Abdul-Jabbar, Miami ground game get well quick Back's anemic figures healthier after 108-yard, three-touchdown effort

October 20, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Karim Abdul-Jabbar did everything but slam-dunk the Ravens yesterday, rushing for 108 yards and three first-half touchdowns to give the Miami Dolphins a commanding lead on the way to a 24-13 victory at Memorial Stadium.

First, let us clear up the story behind the sound-alike name. Although he grew up in Los Angeles and played at UCLA like Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karim is not a copycat. Born Shamon Shah, his new name was simply given to him when he adopted the Muslim faith in 1995.

After leaving college a year early, Karim Abdul-Jabbar quickly made a name for himself as a running back in the NFL last season, rushing for 1,116 yards and 11 touchdowns, finishing second among rookies to only the Oilers' Eddie George.

It was only natural for Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson to expect Abdul-Jabbar to continue building on his brilliant freshman year as a pro.

And no one was more frustrated than Abdul-Jabbar himself when it appeared he was running on a treadmill in the first six games this season. He rushed for 273 yards, averaging 2.8 yards a carry, with only three rushing touchdowns.

In fact, the Dolphins ranked last in the NFL in rushing, a statistic hardly lost on Johnson, seeking offensive help for quarterback Dan Marino.

But all that changed dramatically yesterday when Miami took it right to the heart of the Ravens' defense, with Abdul-Jabbar staging his own version of "Showtime," beating the Ravens with darting runs up the middle and around the corners.

He set the game's tempo on the Dolphins' second offensive series, carrying seven times for 51 yards, capping the 80-yard drive with a 5-yard burst up the middle.

He added two touchdowns in the half, finishing the first half with 85 yards to all but eclipse Ravens running back Bam Morris.

"We were finally able to run the ball and somewhat control the clock," Johnson said. "The line was opening holes for Karim, and if you do that, he'll do the rest. He was hot, so we left him out there."

Abdul-Jabbar was unable to offer an adequate explanation for his lack of success before yesterday's breakout.

"You start taking things personally when you're the main running back and not getting the job done," he said. "You want to see some results from all the hard work you put in at practice. I just wanted to get it going, and the guys up front did a great job blocking."

But Abdul-Jabbar also gave a big assist to wide receiver O. J. McDuffie, who had a team-high seven receptions for 77 yards.

"I really think that Baltimore was so afraid of our passing game that it opened up things for our running backs," Abdul-Jabbar said. "When we'd get into second-down-and-eight situations, the Ravens usually had two guys watching McDuffie. He'd throw a block downfield, and that opened things up."

Abdul-Jabbar admitted he probably had been trying too hard to end his running famine on his own.

"I'd been rushing myself, hitting the holes," he said. "But today, when we got close to the goal line, I let my guards come over and lead the way."

Even when Abdul-Jabbar wasn't in the game, the Dolphins kept their running game in gear by handing the ball to backup Irving Spikes, who gained 46 yards on 16 carries.

"We were tired of being last in the league rushing," Spikes said.

"But the main difference is that in past games, if we'd get behind, we'd abandon the running game. Today, thanks to Karim, we jumped out on top and kept the Ravens guessing all afternoon."

The revitalized running game made it that much easier for Marino, who did not come close to getting sacked. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 189 yards and made good on nine of 13 third-down plays.

He admitted being sorely tempted to air it out when facing third-and-one several times, but kept things conservative.

"Karim's three touchdowns gave us a nice cushion," said the NFL's all-time leading passer.

"We probably could have thrown long a couple of times, but we wanted to control the ball, minimize our mistakes and keep the Ravens off the field. It worked just fine today."

Up and running

The Dolphins brought the league's worst rushing offense into Baltimore yesterday, averaging 72.3 yards per game and 2.9 per carry. They got better in a hurry, however, shredding the Ravens' defense for 148 yards on 41 carries in a 24-13 victory. The Dolphins' game-by-game rushing statistics:

Opp. ..... W/L .. Att. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TDs

Colts ..... W .... 28 .... 97 ... 3.5 ..... 1

Oilers .... W .... 25 .... 54 ... 2.2 ..... 1

Packers ... L .... 22 .... 59 ... 2.7 ..... 0

Bucs ...... L .... 17 .... 48 ... 2.8 ..... 1

Chiefs .... W .... 27 .... 83 ... 3.1 ..... 1

Jets ...... W .... 30 .... 93 ... 3.1 ..... 1

Ravens .... W .... 41 ... 148 ... 3.6 ..... 3

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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