On Sunday, Sept 22nd, 2002, the Dolphins finally broke the 8
game losing streak to the Jets with a performance that was every bit
as good as any Dolphins' fan could possibly imagine. In a complete
game, with excellent performances by the offense, defense, and special
teams, the Dolphins used the power running of Ricky Williams as the
basis for a ground game that has come alive for the first time in
many, many years.
The day was sunny, with a game time temperature of 90 degrees
and humidity of 65%. During the course of the game, scattered clouds
occasionally rolled over, offering some relief, but overall, it was a
hot, sunny day in Miami.
There was only one major change to the Dolphins' starting
lineup - Jamar Fletcher started in place of Patrick Surtain at left
cornerback. The Dolphins added Trent Gamble to the nickel package, to
On special teams the Dolphins were without Scott McGarrahan,
Patrick Surtain and Twan Russell. David Bowens returned to the
lineup, however, and was in on both special teams and in the defensive
The Jets were without their starting free safety Damien
Robinson and ended up using rookie John McGraw in his place.
On the first play of the game, the Dolphins showed that they
were going to be trying some different things to beat the Jets. On
the opening kickoff, the Dolphins lined up as if they were going to
try an onsides kick - they grouped all their players in a small group
to the right of Olindo, except for Shawn Wooden who lined up on the
When Olindo kicked, he tried to angle it a little bit to his
right, on the side were the Dolphins had grouped their players. On
some of his kickoffs, he kicked deep, but a couple of others he kicked
a little shallower. None were onsides kicks, but all these changes
forced the Jets out of their normal blocking schemes and disrupted
Chad Morton of the Jets still had a decent return average, but
he did not break any returns long enough to give the Jets a big lift
or change the course of the game. His longest return of the day was
31 yards, which is good but nothing that would change the course of a
The Jets started the game with the ball and drove from their
35 after the first kickoff to the Miami 29, mostly on short passes to
Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin. They tried to establish the running
game with Martin, but the Miami defense contained Martin well, and his
running was not a big factor.
During this series, Miami established the defensive pattern
they would use for most of the game. They played a little less direct
man-to-man coverage than they usually do in pass defense and sent more
blitzes at Testaverde. They changed up on schemes and threw the Jets
more looks than they normally do. Following the game, Coach Wannstedt
said that the defense has used some new formations and plays that they
hadn't used yet this season, to help confuse the Jets' offense.
At the end of the Jets' first drive, on 3rd and 2 from the
Miami 29, Adewale Ogunleye came around the Jets' right tackle and
sacked Testaverde with pure speed to force a 4th down. The Jets
decided against trying the 49 yard field goal and instead punted.
However, Matt Turk's punt came down at the Miami 17 yard line, giving
the Jets a net punt of only 15 yards.
The Dolphins first possession went 3 and out as it was obvious
that the Jets' defense was very fired up. The Dolphins punted to the
Jets, who started at their 42 after the punt went out of bounds. The
Jets couldn't get much going, however, and after David Bowens nailed
Curtis Martin in the Jets' backfield on 3rd and 3 for a 3 yard loss,
the Jets punted back to the Dolphins.
Starting at their 20 after an 11 yard punt return by Albert
Johnson, the Dolphins put together a decent drive that ran all the way
to the Jets' 33 yard line before Jay Fiedler was sacked on 3rd and 3
to end the possession. This drive was unique because the Dolphins
lined James McKnight up at wide receiver on one play and ran a reverse
to him and lined him up at tailback on another play and just handed
off to him. He ended up carrying the ball twice on that drive for 12
yards. They didn't use him again in that capacity, but it was an
interesting wrinkle in Norv's offense.
After the Fiedler sack, the Dolphins were forced to settle for
an Olindo Mare' 53 yard field goal that put the Dolphins ahead 3-0
with 3:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The Dolphins' kickoff was a touchback and the Jets' started
from their 20. After two runs by Curtis Martin for a total of 3
yards, the Jets dropped back to pass on third and 7 from the Miami 23.
