Twelve years ago, the Miami Dolphins were winning like this. They weren't throwing as much -- or as well -- but the result was the same. Victory after victory after victory. It almost got boring.
In 1972, it was 17 in a row. In 1984, it is eight . . . and counting. But it isn't getting boring.
The Dolphins scored every time they had possession of the ball in today's second half, punted only once in the game and rolled to 552 yards, defeating the New England Patriots, 44-24, to remain the NFL's only undefeated team. The Patriots fell to 5-3.
Miami quarterback Dan Marino was almost unstoppable, completing 24 of 39 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Along the way, he broke Bob Griese's club record of 22 touchdown passes in a season, and now has 24. It took Griese 14 games in 1977 to do what Marino has done in eight.
If the Dolphins were to be beaten any time soon, you figured it had to be here, against the Patriots. They had defeated the Patriots 17 straight times in Miami, but had lost seven of the last eight in Sullivan Stadium, including the infamous snow-plow victory of 1982.
The Patriots seemed willing to try to keep the jinx alive, twice closing the gap to six points in the second half. But, in the end, they just couldn't keep up.
"There are just too many of us," said wide receiver Mark Clayton, who led Dolphins receivers with seven catches for 99 yards. "You can't gang up on us."
The Patriots double-teamed Mark Duper, the Dolphins' leading receiver, allowing him only one catch, for 15 yards. So what happens? Clayton, Dan Johnson (five receptions, 73 yards), and Nat Moore (five, 61) go wild. In all, nine Miami receivers caught at least one pass.
"It's all a package," said offensive guard Ed Newman. "Things have started rolling together really nicely."
For a change, Miami's running game -- the staple of the '72 team -- was rolling along, too. Decimated by David Overstreet's tragic death last summer and a knee injury to fullback Andra Franklin, the Dolphins had averaged just 118 yards rushing in the first seven games. Today, they gained 236 yards on the ground, led by Joe Carter's 92 on 14 carries. This against the team that was stingiest in the NFL in yards per rush.
"They've got enough offense to say grace over all day," New England Coach Ron Meyer said later.
And they seem to get it in just the right doses. When the Patriots scored on a 76-yard pass from Tony Eason (himself 19 of 29 for three touchdowns and 313 yards) to Stanley Morgan to close to 23-17 midway through the third quarter, Miami Coach Don Shula was concerned.
With the New England jinx and 60,711 screaming fans staring you in the face, who wouldn't be?
But Shula has Marino, and that seems to be enough.
"What has happened all year long is what happened after that (touchdown)," Shula said. "Marino continues to answer whatever situation we're in."
The second-year pro from Pitt led the Dolphins 75 yards in less than three minutes, completing a 15-yard pass to Clayton down the middle for the touchdown that put Miami ahead, 30-17.
"They get a super play (the 76-yard pass) and then our offense comes on and just walks it down the field," said nose tackle Bob Baumhower. "What a great feeling to know you're always going to make bail."
But the Patriots weren't done in yet. Several minutes later, after the score had ballooned to 37-24, the Dolphins were backed up to their 17, where the Patriots had a first down. Reserve fullback Tony Collins was in the game replacing Mosi Tatupu, who was "tired," Meyers said. Eason handed Collins the ball, only to have it fumbled on a hit from A.J. Duhe. Cornerback William Judson picked up the ball and ran 17 yards to set up Miami's final score, deflating the last hopes the Patriots held.
"What a big play," Newman said. "The game turned on that play."
Miami scored on its final five possessions, four in the second half.
"I go out with one thing is mind: to score every time," Marino said. "Why else go out there?"
Of all the questions being asked, possibly the most logical went along these lines: Are the Dolphins unstoppable?
"I don't think we're unstoppable," said wide receiver Jimmy Cefalo, "but it sure is nice to be sitting at 8-0 and wondering who will stop us."
Meanwhile, the Patriots dropped a game behind the New York Jets and three behind the Dolphins. To add injury to insult, wide receiver Irving Fryar separated a shoulder early in the second quarter and will be out an undetermined amount of time.
The Dolphins weren't talking injuries. They were busy carefully skirting the issue of 1972.
"The 17-0 team in '72 was something wonderful, and it's a wonderful goal," Newman said. "But I think the character of the Miami Dolphins is business as usual."
Which is to say, winning.