The New York Jets assured a tussle of teams in turmoil next Sunday in Washington when they totally dominated the second half and gave the Miami Dolphin playoff hopes a severe jolt with a decisive 24-13 victory today in the orange Bowl.
"It just goes to show you that other people have problems too," said Redskin scout Kirk Mee, preparing the reports which the Redskins will use in their preparations for the Dolphins Sunday in RFK Stadium. "Maybe it'll give us new life."
These were mostly dead Dolphines today suffering what some local observers were describing as the team's most decisive loss in the Orange Bowl since Don Shula took over in 1970. Miami has lost only 10 times here since then.
The Dolphins were victimized primarily by Bob Griese's three interceptions and a fourth-quarter fumble as he was tackled from the blind side.
Jet quarterback Matt Robinson, meanwhile, was picking Miami apart with medium range passes thrown underneath the Dolphin coverages. After Griese's fumble, Robinson delivered a killer blow with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Walkr to provide a 24-6 lead and assure the victory with 8:42 left in the game.
Miami was suffering its fifth loss in 13 games this season (the same record as the Redskins), and fell two games behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East race.
The jets posted their second victory of the season over the Dolphins, the first time New York has swept the yearly series since 1969, and many players on the NFL's youngest team were still talking playoff, even if they are 7-6.
Coach Walt Michaels was talking pride. He said the Jets were angered last week after losing to New England when Patriot offensive lineman Leon Gray said he couldn't believe his team was actually losing to the New Yorkers in the fourth quarter.
"That really bothered us," Michaels said. "Nobody should go around making statements like that. This should show that we can't be laughed at any more."
Over in the Dolphin locker room, Don Shula was not laughing. "They just completely dominated us," he said. "Now this puts us in a situation where we have to win our last three games (against the Redskins, Raiders and patriots) and hope we have a chance to be in it. We've still got some hope, but we sure can't play like this."
The Dolphins had 6-3 lead at intermission and were in lovely field position after a 53-yard Duriel Harris kickoff return that carried to the jet 7 on the first play of the second half. But the Dolphins got no closer than the 35, and were forced to punt.
The Jets then drove 80 yards in 10 plays, including a 42-yard pass-run from Robinson to Walker, and went ahead, 10-6, on Darnel Powells's two-yardt ouchdown run.
Two days laters, Jet linebacker Bob Martin stepped in front of a Griese sideline pass intended for Nat Moore for a piece-of-cake interception and returned it 26 yards to the Dolphin three.
kevin Long popped off left guard two plays later for a two-yard touchdown run, and the Jets had a bit of breathing room with a 17-6 lead with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
The Dolphins still had hope early in the fourth quarter with a first down at the New York 40. Griese dropped back to pass, Scrambled to his left to avoid pressure, then was smacked from behind by Jet linebacker Larry Keller, just before he released the ball.
Officials awarded the Jets the football at the Miami 44 after a recovery by lineman Joe Pelligrini.
"I thought he was releasing the ball," Shula said, not belaboring the point. Griese, on the other hand ended the argument when he said "it was probably a fumble."
Robinson, who passed for a career high 257 yards, wasted no time taking advantage of that critical Dolphin mistake. Two plays after the fumble, Walker streaked past two Miami defenders and caught the ball in full stride in the end zone, a 42-yard touchdown. That ended any Dolphin comeback hopes with 8:42 to play.
"You couldn't ask for an easier pass," said Walker, who caught four for 116 yards. "I just made it look like I was going to go short, and if my man takes the cheese, I go right by him. That's just what happened."
After that Jet touchdown, Shula decided to pull Griese in favor of Don Strock "just to see if we could get something going." But there is no question that Griese will start against the Redskins.
The Dolphins also are hoping that A.J. Duhe, their brilliant second-year defensive end can recover from a shoulder injury in time to start. Tim Foley, Miami's strong safety, also limped off in the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain, but said he would play against the Redskins.
"I guess both of us (the Rdskins and Dolphins) are kind of in the same situation," Foley said. "We've made it difficult for ourselves. They have to win next week, and so do we. It makes it interesting, anyway."