Testaverde tried to hit his tight end to his right, but Shawn Wooden
had the play diagnosed and dove in front of Becht for an interception.
Wooden then jumped up and raced to the endzone for an apparent
However, a coaches challenge from the Jets was upheld by the
officials and they ruled that Shawn had been touched just after he
caught the ball and was down by contact at the Jets’ 26.
That turned out to only delay the score because after Ricky
raced up the middle of the Jets’ defense for 16 yards to the 10,
Jay Fiedler found Randy McMichael 2 steps ahead of Mo Lewis in the
endzone for a touchdown.
The Dolphins were now ahead 10-0, with 50 seconds remaining in
the first quarter.
The ensuing kickoff was a perfect squib kick by Mare’ and
Chad Morton was downed at the 10, but the Dolphins were penalized for
being offsides and had to re-kick. On the next kick, it looked like
Morton hit a nice 39 yard return, but that was called back on a
holding penalty on the Jets and they started at their 10 yard line.
After a pass to Chrebet gave the Jets a first down at their
20, the Dolphins opened the 2nd quarter with Derrick Rodgers picking
off a pass meant for Chrebet at the Jets’ 20 yard line. Rodgers
returned the interception to the Jets’ 12, but the Dolphins
couldn’t punch it in when a pass to Robert Edwards on 3rd down fell
incomplete. The Dolphins ended up settling for a field goal and a
The ensuing kickoff was again done from the "fake onsides"
formation, but this time the ball came down around the 18 and Morton
returned it to the 42. The Jets, with good field position, put
together their only scoring drive of the day.
However, this scoring drive was fueled mostly by Dolphins'
errors. On 3rd and 1, a Testaverde pass fell incomplete, but Sam
Madison was called for holding, giving the Jets a first down. On the
next play, there was a somewhat questionable pass interference call on
Jamar Fletcher that moved the ball from the Miami 44 to the Miami 19.
After a 13 yard run by Lamont Jordan to the Miami 6 - the longest
Jets' run of the day - the Dolphins' defense stiffened and stopped the
Jets, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
The score was now 13-3 with 9:34 remaining in the first half
and would remain 13-3 until the fourth quarter. The remainder of the
first half went back and forth between Miami and the Jets with each
team having 2 short drives that ended in punts. The only play of note
in these 4 series was a 36 yard completion to Randy McMichael who got
loose in the seam of the Jets' pass defense.
The Dolphins did get the ball back with 1:45 remaining in the
first half and drove from their 29 to the Jets' 13 with their 2 minute
offense, the big play being a 23 yard completion to Oronde Gadsden
over the middle, which Gadsden snagged out of the air with one hand on
a leaping grab. It was a highlight reel catch and if you haven't seen
it, it's on NFL.com
Unfortunately, Gadsden's big catch would turn out to be for
naught, because, after moving to the Jets' 13, Jay Fiedler threw 3
consecutive incompletions and Olindo Mare' missed a 31 yard field goal
attempt off the infield dirt at the west end of Joe Robbie Stadium.
The first half ended with the Dolphins up 13-3 and dominating
in most categories. They had 178 yards of offense, compared to the
Jets' 107 and lead in most other categories as well. The most
significant difference, however, was that the Jets had turned the ball
over twice on two Vinny Testaverde interceptions, while the Dolphins
had committed no turnovers.
In the first half, Ricky Williams had 41 yards rushing at 5.1
yards per carry, but had not been a significant factor. That would
change in the second half.
In previous games, the Jets had owned the second half,
especially the fourth quarter, so the fact that the Jets were behind
by 10 points was not overly comforting to me. At halftime, the
Dolphins were clearly outplaying the Jets, but the second half was
where the Dolphins fell down in the recent past.
The second half started with a long Dolphins' drive based on
the running of Ricky Williams that eventually sputtered at the Jets'
47 on 3 incomplete passes by Jay Fiedler. The ensuing punt was downed
by David Bowens at the Jets' 11.
