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Even Jets can’t slow Dolphins

Times Staff Writer

It’s going to be tough to stop the Miami Dolphins now.

The last realistic obstacle in their path to imperfect immortality -- the New York Jets -- came and went Sunday, dropping a 40-13 defeat on the Dolphins as easily as Miami quarterback John Beck dropped the football -- twice -- when he wasn’t throwing it to Jets defenders.

After three interceptions and two lost fumbles by Beck, the Dolphins were left at 0-12 with four games to play. They are the seventh team to open the NFL season with 12 consecutive defeats but the first to get there with seemingly no way out of an indelible 0-16 tag.*

(*The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 because 31 years ago, NFL rules prevented teams from losing more than 14 games during a regular season. That changed in 1978, when the league expanded its regular-season schedule to 16 games. The Buccaneers went on to lose their first 12 games of the 1977 season for an overall 26-game losing streak, but the record does show that Tampa Bay never finished a season worse than 0-14. Sorry, Dolphins fans. Rules are rules.)

Undoubtedly, the Dolphins will not be favored to win any of their final four games: at Buffalo, Baltimore, at New England (NFL has yet to sign off on the mercy rule concept) and Cincinnati.

Incredibly, the Dolphins were favored to win this one. Miami has not won a game since Dec. 10, 2006, and had not scored more than 10 points in a game since Week 7, but the Dolphins were favored by 1 1/2 points to beat the Jets, mainly because of often reliable “Now or Never” and “Time to Show Some Pride” principles of team sports.

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Also, the Dolphins were playing at home.

Instead, Miami suffered its most lop-sided defeat of 2007, losing by 27 points to a Jets team quarterbacked by Kellen Clemens (pre-game passer rating: 56.9), a Jets team that is now 3-9 overall but 1-9 against opponents not named the Miami Dolphins.

Upon review, belonging to a big-league team that plays its home games in or around Miami is no advantage. This summer, the Florida Marlins finished last in the National League East at 71-91, 18 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Sixteen games into their 2007-08 season, the Miami Heat is 4-12, last in the NBA’s Southeast Division.

Also, the Jets did not play fair. Instead of their customary green and white uniforms, the Jets showed up at Dolphin Stadium clad in navy and gold, the “throwback” color scheme of their early-1960s incarnation as the New York Titans. This greatly confused the Dolphins and their coaches. They had spent long, draining hours in the video room last week, specifically preparing for a team dressed in green and white.

In their quest to become the NFL’s first team to end a season 0-16, the Dolphins should closely study the final minutes of two more videotapes: Washington’s 17-16 loss to Buffalo and New Orleans’ 27-23 defeat against Tampa Bay.

The Redskins lost after their Hall of Fame coach, Joe Gibbs, dabbled in this newfangled trend of trying to ice the opposing kicker by calling a timeout just before the ball is snapped on a field-goal attempt. It worked marvelously when Gibbs got his timeout called just before Buffalo’s Rian Lindell converted a 51-yard field-goal try.

Gibbs got so excited he decided to try it again.

Oops.

NFL rules prohibit teams from calling consecutive timeouts to freeze the kicker. Gibbs’ team was penalized 15 yards and Lindell was soon credited with a 36-yard game-winning field goal.

In New Orleans, the Saints had a three-point lead and the ball at midfield with less than four minutes to play, apparently closing in on an NFC South gap-closing victory over first-place Tampa Bay. Once again, a coach trying to protect a lead got a little over-heated. New Orleans’ Sean Payton called for a reverse, which resulted in Reggie Bush making a bad pitch and Tampa Bay’s Jovan Haye recovering the ball at the Saints 37-yard line.

A few plays later, Buccaneers backup quarterback Luke McCown tossed a four-yard pass into the end zone for tight end Jerramy Stevens. Stevens hung onto the ball. With 14 seconds on the clock, Tampa Bay had a four-point victory and a three-game lead over New Orleans in the NFC South standings.

Something that can’t be said every NFL Sunday: The McCown family went undefeated. With Luke completing 29 of 37 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns in relief of the injured Jeff Garcia, older brother Josh McCown completed 14 of 21 for 141 yards and three touchdowns in the Oakland Raiders’ 34-20 triumph over the Denver Broncos.

In other words, the McCown brothers combined to complete 74.1% of their passes for five touchdowns.

And still, Josh did not make the biggest quarterback news in Oakland. No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell stole away that ripple of thunder by playing two series during the second quarter, marking his NFL regular-season debut.

Russell completed four of seven passes for 56 yards and then returned to the bench, Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin turning the game back over to McCown’s efficient passes and handoffs to Justin Fargas. Fargas netted 146 yards in 33 carries, his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance and third in five games.

Denver dropped to 5-7 with the loss, an exercise in bad timing on a day the San Diego Chargers beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, 24-10. That’s a rare occurrence for the Chargers and Chiefs -- before Sunday, the Chargers had won only once in their last 10 trips to Arrowhead Stadium.

With LaDainian Tomlinson running for two scores and passing Walter Payton for No. 3 on the rushing touchdowns list (Tomlinson has 111), San Diego improved to 7-5, two full games ahead of Denver. That means Norv Turner owns as big a first-place lead as Tony Dungy.

And Dungy’s Indianapolis Colts needed four touchdown passes from Peyton Manning to forge that two-game lead in a 28-25 triumph over AFC South rival Jacksonville. Appearances can be deceiving in this league. Through 12 weeks, the Colts’ only defeats had come against New England and as a result of Adam Vinatieri’s rare shanked field goal against San Diego. Meanwhile, Jacksonville had scuffled along with David Garrard’s injury and Quinn Gray’s inexperience and outsider status when it came to any discussion of the NFL’s elite teams. Yet the Jaguars began Sunday only one game behind the Colts -- and lost by three points inside the RCA Dome.

At the same time, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning improved from four interceptions against Minnesota to two in a 21-16 victory against Chicago. He also lost the ball on a fumble, but three turnovers beat four turnovers any day.

Eli also passed for a touchdown. Add that to Peyton’s four and the Manning brothers combined for five scoring passes, which enabled the Mannings to achieve one important key to victory: They kept pace with the McCown brothers.

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christine.daniels@latimes.com

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The lost patrol

The most consecutive games lost at the start of an NFL season. Note: Tampa Bay is the only team to finish season without a win (1976):

*--* 0-14 New Orleans Saints 1980 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976 0-13 Indianapolis Colts 1986 0-13 Oakland Raiders 1962 0-12 Miami Dolphins 2007 0-12 Detroit Lions 2001 0-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1977 *--*


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