Timing everything for Redskins, Dolphins

Playoff pairings likely will be decided before game's late start

January 02, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the NFL drew up its schedule for the last weekend of the year, it decided to start today's Redskins-Dolphins game at 4: 15 p.m. so CBS would have it available as a doubleheader game along with the Titans-Steelers. CBS only gets a chance to show the Redskins when they're at home against an AFC team.

What nobody could have known is that the late start means there'll probably be nothing at stake for either team at the kickoff.

Unless Tampa Bay loses and Minnesota loses or ties in their 1 p.m. games, the Miami game will be meaningless for the Redskins, because they'll have no shot at a first-round playoff bye.

It's already meaningless to the Dolphins unless either Seattle or Kansas City plays a tie game at 1 p.m. If both the Seahawks and Chiefs win, the Dolphins are out of the playoffs. If either loses, the Dolphins back in.

"The one good thing about it, we will be able to see the results of their games prior to our game," said coach Jimmy Johnson. "As the game goes on, we can make some adjustments."

That means they can rest some starters if they're in the playoffs. Coach Norv Turner has indicated he'll do the same unless he's fighting for a first-round bye.

"But we're going to go ahead and prepare the team to play the best they can to win this game," Johnson said. "The Washington game is meaningful for this team as far as pride and confidence."

Both coaches are probably happy that there's not much at stake. Turner was Johnson's offensive coordinator on his two Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl teams, and the two men remain close. Neither would relish knocking the other out of the playoffs.

For the fans, though, the only likely attraction is that this could be the last game Dan Marino plays.

For that matter, it could be the last game Johnson coaches.

It's been a trying season for both men. Marino obviously is not the quarterback he once was, and he'll have to decide whether he's going to retire after the season ends.

Since his return from nerve damage in his shoulder five games ago, Marino has lost his fourth-quarter touch. The man who directed 35 comeback wins has completed only 43.5 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter, and the Dolphins have lost four of those games. In the first four games when he was healthy, they went 3-1 and he completed 65 percent of his passes.

What nobody knows is whether Marino's rusty or whether he's lost it.

He's ducking the questions about his future.

"I'm not thinking about next season right now," he told Washington writers in a conference call. "We still have a chance to get into the playoffs, and I think that is more important than all this other talk."

Marino's shaky play has obviously frustrated Johnson. He knows he can't bench Marino. There would be a backlash in Miami, where Marino is a hero.

In his fourth season, Johnson is not going to duplicate the success he had in Dallas, and it's getting to him.

"All I want is to coach football and be left alone," he told a Miami columnist a week ago.

He came to Miami with high expectations, and he's not living up to them.

"I expected us to be good. You don't think I planned all the things that have happened to us, do you? You don't think I want to win another Super Bowl?" he said.

"It wears on you."

It's comments like those that fuel speculation he'll walk away to his boat and the good life at the end of the season. He quit last year until owner Wayne Huizenga talked him into staying.

At a news conference Monday, Johnson said the real problem is that the Dolphins were never bad enough to get great draft picks.

"Sometimes it's easier to become great when you're bad. The biggest enemy of great is good. It's hard to go from good to great," he said.

The Indianapolis Colts, for example, were bad and drafted Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James. In Dallas, the Cowboys were bad, and Johnson drafted Troy Aikman and made the Herschel Walker deal for the picks that turned into a group of standout players, including Emmitt Smith.

Now, the Dolphins are on the treadmill of good, and Johnson doesn't know whether Marino is part of the problem or the answer. Marino wants to show he can still be part of the answer.

On the Redskins' side, they can rest two key offensive starters, running back Stephen Davis (ankle) and wide receiver Albert Connell (shoulder) if the game doesn't mean anything.

Turner would like to give quarterback Brad Johnson a tuneup so he doesn't lose the form he had in San Francisco.

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