Not many Miami defenders figured to be under consideration for the Pro Bowl before the Dolphins shut out the Redskins a week ago, but Larry Gordon's stock shot up today after the job he did on the Oakland Raiders.
Gordon intercepted three of the five passes hijacked from Ken Stabler and blocked a point-after -touchdown attempt by Errol Mann while the Raiders were still breathing fire.
At the finish, the Dolphins had seven turnovers in a 23-6 victory and an assured will card berth in the American Football Conference playoffs against Houston, which clinched the other wild-card spot today.
Coach Don Shula said of Gordon, "That was the greatest game I've ever seen a linebacker play. How could he play nay better? We knew Oakland had to run to its left (behind guard Gene Upshaw and tackle Art Shell), and (right linebacker) Gordon made a lot of big plays.
"There was the added pleasure of knocking Oakland out of it."
Gordon's three interceptions were the most ever by a Dolphin linebacker in one game. The final one, late inthe fourth quarter, set up Garo Yepremian's third field goal of the game, a 34-yarder with 1:37 to play, clinching the Dolphins' first playoff berth in four years.
Godon intercepted the third pass as Oakland's 49 and returned it seven yards. Miami reached fourth and one at the Raider 16 before Yepremian booted his 15th straight field goal without a miss, giving the Dolphins a 16-6 bulge.
The loss left Oakland with an 8-7 record and out of th playoffs for the first time in six years.
Cornerback Gerald Small ran one of his two interceptions back for a 46-yard touchdown, accounting for the final margin. That meant that the Dolphins managed only one touchdown on offense, plus three field goals by Garo Yepremian, three field goals, from 35, 27 and 34 yards.
Taking note of the change in the Dolphins' fortunes in the last few weeks, quarterback Bob Griese was uncharacteristically expansive.
"It's great to be back in it (postseason competition)," he said, "once you're in the door, anything can happen."
Behind the offensive line that Coach Red Miller of Denver last week called "fat boys who get tired," the Raiders rushed for a net of 87 yards, the longest run coming on a 10-yard scoot by Arthur Shittington.
The Dolphins outrushed them by 10 yards, though Delvin Williams, their 1,000-yard plus gainer, carried the ball only two times because of a sprained knee.
The Raiders gave Stabler enoduring security in the early going, but his pass protection eventually broke down and Gordon, and then Small, began taking advantage of his hurried throws.
Stabler has not bee ncommunicating with the Oakland media on the way to his present aggregate of 30 interceptions. He was knocked woozy by Denver last week and sacked twice today. But to an interviewer he said, "I'm fine. It's always disappointing when you lose."
His five errant throws and two Oakland fumbles enabled the Dolphins to lead the league in the takeaway-giveaway department, with a plus 20.
Defensive end Pat Toomany of the Raiders suggested that Coach Miller and some Denver players will regret the "fat boys" remark in the future.
"The cycle comes around," Toomay said. "They're not used to winning; they don't know how to win gracefully. They have no class. You don't say a stupid thing like that. You saw they were not ready for the Super Bowl against Dallas. They stunk the joint out."
Of the Raiders' decline, Toomay said, "Sixteen games is a long season. I talked to some of the Cowboys about it. Nobody knows the proper pace for it. The coaches haven't been through it yet. The two extra games don't come at the beginning of the season, but at the end. And we're doing a bit of rebuilding."