Sidebar: Fiedler did throw a lot of incompletions on the day,
but he was playing smart and didn't try to force the ball into tight
coverage. He threw away a number of passes where no one was open and
also had 4 dropped balls. Overall, even though his numbers were not
unusually impressive, he had an excellent game.
The Jets responded on their first possession of the 2nd half
with a long drive of their own, put together with short passes and
short runs. However, after Jason Taylor dragged down Lamont Jordan
for a 3 yard loss at the Jets' 49 on 2nd down, Vinny Testaverde missed
Wayne Chrebet on 3rd down and the Jets punted to the Dolphins.
With 5:20 remaining in the 3rd quarter, the Dolphins started
at their 8 where the Jets' had managed to down the ball on the punt.
The Dolphins then put together another long drive on the runs of Ricky
Williams and a couple of nice catches by Chris Chambers and Randy
McMichael, which took the Dolphins down to the Jets' 16.
However, after Todd Wade jumped prematurely on first down and
Ricky Williams was dropped for a 7 yard loss by John Abraham on the
next play, the Dolphins suddenly found themselves facing a 3rd and 18
at the Jets' 24. The Dolphins tried to cross up the Jets by running
the draw to Robert Edwards, but only managed to gain back 13 of the 18
yards they needed and were forced to kick a field goal, widening the
lead to 16-3.
Perhaps more important than the score, the drive had consumed
8:31 and gone from 5:20 remaining in the 3rd to 11:49 left in the 4th
quarter. Taking the time off the clock and wearing down the Jets'
defense with a long drive would pay dividends very soon.
The Jets took the kickoff at their 20 after a touchback and
launched a drive that only took them out to their 48, mostly on one 18
yard completion to Chrebet, before the Dolphins stopped them. They
punted and the ball was downed by Morton at the Miami 19 with 8:43
left to play.
What happened next was something that Miami fans have been
promised for many years and haven't really seen since the 1970s. The
Miami running game (meaning Ricky Williams, of course) took over and
ended the game.
From their 19, Fiedler handed off to Williams 4 times in a
row, for runs of 4, 7, 3 and 1 yards, out to the 34. Then Jay Fiedler
hit Randy McMichael on a play-action pass on 3rd down for 13 yards to
keep the drive alive at the Miami 47 yard line. On this pass,
McMichael caught the ball about 3 yards short of the first down near
the right sideline and was hit by a Jet defender, but shook off the
tackle, spinning to his right and ran upfield for another 10 yards
before being brought down.
It looked like McMichael would be down short of the first
down, but he managed to keep the drive alive. This catch turned out
to be crucial as the Dolphins were wearing down the Jets with the run
and tiring them out.
There was now 5:04 remaining in the game and the Dolphins had
a first down on their own 47. Fiedler turned and handed off to Ricky,
who started by running towards the center of the line. He then cut
back towards the right tackle and darted through a big hole past the
line of scrimmage and then turned it on upfield. Gadsden hit a block
on a defensive back and suddenly, Ricky was behind the entire defense,
outrunning the defensive backs, who slid off his back when they tried
to grab him. 53 yards later, Ricky cruised into the endzone after the
longest touchdown run of his NFL career, slamming the door shut on the
Jets and the jinx that had plagued Miami for the past 4 years.
All of a sudden, it was Miami who owned the 4th quarter and
the Jets who were shaking their heads in frustration at the turn of
events. With 4:54 remaining in the game, the Dolphins were ahead 23-3
and it would take 3 touchdowns for the Jets to take the lead. More
important than the score, however, was the obvious fact that the
Dolphins were in total control of the game. But if Ricky's run wasn't
enough to firmly implant that in everyone's mind, the next series
would be the icing on the cake for the Dolphins.
Following the kickoff, the Jets started at their 29 and two
quick passes moved them to their 41. But on 1st and 10, Jason Taylor
came around end and, from behind, batted the ball out Vinny
Testaverde's hand. He followed that up by falling on the ball at the
Jets 26 and after getting up was knocked down at the 21.
The Dolphins put Travis Minor in the game at this point and
gave Ricky a rest. From the Jets' 21, Travis ran 4 times in a row,
ending with a 5 yard touchdown run that made the score 30-3 and
officially made the game a blowout, with 1:55 remaining in the game.
