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It Takes Time, but Dolphins Eventually Win

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 40 runs, 209 rushing yards and scoring the game-winning touchdown in overtime, Miami tailback Lamar Smith had one more load to carry:

His coach, Dave Wannstedt.

Wannstedt grabbed Smith in the locker room as no Indianapolis Colt had done on the field, locking arms and legs around his back’s back and riding him toward the NFL’s second-round roundup.

“I told Lamar, ‘You’re carrying us all, starting with me,’ ” Wannstedt said.

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Next stop: The OK Corral in Oakland.

Miami won a date against the Raiders next weekend because Smith refused to lose Saturday, carrying his team to a 23-17 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts at Pro Player Stadium before a crowd of 73,193.

“Unbelievable, that’s all I can say,” Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said of Smith.

Smith’s 17-yard run in overtime won a first-round wild-card game that was the Colts’ to lose.

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Indianapolis (10-7) led 14-0 at the half, 14-7 after three quarters and 17-10 until the final minute, when Fiedler’s nine-yard scoring pass to Jed Weaver with 34 seconds left tied the score, 17-17.

Even then, the Colts had it won.

Indianapolis got the ball at its own 20 with 28 seconds remaining and had three timeouts left, the wind at its back, one of the game’s best kickers on the sideline and Peyton Manning at quarterback.

But Colt Coach Jim Mora decided to run out the clock and take his chances in overtime.

“That was the right thing to do, trust me,” Mora said later.

Must we?

Mora looked to be right when his Colts held the Dolphins on downs in overtime. The Colts then drove down the field and Manning connected with receiver Marvin Harrison on a 12-yard pass at the Miami 31 to set up kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who had missed two field goals all season and had just made one from 50 yards.

The Colts’ traveling secretary might as well have picked up the phone and started booking plans for Tennessee, next week’s opponent had Indianapolis won, but Vanderjagt chili-dipped his 49-yard attempt like some weekend duffer. It went wide right.

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“I caught some turf before I hit the ball and that’s what made it go right,” Vanderjagt explained. “I was born to be in that situation. I let my teammates down, I let the organization down, I let the city of Indianapolis down. It’s a pretty big burden to carry into the off-season, but nothing can change that now.”

Miami, which won the AFC East and improved to 12-5 after being picked to finish last by many, saw Vanderjagt’s miss as a sign of its on-going destiny.

This hasn’t been the prettiest team to watch and Wannstedt is never going to be mistaken for Sid Gillman.

His teams, at Chicago and in Miami, prefer the grind-it-out approach.

“This is what I believe in,” Wannstedt said. “From a philosophy standpoint, nothing’s changed.”

Thus, Wannstedt would have been happy with a rudimentary, game-ending field goal, but Smith would have none of that.

Fiedler, shaking off a horrible first half, worked his team down to the Indianapolis 17 and then handed off to Smith one more time to set up an Olindo Mare field-goal attempt.

But Smith bounced the run outside, hit the gas and ran past defensive back Jeff Burris into the end zone for the game-winning score with 3:34 left in overtime.

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“I knew there was nothing inside so I kinda sat down and played possum,” Smith said. “I acted like I was going inside, then I bounced outside and had some great blocks downfield, when I cut back inside and there was nothing but green grass in front of me.”

Who could have predicted this? Smith has powered the plodding Dolphin offense all year, picking up as many welts as yards in gaining 1,139 yards with a 3.7 yards-per-carry average.

Saturday, though, he outran Dolphin lore. His 209 yards were the most in team playoff history, smashing Larry Csonka’s previous record of 145 yards set in Super Bowl VIII.

“I didn’t have any idea the game was going to end up like it did today with me playing such a large role,” Smith said.

Neither could have the Colts imagined it.

They played almost a perfect game in many ways: no turnovers and only one 10-yard penalty.

The Colts’ mistake was not taking enough advantage of the opposing quarterback, scoring only 11 points off of three first-half Fiedler interceptions.

“Yeah, we had our chances in the first half,” Manning said later.

Fiedler left the field in the first half to a smattering of boos, with some chanting for backup quarterback Damon Huard.

Fiedler said the heckling bothered him “not at all. I wasn’t playing very well early on.”

Fiedler praised the fact that his teammates didn’t turn on him at the half.

“They were saying, ‘Just shrug it off,’ ” Fiedler said.

Fiedler could also thank the Dolphin defense, which held the Colts to a second-half field goal while he was working out of his funk.

It won’t be an easy off-season for Indianapolis, which had won three consecutive games before Saturday’s and is being touted as the NFL’s team of the future.

It is the past that will haunt the Colts today. Mora coached his 221st game in the NFL and still is looking for his first playoff win. Of the 27 coaches who have won 100 or more games in the NFL, Mora is the only one who has never won a playoff game.

Mora’s record dropped to 0-6 after Saturday’s loss. He was 0-4 with New Orleans and is 0-2 in Indianapolis.

“I don’t feel snakebit at all,” Mora said. “We just have to get better so we can get the job done. There is no such thing as being snakebit. Either you get it done or you don’t.”


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