Fiedler identity is still elusive

Miami QB struggles against elite teams

January 12, 2002|By MIAMI HERALD

MIAMI - Dolphins wide receiver Oronde Gadsden has only once seen a glimmer of doubt in quarterback Jay Fiedler.

It was during the second half against Oakland on Sept. 23. Fiedler had just thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown by safety Anthony Dorsett, giving the Raiders a 15-10 lead.

"He came in the huddle and said something like, `Am I bad. I'm messing up,' " Gadsden said. "We all said, `Don't worry about it.' You could tell it bothered him. ... It was the same team we'd played in the playoffs the season before, the same kind of mistake."

Fiedler eventually rallied the Dolphins for an 18-15 victory, a shining moment captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated that week. An enlarged image of the cover now hangs in the Dolphins' offices.

But for all the confidence that photo inspires, there is still underlying doubt about Fiedler as he prepares to lead the Dolphins into the playoffs against the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens at 4:05 p.m. tomorrow at Pro Player Stadium.

In his two seasons with the Dolphins, Fiedler has led them to a 4-9 record against playoff opponents, 18-1 against all others.

In games against playoff opponents, he has combined to throw seven touchdown passes and 26 interceptions, and his quarterback rating is 52.1. In games against nonplayoff teams, Fiedler has thrown for 28 touchdowns and has 13 interceptions, with a rating is 92.0.

So which Fiedler should people expect?

"If you look at his track record, he's brought this team back enough times for people to trust that this is the guy who will get us where we want to go," offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said, referring to the seven fourth-quarter comebacks Fiedler has led with the Dolphins - including five this season.

Beyond that, some of the disparity is natural. The better the competition, the harder it is to succeed. But the difference is so stark that it belies a simple explanation.

It also goes against how the truly great play. Joe Montana's lifetime quarterback rating in the playoffs was 95.6. His lifetime rating in the regular season was 92.3.

Troy Aikman had an 88.3 rating in the playoffs, 81.6 in the regular season. John Elway was 79.7 and 79.8. And Dan Marino was 77.1 and 86.4.

While it isn't fair to compare Fiedler with four all-time greats, it is the measure to which he aspires.

Fiedler has had moments on which the Dolphins can pin their hopes. The win over the Raiders was one. In a loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 14, he led the Dolphins to a 17-0 lead at halftime.

After the Dolphins lost the lead, Fiedler also led the Dolphins down the field, driving the team 51 yards, including a 26-yard run to set up a first-and-goal situation at the 6-yard line before throwing a dramatic interception in the 21-17 loss.

Last year at this time, Fiedler overcame two ugly interceptions in the first round against Indianapolis to lead an overtime victory. He has also performed well in pressure situations this season, rating sixth in the league among quarterbacks in both the fourth quarter and on third-down situations.

But are glimpses of promise enough?

Is Fiedler the player who threw three interceptions in a 21-0 loss in San Francisco on Dec. 16? Or is he the one who six days later completed 21 of 37 passes for a career-high 320 yards and one touchdown as the Dolphins nearly rallied from a 20-0 deficit at New England?

"I think one of Jay's best qualities, probably in the top five characteristics, is his being resilient and having thick skin," Gadsden said. "I don't think he worries about three games ago. I think he thinks about Baltimore, Sunday, 4:05."

Short memories are good, but they also must be balanced against the need to learn from one's mistakes.

"It's hard, but that's what Jay has," Dolphins backup quarterback Ray Lucas said. "He'll make a mistake and not worry about it, come right back and throw it in there. He'll come over to the sidelines and guys will try to cheer him up and he'll say, `I'm all right.' "

Still, the Dolphins are not sure what to make of Fiedler.

During the course of the season, Gailey and coach Dave Wannstedt have said they believe Fiedler can lead them to a Super Bowl title.

But Wannstedt has said he was on the edge of a quarterback controversy this season after Fiedler was intercepted three times in a 24-0 loss at home to the Jets. During one practice the week after that game, Wannstedt lashed into Fiedler after an interception on an ill-advised throw.

Fiedler has made strides over the final seven games of the season, changing the way he plays slightly. Early in the season, he rushed his passes, contributing to an eight-game stretch in which he threw 15 interceptions.

"In the early part of the year, I was getting rid of the ball early, not letting things develop," Fiedler said. "That kept the sacks down, but we had some interceptions. Now, if we have to eat the ball a little more, that's what we'll do to avoid the mistakes."

Welcome to the learning process of any quarterback. Lessons get ingrained, but not to the point they interfere with the moment.

"That's part of my character," Fiedler said. "I'm able to focus on the next task at hand. A lot of guys dwell and you can't do that. When you're on the football field, instincts have to take over."

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