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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Fluke Favre TD keeps Sparano up at night


DAVIE, Fla. -- Tony Sparano could've tossed out some politically correct coachspeak about not looking in the past and focusing on the now, but everybody would have known he was lying.

While I asked the question, the Miami Dolphins head coach broke into a conceding smile -- almost a grimace, really -- and slowly nodded his head.

"Yeah," Sparano said. "That wakes me up some nights when I'm trying to sleep."

One low-percentage, desperation play is all it was, but it proved to be the difference in a 20-14 loss to the New York Jets on opening day.

With kicker Mike Nugent injured, the Jets went for it on fourth-and-13 from the Dolphins' 22-yard line. Brett Favre completed an arcing lob to the appropriately named Chansi Stuckey for a touchdown.

As the year has unfolded, that prototypical Favre fluke play loomed increasingly large. Had that pass hit the turf or been intercepted as it should have been, the Dolphins might have the AFC East already locked up heading into Sunday's rematch at the Meadowlands.

"I think it's natural when you're in this tight position right now that you do look back on some of those things," Sparano said at his Wednesday news conference. "Some people say you can't take anything from a loss, you can't learn from a loss. I don't believe that. I think that you can take some things out of that. So I usually try to go back and rehash those things and punish myself.

"Now, that being said, I have thought about that, yeah, the ball up in the air that way. But that's what makes Brett, Brett. He can pull those things off, and it looks like it was done intentionally."

How Dolphins safety Renaldo Hill handled the slapdash play internally is one thing, but at least on Wednesday he didn't sound like someone punishing himself or remembering that ball as it fluttered through the sky for what seemed like 20 seconds.

"I don't expect that play to happen one out of a hundred times," Hill said. "That was the one time."

There were plenty of ways for the Dolphins to snuff the play. Defensive end Randy Starts blew past Jets right guard Brandon Moore and grabbed Favre's throwing shoulder. Favre deftly switched the ball to his left hand, ducked Starks and grasped the ball with his right hand again, while outside linebacker Joey Porter leapt for Favre's waist. Just as Porter wrapped him, Favre flung the ball.

Hill, playing center field in front of the goal line, bit on what he thought would be a bullet to Stuckey, who instead drifted behind Hill and awaited the jump ball. Dolphins cornerback Will Allen slipped while breaking toward the ball, and Stuckey caught it uncontested.

"I was actually a free guy on the play," Hill said. "I was just floating around. I saw his arm motion, so I was expecting the ball to come out more flat and direct. Then it floated in the air."

That lucky play cost the Dolphins their season opener. On Sunday they'll have an opportunity to render it irrelevant.