American Football: Marino and Miami set for long march

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The Independent Online
IT IS now nearly a decade since the Miami Dolphins unleashed Dan Marino on an unsuspecting NFL. In that time the golden- armed golden boy has claimed just about every quarterback record in the book, taking the passing game and his bank balance to hitherto unknown heights: at pounds 2.7m a year he is the league's highest paid player.

But while Marino has dazzled his team have dawdled. They made it to the Super Bowl in his second season, only to be overwhelmed by the 49ers, but in the recent past have become an attractive irrelevance while the important action took place elsewhere.

This may be about to change. On Sunday the Dolphins marched on Buffalo and emerged with a

37-10 victory that suggests that Marino may at last have a fitting showcase for his talents.

Both sides went into the game unbeaten but it was the Bills who had been more impressive, their no-huddle offense clocking up points as if they were going out of fashion. The Dolphins countered this by using a novel defense consisting of two linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs. It reduced the Bills to a total of 63 rushing yards, and put the pressure on Jim Kelly's passing game. Kelly, who can be as awful as he is often awesome, threw four interceptions, three to the Dolphins safety Louis Oliver.

Marino, meanwhile, was making full use of his side's two recent acquisitions: Bobby Humphrey, the promising running back who came from Denver in the summer; and Keith Jackson, the brilliant tight end, whose prolonged contract dispute with Philadelphia came to an end when he was declared a free agent 10 days ago. Jackson scored a touchdown on his debut.

The key play came in the third quarter, with the Dolphins leading 24-10. Oliver picked off a Kelly pass in his end zone and ran 103 yards for a touchdown (equalling a league record). The victory gives the Dolphins the only 100 per cent record in the AFC, and removes Buffalo from the top of the Eastern Division for the first time in 36 weeks.

Washington, Buffalo's conquerers in this year's Super Bowl, were also surprisingly beaten, going down 27-24 in Phoenix. On an afternoon characterised by comebacks the Cardinals scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. Mark Rypien, the Redskins quarterback, continued his unhappy season by throwing three interceptions.

If Rypien is feeling the pressure he can console himself that he is not Jim Harbaugh. The Chicago quarterback was playing brilliantly in Minnesota, and had guided his team to a 20-0 lead in the fourth when he changed a play sent in by his head coach, Mike Ditka. The resulting throw landed in the hands of the Vikings safety, Todd Scott, who ran back 35 yards for the touchdown.

The momentum of the game instantly shifted and the Vikings went on to win 21-20, leaving Harbaugh to face an eruption from Mount Ditka. 'When a player knows more than the coach, you get in trouble,' Ditka growled. 'I'll just say this: if it happens again, there will be changes made and they will be definite and they will be permanent. I'm not going to put 47 players' futures in the hands of one player who thinks he knows more than I do.'

Harbaugh, who made the change at the line of scrimmage, got the message. 'I can't audible anymore. He's the coach. It's his team,' he said. The Vikings' fourth win under their new head coach, Denny Green, leaves them clear leaders of a topsy-turvey NFC Central in which Detroit, last year's champions, remain bottom after losing at home for the second week running.

The Los Angeles Raiders got their first win in eight games, beating the New York Giants 13-10 after being 10-0 down at half-time. They did not impress the Giants linebacker, Pepper Johnson, though. 'I don't think they played too hard,' he said. 'Their offensive line isn't that good, they just play patsy. They run the same basic plays. We lost to a bunch of ducks.'

Finally a comeback that might inspire another. John Elway, the Denver quarterback, makes no secret of his political allegiance - 'very, very strong Republican'. With his side down 19-6 to Kansas City with five minutes left, having not scored a touchdown in 12 quarters, and with the fans deserting him in droves, Elway could no doubt identify with Messrs Bush and Quayle.

Then Elway, the master of the improbable finale, conjured a couple of touchdown drives, the winning score coming with 38 seconds left. Reflecting on his quarterback's brilliance, Denver's head coach, Dan Reeves, said: 'It seems like when there's the least amount of chance, we still have a shot.' Bill Clinton be warned . . .

NFL: Atlanta 24 Green Bay 10; Miami 37 Buffalo 10; New Orleans 13 Detroit 7; Minnesota 21 Chicago 20; Indianapolis 24 Tampa Bay 14; San Francisco 27 LA Rams 24; Denver 20 Kansas City 19; Phoenix 27 Washington 24; San Diego 17 Seattle 6; LA Raiders 13 NY Giants 10; NY Jets 30 New England Patriots 21. Did not play: Cincinnati; Cleveland; Houston; Pittsburgh.

(Photograph omitted)