Aided by a revived running game, rookie quarterback Dan Marino continued his Bob Griese imitation today, passing the Miami Dolphins to an easy 30-14 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
"The thrill is back," said Coach Don Shula, and with good reason. The Orange Bowl was nearly filled for a change, his team ran and threw with equal proficiency and Miami defeated a quality opponent impressively.
"This reminded me of the old times in the Orange Bowl," Shula said. "We played as completely as you can get in this one. The offense has been playing well and now the defense came around, too."
Marino, in his fourth pro start, completed 25 of 38 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for his first pro score.
Marino's performance overshadowed and directly affected that of another outstanding rookie, Eric Dickerson, who gained 101 yards on 14 carries. Once Marino helped Miami break a 14-14 halftime tie and take a 24-14 lead, the Rams all but abandoned their running game, limiting Dickerson to his fewest carries of the season.
The Rams introduced a new phase of "no-back" offense using Dickerson in motion to the outside that confused the Dolphins for about five minutes. "I don't know if they were confused," Dickerson said, "but it was confusing me. I was lost."
Dickerson now has gained 1,096 yards; he is the first NFL player to go over 1,000 yards rushing this season and the 17th rookie ever to do so.
"Early in the week," Dolphins running back David Overstreet said, "Coach Shula said he didn't want to hear about Eric Dickerson doing this or doing that.
"He said he wanted to hear about his players running well. That we did."
Today, Dickerson was the only reason the game was close for a half. He broke off a 40-yard run in the first quarter to set up the Rams' first touchdown and he raced 31 yards midway through the second period to pave the way for their second score.
But after a 93-yard first half, he carried only twice the rest of the game. Quarterback Vince Ferragamo had the responsibility of rallying the Rams and he hardly was up to the task, throwing three interceptions in the second half.
"Maybe we didn't respect Dickerson enough," said defensive end Doug Betters. "He got a 40 and a 30 (yard run), and we learned the hard way about him. But we did what we knew we had to do: play good defense across the board."
It was the Rams' misfortune to run into a hot team with a hot quarterback. Since replacing David Woodley, Marino has been sensational. Although he was intercepted once today--the first time in 95 passes--that was offset by an abundance of good things.
"I don't know what else he could do out there," said Shula. "He simply plays better and better every week."
The Rams decided that blitzing might upset Marino's rhythm. But the offensive line kept off any pressure and Marino calmly picked apart the secondary with short passes over the middle. And when the Rams tried to tighten up, he'd go long to speedy receiver Mark Duper, who caught seven passes for 134 yards.
Marino, who had eight touchdown passes in the last four games, teamed with Duper on a 46-yard touchdown play in the second quarter.
Utilizing a rare rollout, Marino threw on the run to a cutting Duper, with the ball right on target at the two.
"I want to look at that one over and over and over," said Shula. "You couldn't ask for a better pass."
This was the first game since he started that Marino hasn't had to carry the entire offensive burden. The Dolphins' running game came out of hibernation, gaining 163 yards, 58 more than the Rams managed.
Halfback Tony Nathan was most impressive. He picked up 56 yards on 11 attempts, but, more importantly, came through on important third and fourth downs.
On a fourth and one in the first quarter, Nathan broke one tackle and gained 18 yards to the Rams' three. Two plays later, Marino scored. In the third quarter, Nathan started up the middle, spun and headed around right end, outrunning the secondary for an 18-yard score and a 24-14 lead. Later, he had a 60-yard touchdown nullified by a holding penalty. For his efforts, he received a game ball.
Another plus for Miami was Overstreet, the former No. 1 draft choice who has been playing in Canada. Overstreet ran 44 yards on one play, his longest gain in the NFL, then took a two-yard pass from Marino moments later for his first NFL touchdown. That put Miami ahead, 30-14, and the game far out of reach.
Los Angeles was hurt by injuries in the secondary. Cornerback LeRoy Irvin left in the first quarter with a groin pull, putting Monte Jackson (sore shoulder) at the mercy of Marino and Duper. The Dolphins kept throwing on Jackson with success.
They also decided to throw frequently on first down against the league's fourth-ranked run defense and run on second down. It worked splendidly thanks largely to Marino, who started the game by completing nine straight passes and was 11 of 13 near the end of the first half.
"We just stayed with our game plan," Marino said. "I'm gaining more confidence the more I play . . . When the Rams blitzed, it made it a little easier. We've got a lot of speedy receivers who are hard to cover one on one."
The Dolphins needed to win to stay even with Buffalo, also 6-3, in the AFC East. The loss hurt the Rams (5-4), who remained one game behind San Francisco in the NFC West. And Coach John Robinson wasn't pleased with his team's second straight defeat.
"It's all relatively simple . . . we did not play well in all aspects," he said. "The Miami Dolphins played effectively and efficiently. We have lost two in a row, the Dolphins had lost two in a row earlier, and they came back. We can come back."