Bert Jones answered his critics with his first 300-yard passing performance in four years today, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Baltimore Colts from losing their third straight game, a 31-28 decision to unbeaten Miami.
Jones, under heavy criticism last week after failing to throw a touchdown pass in the first three games, came within an official's flag of leading the Colts to an upset.
Jones' apparent 47-yard scoring pass to Ray Butler with five seconds to play was nullified by a holding call against guard Bob Pratt as the Dolphins escaped with a triumph that left many in the crowd of 41,630 cheering the losers.
David Woodley was the winner in this thrilling passing duel. He took the Dolphins 61 yards in the final four minutes to set up Uwe von Schamann's winning 27-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining.
The second-year quarterback from LSU enjoyed his most productive NFL day, completing 19 of 30 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. It was Woodley's first 300-yard game.
Jones completed 20 of 27 for 351 yards and three touchdowns. In the second half, he completed 10 of his 12 for 200 yards while turning boos to cheers.
Although the Dolphins moved solidly in front of the AFC East with a 4-0 record, Jones provided the day's biggest story by showing this town that he is far from being finished.
The 30-year-old quarterback had completed only 24 of 50 passes in the first three games and there was talk that he might be relieved of play-calling responsibilities because he couldn't get his best young receiver, Butler, involved in the offense.
Butler, who had caught just two passes in three games, suddenly became Jones' favorite target today with four receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Naturally, however, the nullified touchdown at the finish upset both.
"That was a hell of a time to come up with a holding call," said Jones, his aching right elbow encased in ice. "They can call holding most anytime they want, I guess, but you would think they wouldn't pick the winning play of the damn game.
"I didn't see it, I was looking downfield, but I heard someone on the Dolphins yelling and maybe that's what attracted the attention."
After von Schamann's field goal and a 22-yard kickoff return by Kim Anderson, the Colts took over on their 36 with no timeouts left and 55 seconds remaining.
Jones passed to tight end Randy Burke over the middle for 17 yards. On the next play, he scrambled to his right and threw a long pass down the right sideline to Butler, who leaped between two defenders, caught the ball on the five and stepped into the end zone.
The cheers quickly turned to boos, however, as an official waved his hands in a crossing motion, signaling that the play was nullified.
"I saw the flag," said Coach Don Shula of the Dolphins, "but then I looked downfield and thought we were going to intercept. We had two men in position and it wasn't a well-thrown ball."
Pratt, an eight-year veteran from North Carolina, didn't deny the infraction.
"I'm not going to say it wasn't justified," he said. "But I've held a lot worse and not had anything called. I wasn't surprised they called it, though, because this guy got up and started screaming. That's when the call was made. It was late, but that doesn't make any difference."
It made a whole lot of difference to beleaguered Colt Coach Mike McCormack, whose team is 1-3 and trails Miami by three games.
"It's a crying shame," McCormack said over and over again in his solemn dressing quarters. "That game was taken away from us. Offensively we did everything we wanted to do. We never had good field position and yet we put together great drives.
"Bert threw the ball as well as I've ever seen him," the coach continued. "He got the ball to the right people, he called a good game, he kept Miami off balance the whole day. He certainly played well enough to win."
Obviously McCormack could not say the same of his defense, particularly the secondary. It yielded several crucial long completions, including a 45-yarder to Duriel Harris that set up the winning field goal.
Woodley also teamed with former Virginia star Tommy Vigorito for a 31-yard touchdown on the Dolphins' first possession and with fullback Nick Giaquinto for a 14-yard score late in the third period. Vigorito caught six passes for 60 yards.
"I'm certainly not happy with our defense," said McCormack. "When we're in a zone, I don't understand how a guy can run past us. Also, we're not getting the pass rush we need. We played better today but, apparently, not good enough to win."