The Jets had the ball for one more series, but let Chad
Pennington take the beating instead of Vinny. He did manage to move
the ball to the Miami 26, but with only 8 seconds left in the game,
his pass to the endzone was picked off by Brock Marion, who looked
like he might score on his runback, but eventually was tripped up
after 62 yards at the Jets' 35.
The final 30-3 score was immensely satisfying to the Dolphins'
fans who stayed through the entire game in the hot Florida sun to
watch the jinx get destroyed on Sunday afternoon.
It is too early to tell if this Dolphins' team is truly
different than past Dolphins' teams, but there is at least one major
difference this year from the past 4 years - the Dolphins beat the
Nearly everything the Dolphins did was good on Sunday, from
the game planning to the execution to the decisions made during the
game by the offense and defense.
Starting with the running game, the Dolphins wisely stuck with
it, even though it was not especially overpowering in the first half,
picking up 57 rushing yards on 12 carries. However, the team ended
the day with 211 total rushing yards at a 6.0 yard-per-carry pace.
That means that the Dolphins picked up 154 rushing yards in the 2nd
The passing game was not as impressive as the running game,
but contributed what it had to and there were several important plays
- such as the first touchdown to Randy McMichael. The Dolphins
receivers got open and made some excellent catches and Jay Fiedler
didn't throw an interception.
In the turnover department, the offense and special teams did
not commit a turnover on Sunday. You can't play any better than that.
The Dolphins also converted 43% of their third downs in the
game and 66% in the 2nd half, when it counted most. And the Dolphins
controlled the time of possession, holding the ball for 32:52.
On defense, the run defense did a good job stopping Curtis
Martin and Lamont Jordan. 5 of Martin's 16 carries were for no gain
or for a loss and 2 of Lamont Jordan's 4 carries were for a loss.
That is aggressive run defense.
The secondary was particularly important to the run defense
yesterday. They did an excellent job attacking the line of scrimmage
in run situations and did a great job helping stop Curtis Martin.
The pass defense also had a good day and while they didn't get
a lot of sacks (3 total), they did put pressure on Testaverde and
Pennington all day, both up the middle and from the outside. The Jets
only had 131 net passing yards and the Dolphins came up with 3
interceptions. The combination of tight coverage and extra blitzing
ruined the Jets' west coast offense.
On special teams, the change in kickoff style and coverage
prevented the Jets from setting up any big returns, even though they
got to field 7 kickoffs. Dolphins punt coverage was even more
effective, with the Jets ending the day with 1 punt return for no
The Dolphins out coached and out-game planned the Jets for
this day. Norv's calls and persistence with the running game paid off
big down the stretch and kept the Dolphins moving without turning the
ball over. Jim Bates' more aggressive style for the defense kept the
pressure on the Jets and never let them develop the rhythm that the
west coast offense demands.
And Keith Armstrong outwitted Mike Westhoff by changing the
way the Dolphins would attack the Jets' special teams. This was
especially important considering the Dolphins were without 3 of their
best special teams players.
THINGS TO WORK ON:
It's hard to find anything bad to say about the Dolphins'
performance yesterday, but there were two obvious areas where the
Dolphins need some work. I'm sure the coaches will find more after
they review the game film.
The first area is catching the easy pass. Dolphins’
receivers dropped 4 passes yesterday, all of them easily catchable.
It turned out that none of these drops made a big difference, but when
the quarterback hits an NFL receiver in the hands with the ball, that
receiver should catch it. And Jay Fiedler's passes aren't thrown that
The other area that needs some work is in punt and kickoff
returns. Albert Johnson is having problems and maybe he just needs
time to work them out, but his decision making - especially on punt
returns - needs a lot of work.
Ricky Williams was the prince of the game for the Dolphins,
rushing 24 times for 151 yards for a 6.3 ypc average, including a 53
yard touchdown run that sealed the game for Miami. He also caught 2
passes for 23 yards and did a good job blocking when called upon. He
did have one gaffe, however - he fumbled in the 3rd quarter, but got
lucky when the ball bounced back into his hands. Otherwise, it was a
near perfect performance.
