Free-falling Dolphins only clinch more frustration

December 28, 1993|By Tom Friend | Tom Friend,New York Times News Service

SAN DIEGO -- The Miami Dolphins, without a victory since the Leon Lett game, are beginning to look like a David Shula team. Last-second bomb passes work against them, 245-pound running backs barrel through them and the playoffs may now pass by them.

Miami coach Don Shula spent November consoling his son, David -- whose Bengals started 0-11 -- but now who is consoling whom?

The Dolphins were trounced, 45-20, by the San Diego Chargers last night at Jack Murphy Stadium, and, with four straight losses and a 9-6 record, Miami's postseason possibilities can be counted on only two fingers.

If they defeat New England on Sunday at Foxboro, Mass., the Dolphins are definitely in.

"You never know what the weather will be up there," Miami linebacker Bryan Cox said.

But if New England wins, then the Dolphins gain the playoffs only if the Jets lose at Houston, and if either the Steelers (home to Cleveland) or the Raiders (home to Denver) lose.

"We've got to make up our minds how bad we want this," said Miami wide receiver Irving Fryar. "If we get there, we've got to play like we deserve to be there."

If the Dolphins do somehow slip in, it will be without momentum. When San Diego's Stan Humphries was not throwing touchdown passes last night -- and he had three -- he was sending 245-pound rookie Natrone Means on his way.

Means had three scores himself, including a 65-yard beauty, against the depleted Dolphins' defense. Last week, it surrendered 47 points to Buffalo; last night's score was just as untidy.

Meanwhile, this was San Diego's Super Bowl. The Chargers (7-8) were swallowed whole by Miami in last season's American Football Conference championship game, 31-0, and this was vengeance of sorts for a team out of the playoff picture.

Where is Lett when the Dolphins need him? Their last victory came on Thanksgiving Day, when Lett, who plays for the Dallas Cowboys, turned a last-minute blocked field goal into a free ball by putting his big paw on it, giving the Dolphins a second chance.

Miami has not had many big plays since. A loss to the Giants was followed by a loss to Pittsburgh, which was followed by a loss to Buffalo -- all at Joe Robbie Stadium. Dan Marino, who is injured, could only offer so much advice.

The Dolphins cannot rush the ball, nor can they stop the rush, nor do they have any luck left -- all of which was evident again last night. With five seconds left in the first half the Chargers held a 17-13 lead, were 41 yards from the end zone and attempted a deep, desperation pass.

Two Dolphins defenders -- Stephen Braggs and Chris Green -- jumped to snare it, but it bounded off their hands and into the palms of San Diego's Anthony Miller. Score: 24-13.

"We aren't as good as we were five weeks ago," said Miami defensive end Jeff Cross. "That pass wasn't the difference. We've obviously got problems."

If this was payback for the Lett fiasco, the Dolphins were paying the price. A certain playoff team a month ago, they now need help from others.

"What the heck have we gotten ourselves into?" Cox said before the game.

In their past three games, the Dolphins have rushed for 51, 49 and 23 yards -- a total of 123 yards -- which is the smallest three-game total in league history.

It puts too much pressure on Mitchell, who must use short dumps to running backs Terry Kirby and Keith Byars to control the ball. Luckily for Miami, Fryar continues to energize the team. His swerving 21-yard run after a short pass set up Miami's only first-half touchdown, a 1-yard dive by Byars.

In the first half, San Diego's Means ran 65 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. He found a seam up the middle and kept veering right to the end zone, making the score, 17-6. Means, a rookie out of North Carolina, finished with 118 yards on 18 carries.

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