Monday, October 25, 2004
Team avoids 0-7 start
DAVIE, Fla. -- With no wins and nothing to lose, the Miami Dolphins' conservative coach became daredevil Dave Wannstedt.
Resorting to razzle-dazzle that's rare for the Dolphins, Wannstedt and his staff called passes by a halfback and receiver, a reverse on a kickoff and a fake punt. The tricks were a treat for fans and players, especially since most of them worked, helping Miami earn its first victory by upsetting St. Louis 31-14.
"Everybody gets giddy about that stuff," Wannstedt said Monday. "It gives you a little bit of a spark, but it's not the reason we won the game."
So don't look for too many flea-flickers or fumblerooskis Monday night against the New York Jets. Wannstedt is more interested in duplicating the kind of error-free performance that Miami managed Sunday after a succession of self-inflicted defeats.
A team that had led the NFL in turnovers committed none against the Rams. Miami gained a season-high 117 yards rushing, enjoyed a big edge on special teams and avoided any defensive breakdowns against one of the league's most potent offenses.
"Those are the reasons we won," Wannstedt said.
At 1-6, the Dolphins still have the worst record in the NFL and their worst after seven games since 1967. But Miami finally showed it can win without Ricky Williams and put an end to speculation about the league's first 0-16 season.
"It's only one game," defensive end Jason Taylor said. "Let's not get carried away and start cutting up confetti for a ticker-tape parade. But it does a lot. It'll help our confidence."
Opening up the playbook seemed to boost team morale, too.
"Coach threw all caution to the wind," tight end Randy McMichael said. "We've got nothing to lose."
Wannstedt denied that the Dolphins' 0-6 record changed his style. He said he always keeps on standby a few gadget plays, such as the pass off a reverse by Marty Booker that went for a 48-yard completion to Chris Chambers, setting up the first touchdown
The pass was the first by a Miami receiver in 13 years. Wannstedt tried it even though the play rarely worked in drills because the strong-armed Booker repeatedly overthrew Chambers.
"We may have completed one in practice," Wannstedt said. "If we completed one, that's all we completed."
A halfback pass by Sammy Morris backfired when he was sacked, forcing Miami out of field-goal range. But a reverse on a kickoff return gave the Dolphins the ball at midfield, setting up the touchdown drive that put them ahead to stay.
And a direct snap to Morris from punt formation fooled the Rams for a first down.
"We just felt like we had to try to make more first downs and try to limit their possessions as much as we could to keep the clock running," Wannstedt said.
Overall, the Dolphins stuck mostly with the conservative approach favored by Wannstedt since he became head coach in 2000. They had a season-high 34 running plays, including 28 carries by Morris, and Jay Fiedler threw just 19 passes.
But Miami showed a flair for the big play that had been missing. Fiedler burned blitzes with touchdown tosses of 42 yards to McMichael and 71 to Chambers.
The defense did its share, playing well with a lead after Miami scored in the opening period for the first time all season.
"We knew we weren't going to go the whole year without a win," safety Sammy Knight said.
The Dolphins need five more victories to reach .500. Nine more in a row would leave them at 10-6, matching last year's record, which wasn't good enough for a playoff berth.
But at least the Dolphins have win No. 1, and Wannstedt was finally able to get a good night's sleep for a change. Right, coach?
"You know what? I didn't," he said Monday. "I was up about three times during the night and came in this morning with two pages of stuff we need to get better at."
Trick plays probably weren't on the list. The Dolphins seem to have those mastered.