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Dolphins miss playoffs despite 10 wins

12/28/2003

MIAMI (AP) -- As Dave Wannstedt trotted off the field and
disappeared into a stadium tunnel, fans above him cheered and
offered thumbs-up gestures in support.

The beleaguered coach went out with a win Sunday. The question
now is whether he'll be back.

Wannstedt's job situation would be less precarious if the Miami
Dolphins played all season the way they did in a meaningless
finale. They showed some offensive spark for a change, and Olindo
Mare kicked a 22-yard field goal with three seconds left to beat
the New York Jets 23-21.

Both teams entered the game already eliminated from playoff
contention.

The Dolphins (10-6) earned a dubious distinction, becoming the
first team since Philadelphia and San Francisco in 1991 to win 10
games and miss the playoffs. Their disappointing season has left
Wannstedt's job in jeopardy, and owner Wayne Huizenga said he'll
make an announcement regarding the coach's future Monday.

Wannstedt, 41-23 in four seasons at Miami, has one year left on
his contract. There's speculation he'll be retained while
relinquishing some of his authority to a general manager.

"I talked to Wayne for five minutes before the game, and all
that was said was that we would get together Monday," Wannstedt
said. "Until we talk through the situation, I think it'd be
premature to say anything about anything."

The Jets (6-10) closed out their first losing season since 1996
and their first under Herman Edwards.

"It starts with the head guy," Edwards said. "I need to
improve. I feel I let these guys down this year."

Seven of New York's 10 losses were by seven points or less.

"We'll all remember this feeling as a team," quarterback Chad
Pennington said. "We'll do everything in our power to make sure we
don't have this feeling again."

Pennington went 22-for-28 for 221 yards and a score, but
counterpart Jay Fiedler was even better. Playing perhaps his final
game for Miami, Fiedler threw for a career-high 328 yards and
completed three passes to drive the Dolphins 45 yards in the final
2:56 for the winning score.

Fiedler, erratic and injury-prone in four seasons as Dan
Marino's successor, went 21-for-29. Chris Chambers made nine
catches for 153 yards, both career highs.

Despite the offensive show, the game between AFC East rivals had
the atmosphere of an August exhibition, with some 20,000 empty
seats.

"It was real tough to get up for this game, even the Jets,"
Miami defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "I was slapping myself
to get ready. But this shows we do have some heart, and we respect
coach Wannstedt a lot."

There were only a handful of signs in the stands, and most
expressed support for the Dolphins rather than disfavor with
Wannstedt. When asked if it was an emotional day, the coach said,
"Keep going back. Weeks. Months. It's been a long year. But we
finished strong. That's all you can ask."

Miami's Ricky Williams played despite a sore shoulder that has
required painkilling injections. He rushed for 73 yards to finish
with 1,372 and turned a screen pass into a 59-yard reception,
longest of his career.

The Jets' Curtis Martin rushed for 92 yards to increase his
total to 1,308.

New York fell behind 20-7, then rallied with four consecutive
scores -- a touchdown, two field goals and a safety -- to lead 21-20.

Pennington's 1-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Becht put the Jets
ahead. On the conversion attempt, the ball was ruled to have hit
the ground before Becht caught it.

"When things aren't going your way, you have to play perfect to
get things going your way," Pennington said. "We didn't do
that."

The Dolphins showed more offensive flair than usual -- they even
ran a double reverse -- and scored on their first four possessions.
Then came the late rally, giving Miami a sweep of the season series
against its biggest rival.

That was small consolation, however.

"We didn't beat the good teams," linebacker Zach Thomas said.
"The players let a lot of people down."

^Notes:@ Williams finished with 392 carries, breaking the team
record of 383 he set last year. ... Ogunleye finished with 15
sacks, and teammate Jason Taylor had 13. Each had one Sunday. ...
The Dolphins didn't allow a 100-yard rusher this season. ... Jets G
Brandon Moore made his first career start. ... Jets LB Mo Lewis had
two tackles in his 200th NFL game.

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