Jay Fiedler did not have as good a day statistically as he has
had the past 2 weeks, but in some ways he had his best game of the
year yesterday. He completed 16 of 30 passes (with 4 drops by
receivers) for 185 yards, with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. But
what most impressed me about Fiedler was that he played smart, did not
try to force the ball into places it didn't belong, threw the ball
away when necessary and managed to avoid a couple of sacks by either
throwing the ball away or scrambling. In the past, the Jets have
caused him a lot of problems, but he rose about that yesterday.
Robert Edwards had 2 carries for 16 yards and caught 1 pass
for 4 yards, but also dropped a pass that was in his hands. He had a
decent game, but no big plays.
Travis Minor filled in for Ricky Williams at the end of the
game and rushed 4 times for 21 yards and a touchdown. He also
contributed a special teams tackle.
Rob Konrad caught just 1 pass for 6 yards, but did a good job
helping to open holes for Ricky and blocking for Jay.
Randy McMichael had a terrific day, leading all receivers with
5 catches for 79 yards and the only receiving touchdown of the game.
He had several nice catches, but his best may have been the 13 yard
catch in the 4th quarter to convert on 3rd down, where he broke a
tackle and kept the drive alive. On the next play, Ricky scored.
Chris Chambers caught 4 passes for 33 yards and ran the
reverse once for 6 yards and a first down. Chambers did a good job,
but the Jets were giving him extra attention, so Jay didn't throw to
him too often.
Dedric Ward caught 2 passes for 17 yards, but also dropped an
easy pass during the 2 minute drill. This was a crucial situation and
he should have made that catch.
Oronde Gadsden dropped an easy pass early in the game and was
covered tightly for much of the game, but made the catch of the day
during the two minute drill when he was going across the middle and
stretched out full length to snag the ball with one hand. He also had
another highlight reel catch on the sideline, but was ruled out of
bounds by the officials. And Ricky Williams credited Gadsden with
throwing the final block that sprung Williams on his touchdown run.
James McKnight finally put in a field appearance, lining up as
a receiver but actually rushing the ball twice - once on a reverse and
the other time from the tailback position. He ended up with 2 carries
for 12 yards.
The offensive line had an excellent day, opening holes for
Ricky and, for the most part, keeping the pass rush off of Jay
Fiedler. Mark Dixon did a good job on one of the better defensive
ends in the league in John Abraham and the rest of the line had a good
On defense, it was Derrick Rodgers and Arturo Freeman who lead
the team in tackles, with each player getting 6 (5 solo and 1 assist).
Rodgers also had an interception of a Testaverde pass that set up a
Miami field goal.
Freeman, for his part, was good in pass defense and good in
run support. He stopped Curtis Martin on one play for no gain and on
another play after 4 yards. And he added a special teams tackle.
Jason Taylor also had 6 tackles (3 solo and 3 assists) of
which 2 were for a loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble
recovery. He ran circles around Jets' offensive tackle Jason Fabini
and spent most of the day in Vinny's face or on his back. And if that
wasn't enough, he is credited with knocking down 2 passes to Jets'
Brock Marion was his usual steady self, contributing 5
tackles, 1 interception at the very end of the game and 1 pass
defensed. He was also good in run support.
Zach Thomas, who has been the focus of Jets' center Kevin
Mawaee in the past, had 5 total tackles of which 2 were for losses.
He did an excellent job tracking down Jets' running backs for the
Jamar Fletcher had 4 solo tackles including a nice stop of
Santana Moss on a reverse after just 4 yards. He did have one
questionable pass interference call against him, but overall did a
very good job as the starting cornerback in replacement of Patrick
Surtain. He was not blown away or toasted, had good, tight coverage
and didn't give up any big plays.
Adewale Ogunleye had 3 solo tackles, including his first
regular season sack in the first quarter. He did a good job
pressuring Testaverde also.
