Dolphins on Target After Win : Pro football: Marino-led offense, tough defense too much for Chargers, 24-14, in rematch of AFC playoff game.
On a day when a three-month-old team whipped the world champions and Jim Brown began packing for Baltimore, a late Sunday mist here produced some blessedly familiar NFL sights.
Dan Marino tucking in his lower lip and pumping his fists. Don Shula jogging happily off a field in clunky black shoes. Bryan Cox blowing kisses and curses.
The Miami Dolphins back on the highway marked Super Bowl.
The Dolphins shook off their midseason blues Sunday night while turning the Chargers a noticeably different color in the Dolphins’ 24-14 victory at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Dolphins, with two touchdown passes from Marino and a defense that recorded three sacks and two turnovers, improved to 6-3 with four of their final seven games at home.
The Chargers, who lost Natrone Means early (groin injury) and their composure throughout, fell to 4-5 with as much hope as Leslie O’Neal has hair.
They are four games behind the first-place Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. They must win their remaining seven games to match last season’s record.
The goal of the defending AFC champions is at least a simple one.
“We aren’t thinking playoffs,” said Charger tackle Harry Swayne. “We’re thinking of playing just one game without a fumble. Or a big penalty. Just one game.”
They scored a touchdown on their first drive Sunday, but it was nullified because of a holding penalty on Swayne.
They nearly scored a touchdown on their last drive, but Alfred Pupunu fumbled the ball away at the Dolphin five-yard line.
In between, a third-down offsides penalty on O’Neal led to the Dolphins’ go-ahead field goal early in the fourth quarter. And an interception by quarterback Stan Humphries led to the Dolphins’ clinching touchdown later.
“What do I do, release everybody who fumbles?” said frustrated Coach Bobby Ross.
The Chargers were so generous, the Dolphins’ winning game plan was as basic as the three R’s.
Still smarting from last year’s 22-21 playoff loss here--after blowing a 21-6 halftime lead--they thought of little else this week.
“All year, this was the one game everybody pointed toward,” said Dolphin defensive end Jeff Cross. “If we didn’t do anything else this year, we had to win this game. If nothing else, this meant pride.”
So they chortled that they held the Chargers to 70 yards rushing after giving up 202 last year.
Even though this year, Means, the AFC’s leading rusher before Sunday, left the game after the fifth play because of a strained left groin that will be re-examined today.
“It’s not our fault he couldn’t play,” Cox said. “To say that he was not in there was the reason for our success is to disrespect us. We were showing people something out there.”
At least, they were showing Ronnie Harmon and rookie Terrell Fletcher something. As Means’ replacements, those two combined for 63 yards on 20 carries.
This could have been the game in which Dan Marino became the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage. He needed 329 yards for the 47,004 necessary to pass Fran Tarkenton.
And he acted as if he knew it, completing his first eight passes, barking at teammates, sticking fingers into the chests of coaches during sideline timeouts.
Marino threw to Irving Fryar on a perfect 23-yard slant pass for the Dolphins’ first touchdown.
He found the outstretched arms of Randal Hill on a perfect 50-yard pass to set up the Dolphins’ second touchdown, a five-yard pass to Terry Kirby.
More than anything, he found Charger rookie cornerback Terrance Shaw, who was burned repeatedly.
“They came in tonight, saw that I was a rookie, and said, ‘That’s a freebie, that’s a freebie,’ ” Shaw said.
Marino fell 38 yards short of the mark, but it was not for lack of scowling.
“Believe me, my concentration was doing only what I could do to win the game,” Marino protested.
If that is true, he was not the only one.
“I had no idea Dan was close to some record tonight,” said Gene Atkins, the Dolphin safety whose helmet shot caused Pupunu’s fourth-quarter fumble. “Well, whatever it was, I’m happy for him that he got it.”
The Dolphins knew that the other AFC powers--namely the Chiefs and Raiders--were watching.
They know that few think this team has played near its potential.
They realize it is time to begin convincing.
“We all know there is no way we should have lost to certain teams [New York Jets, New Orleans Saints],” Dolphin center Tim Ruddy said. “There is a feeling here that it’s time to win those sorts of games.”