and the Chargers--who led the AFC in sacks--failed to reach him.

“Obviously, he can take his game to a different level when he gets to the playoffs,” Charger linebacker Gary Plummer said. “He wasn’t having a great year, and he came out and did what he had to do to be successful.”

After a scoreless third quarter, the Dolphins added a Pete Stoyanovich 22-yard field goal and Aaron Craver’s 25-yard touchdown run to their scoring totals and began thinking about a rematch with Buffalo.

“We are a very confident team right now,” Cox said. “We don’t have to contend with the cold weather, the flight up there or anything about Buffalo.”

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The Chargers’ joy ride came to an abrupt stop after advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

“I’ve been through worse than this,” Humphries said. “I’ll be back, and we’ll be back in this position next year. We played well for 13 or 14 weeks and had an excellent year.

“I hate for it to end this way, and I hate to let down 46 guys who laid it out there today. I just didn’t lay it out there with them.”

The Chargers gained 202 yards, their lowest output since their regular-season opener against Kansas City. They got no closer to the Miami goal line than the Dolphin 40.

“I would have bet my last dollar that this would never happen to us,” Plummer said. “But it did.”

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