MIAMI -- Mark Clayton said his controversial pre-game promise of a Miami Dolphins victory -- "We're going to kick their [butts]" -- was meant as a spark. Once the prediction proved ill-fated yesterday, Clayton was lighting fires of a different sort.
Under club management and coach Don Shula, it seemed.
"There have got to be some changes around here," Clayton said after Miami's season-ending 23-20 loss to the New York Jets at Joe Robbie Stadium, which enabled the Jets to qualify as a wild-card entry over Miami. "I'm not in charge or at liberty to say which changes, but we've got too many good players to be coming up short all the time."
Clayton would not be specific, snapping when pressed, "Why don't you ask Shula? I'm not going to answer any controversial questions."
One couldn't help but believe, however, that the veteran receiver had defensive changes in mind.
"Up 20-17 with 48 seconds left? This can't happen. We should have won in regulation, but we blew it," Clayton said. "I felt our guys could clamp down and come up with a few plays, but y'all saw what happened. Maybe we need to get some killer instinct out there. Maybe that's what we don't have. And what we need."
"Unfortunately for them, there were 44 seconds left for us to come back," Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien said.
O'Brien passes of 23 yards to Rob Moore and 14 to Terance Mathis moved the ball to Miami's 33. After Freeman McNeil ran 7 yards to the 26 with two seconds left, Raul Allegre hit a 44-yard field goal to tie the score 20-20 as time ran out.
A tie would have given the Dolphins the playoff berth, but they couldn't stop New York in overtime, either.
Miami took the kickoff, ran four plays and punted. The Jets, starting from their 23, mounted an 11-play drive. O'Brien hit Rob Moore with a 29-yard pass to the 8, and Allegre, picked up earlier in the week due to an injury to Pat Leahy, provided the winning points two plays later.
O'Brien said the victory was the Jets' biggest in his nine years with the team.
"We're at a point where people didn't think we'd be," he said. "Now we have to take advantage of it."
"I'm embarrassed," Miami defensive end Jeff Cross said.
Added Shula: "Another question of not being able to handle their running game [the Jets outrushed Miami 231-46]. Another question of not making plays defensively, last week [at San Diego] or this week."
Clayton did his part yesterday to back up his pre-game boast, one that made national news. He caught seven passes for 94 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the first half to tie it 7-7.
It was the fifth 1,000-yard season for Clayton and the fourth for receiving mate Mark Duper, and the third time they have achieved the milestone the same year. Redskins Art Monk and Gary Clark are the only other receivers in NFL history to do it the same season.
"You keep the thousand yards and give me the one win," Clayton said. "That's all I care about right now. Coming up short again . . . "
Duper dressed in the next locker, and the image was stunning. Two receivers who had combined this season for 140 catches, 2,138 yards and 17 TDs -- and not a smile between them. Duper and Clayton are 32 and 30 now. Will they ever celebrate a Super Bowl?
"That's all I want," Clayton said.
Duper nodded, grimly.
Both receivers pointed to an error by their meal ticket, quarterback Dan Marino, as a play that turned things.
Midway through the fourth quarter and trailing 14-13, Miami drove to New York's 7. Then Marino checked off a running play, threw for Duper and was intercepted by linebacker Joe Kelly.
Said Clayton: "If we had capitalized, we'd have won hands-down."
Instead, Clayton was left to explain his pre-game prediction.
"I was just trying to light a spark in our team," he said. "It was a bold statement, but I felt our guys would come out and play and back it up."