MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins slammed Cincinnati down for the count last night with a snazzy fourth quarter, winning a fight-marred game, 37-13, and giving themselves an outside chance to clinch a playoff berth Sunday.
Led by a three-touchdown performance by Dan Marino, Miami scored the game's last 17 points before 60,616 fans at Joe Robbie Stadium. That spurt came shortly after rookie linebacker Bryan Cox, angered by an unnecessary block on Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich by Bengals linebacker Alex Gordon, marched to the Cincinnati bench and challenged everyone, particularly Gordon, to a fight.
"Cox just got everybody fired up," said coach Don Shula, whose team has scored 70 points in its past two games. "That helped."
"He [Gordon] was over there laughing about it; that's what really made me mad," said Cox, who came from the center of the field to confront Gordon. "If there hadn't have been so many people around, we would have gotten into it."
"It was nice to see my teammate take up for me," Stoyanovich said.
The Dolphins won for the fifth time in six games, keeping them securely in the inside lane for the final playoff berth in the AFC. Miami (8-6) needs a victory next week against San Diego and a loss by the New York Jets to New England to earn a wild-card spot next Sunday. Otherwise, they will need to beat the Jets Dec. 22 at home to make the playoffs.
It was a dazzling night for the Dolphins' offense. Against the NFL's worst defense, Marino completed 24 of 33 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The three touchdown passes gave him his ninth consecutive season of 20 or more touchdown throws, an NFL record.
Mark Clayton (six catches, 69 yards) caught two of the TDs and Mark Duper (seven catches, 134 yards) the other. To complete the new and improved Marks Brothers theme, running back Mark Higgs (21 carries, 88 yards) also scored, on a 3-yard run. Stoyanovich added three field goals, four extra points and the impetus for a lot of the extracurricular activity.
"It's nice to have individual statistics," Marino said, "but the key thing is that we're doing it while playing winning football."
Miami got a scare when Cincinnati jumped to within a touchdown at 20-13 early in the fourth quarter, but rebounded with a nice march of its own. The key play came when a scrambling Marino located a lonely Duper on third-and-10 from the Bengals' 39. Duper took it down to the Cincinnati 3, leaving Higgs the pleasure of scoring the touchdown that put Miami up 27-13 with 9:56 left.
The Bengals' Harold Green fumbled two plays later, and Dolphins safety Louis Oliver recovered at the Cincinnati 17. Marino connected with Clayton for a touchdown pass, their second of the game, from 16 yards out to salt it away at 34-13.
With the two TD catches, Clayton boosted his career total to 75 and passed Nat Moore for the Dolphins' record and for 13th place on the NFL all-time list.
Reserve fullback Aaron Craver jumped on a fumble by Shane Garrett on the ensuing kickoff, setting up Stoyanovich's third field goal. Miami ended up scoring 17 points in a four-minute span of the fourth quarter, on their way to their highest point total of the season.