Trent Gamble got the nod as the dime defensive back and spent
a lot of the game matched up against Wayne Chrebet. He did a fairly
good job of coverage, although he did a allow Chrebet to get open a
few times. He also had one special teams tackle.
Morlon Greenwood had a fairly quiet day, although he helped
the run defense quite a bit. He had two solo tackles on the day.
Sam Madison had 2 solo tackles and a good day in coverage,
although he was penalized once for defensive holding in a situation
that kept a Jets' drive alive.
Shawn Wooden had 1 interception that set up Miami's first
touchdown. He also had a tackle and knocked down another pass.
David Bowens returned to the lineup and is credited with only
1 tackle, but that tackle was for a loss of 3 yards on 3rd and 3 and
ended a Jets drive.
Tim Bowens had just 1 tackle, but he and Larry Chester (who
had no tackles) did an excellent job clogging up the middle of the
field and keeping the running lanes closed.
Albert Johnson returned 3 punts for 26 yards, but no kickoffs,
which were both touchbacks. He did a fair job of returning kicks, but
needs to work on his decision making, both before and after he catches
Mark Royals had a fair day, punting 4 times for 38.8 yards per
kick, of which one was downed inside the 20.
Olindo Mare' did a good job on kickoffs, getting 2 touchbacks
and putting the other pretty much where he wanted them to go. He did
miss one out of four field goals, but the miss was off the infield
dirt and he did make a 53 yard one.
Jason Taylor sprained his knee in the first quarter, but
returned to play the rest of the game. When I saw him after the game,
he didn't appear to be limping or in any significant pain.
Todd Wade re-aggravated an ankle sprain in the first quarter,
but also finished the game. When I saw him after the game, he had an
ice pack on his ankle and was limping out of the stadium.
Jay Fiedler had precautionary X-rays after the game, but as
far as I know, they were negative.
And when I saw Tim Ruddy leaving the locker room, he had ice
bags on both knees. But he said that that was also just
Dolphins’ fans have waited a long time for a game like this
one against the Jets. This game was the first big hurdle of the 2002
season and the Dolphins not only cleared it but also cleared it by a
mile. They didn't just break the jinx - they ground it into dust.
But this game is significant in other ways, as well.
The Dolphins have not been able to really put other teams away
in the 4th quarter in recent years, but yesterday, the Dolphins took
control in the 4th quarter and owned it. This is an important quality
for a team to have if they are going to beat the best teams in the
The Dolphins have added Ricky Williams and he has really
boosted the offense, but the second biggest contributor this year has
been Randy McMichael, who is also brand new to the team. After Ricky,
McMichael was the most important offensive weapon yesterday. It's
been a long time since Miami had both a running and a tight end
capable of turning the course of a game.
Jay Fiedler appears to finally be fully comfortable in his
role and is living up to his potential, after two years as the
Dolphins' starter. Most importantly, Jay is playing some very smart
football right now and that is helping the entire team. Through
experience and dedication, he has cut down on the mistakes and is
genuinely the leader of the offense.
Having said all that and having beaten the Jets for the first
time in 4 years, the Dolphins must remember that this was not the
SuperBowl, it was not a playoff game, it was just an important first
step for the 2002 season.
Fortunately, from what I heard Dave Wannstedt, Ricky Williams
and Jay Fiedler say on Sunday after the game, I am confident that the
most important members of the team all know just how much more they
have to do in order to get to the playoffs and go further than they
have in the past.
Listening to the Coach and the players, I was a little
surprised that they were not more excited. They seemed pleased to
have won the game, but they were not acting like they had just broken
the biggest jinx of the last 4 years.
Instead, they were realistic about the fact that this was just
one more game and that tomorrow, they had to start working on their
Now, it actually made me feel good about the team's chances to
know that they realize this is just one more game of the season. I
want them to be realistic about this victory and not get caught up in
the hype surrounding the Jets-Dolphins rivalry. I believe that will
serve them better for the rest of the season.
But I'm not a player or a coach, so I can afford to express my
feelings about this game in the following way: