MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins sped into the playoffs last night in perfect character, nipping the New York Jets, 19-17, on Pete Stoyanovich's 37-yard field goal with 0:07 left.
It was the fifth time this season the 10-5 Dolphins had won in the last five minutes. It also was the second time this year that James Bond-like time flashed on the scoreboard as the Dolphins won, and that fit, too. The Dolphins love cliffhanger endings, and last night's victory before a hoarse group of 68,275 fans at Joe Robbie Stadium may have been the Dolphins' best of the season.
"I had a lot of anger inside me, and I let it all out into that final kick," said Stoyanovich, who had missed an extra point wide right with 2:30 left after a bad hold by reserve quarterback Scott Mitchell. That PAT would have tied the score at 17.
The Dolphins joined Buffalo, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Houston in the AFC playoffs. The final berth will belong to the winner of the Denver-Kansas City game next week.
"We're still in it, and that's what counts," said Miami coach Don Shula, whose team also beat Cleveland earlier this season on a Mark Higgs touchdown run with 0:07 remaining. "And we're still keeping things exciting."
There's no doubt of that. The Dolphins' offense, stymied for most of the game, scored on fourth-and-two plays on both of its touchdowns.
The first was a 39-yarder to Mark Clayton in the first quarter. Clayton had to leave the game later in the quarter after being stung on a hit by Jets cornerback James Hasty. He was diagnosed with a bruised lung, kept overnight in Holy Cross Hospital for observation and is questionable for the New England game.
The Dolphins' second touchdown was to Tony Martin on a beautifully set up flanker screen for 55 yards with 2:30 left.
After that play, Jets coach Bruce Coslet, Dolphins tight end Keith Jackson and quarterback Dan Marino started yelling at each other because Coslet thought Jackson had illegally picked off a Jets defender and the Dolphins had lined up in an illegal formation.
Stoyanovich also hit a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, when Miami scored 12 of its 19 points.
Marino now has led the Dolphins to fourth-quarter comebacks 23 times in his career and five times this season.
Stoyanovich was in danger of being remembered only for the fourth extra-point miss of his career late in the game. "I never fielded the snap cleanly," Mitchell said. "It was my fault for not getting it down."
The Dolphins kicker agreed, but all the national TV audience saw was Jets defensive coordinator Pete Carroll giving the choke signal in the general direction of the Dolphins sideline, Jets tackle Mario Johnson derisively coming over to congratulate Stoyanovich and Dolphins fans booing the kicker as he shook his head and slowly walked to the sidelines.
"There were fans yelling at him, some teammates getting down on him, and I didn't think it was very professional," said linebacker Bryan Cox, who came over and hugged Stoyanovich shortly after the miss. "I told him we would get him another shot."
The Dolphins defense did just that, after Miami reconsidered an onside kick and instead booted the ball deep. The Jets played close to the vest, running three straight plays up the middle.
"We thought they would do that because of the success they had running the ball against us before," said Cox, who knew the Jets had beaten Miami three straight times coming in and averaged 199 yards rushing in those games. "So we just stuffed them."
The Jets gained only 2 yards on three plays, to their own 16, and then Louie Aguiar shanked a 29-yard punt to the Jets' 45. Miami moved 26 yards -- 17 of them on Mark Duper's first catch of the game -- to set up Stoyanovich for the game-winner.
"When Pete missed the point-after, everyone felt as down as you could feel," Shula said. "But he came through for us. We kept it exciting, didn't we?"