In their wildest dreams, the Jacksonville Jaguars could not have imagined a more perfect start to a football game. Making one huge play after another, often aided by a significant blunder by the Miami Dolphins, the Jaguars had 24 points in the first quarter, 41 by halftime and rolled to a 62-7 victory today.
"I don't think there will ever be a perfect football game," Jaguars linebacker Kevin Hardy said. "But this is as close as you'll get."
The Jaguars benefited from seven Dolphins turnovers and rolled up 520 offensive yards. But it should get far more difficult for the 15-2 Jaguars next week, when they play the winner of Sunday's AFC semifinal game between the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. A Jacksonville victory next Sunday in the AFC title game, to be played here at Alltel Stadium, would put the team in the Super Bowl in its fifth year.
This was the most lopsided NFL playoff triumph since the Chicago Bears manhandled the Washington Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 championship game and the second most points scored by a team in the postseason. For Miami (10-8), it was the most one-sided defeat in team history and came on a day when few would have been surprised if Coach Jimmy Johnson and quarterback Dan Marino had announced their retirements at halftime, when they trailed by 34 points.
"I take the blame for this one," Johnson said, declining to answer questions about his future. "I tried to prepare them too much. I should have pulled back after the long trip to Seattle [for last Sunday's playoff victory over the Seahawks]. It was obvious from the start we were dead-legged. . . . I didn't give them a chance, and that's what we've got to live with."
About his own future, Marino said, "I'll wait and see what the circumstances are with the Dolphins and myself, how I feel. I still feel I can win games in this league. We'll see."
The Jaguars clearly came to play on this cool, sunny afternoon. The Dolphins could not tackle and could not cover. They could not run or throw. They did not get a first down until midway through the second quarter, managing only 92 offensive yards in the first half.
The Jaguars, who had a bye last week, drove 73 yards in nine plays on their first possession before Mark Brunell, wearing bulky braces on his knees, threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith for a 7-0 lead 4 minutes 30 seconds into the game. Smith, the NFL's leading receiver, finished with five catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns, one a 70-yard reception after the final outcome long had been decided.
"When we went up 24-0, it was kind of shocking," Smith said. "Then we just kept pounding them."
Before long, Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage as he swept around the right side and ran 90 yards for a touchdown, the longest scoring run in Jaguars history, for a 17-0 lead. Taylor, who sat out the second half, finished with 135 yards on 18 carries.
Marino's first pass was intercepted, leading to a field goal. By halftime, Miami had five turnovers, with Marino throwing two interceptions and fumbling once.
The fumble was caused by a blind-side swat of the ball by Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens, resulting in a bizarre 16-yard touchdown run when no Dolphins player moved to tackle Brackens until he was at the Miami 3. Teammate Bryce Paup had to shove Brackens into the end zone.
"It was probably the longest 16-yard run in history," Brackens said. "I felt a lot of guys on top of me, so I figured I was down. Then they told me it was all my own guys."
Brackens's score gave Jacksonville a 24-0 lead with 4:21 left in the opening quarter. And then it got worse.
On third and 14 at the Miami 39, the Dolphins blitzed Brunell. No problem. He lofted a balloon pass downfield toward an uncovered Taylor, and three Dolphins--Shawn Wooden, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain--all missed tackles. Taylor was credited with a 39-yard touchdown reception that helped provide a 31-0 lead 12 seconds into the second quarter.
A blocked punt by Corey Chamblin after Miami's Tommy Hutton dropped a low snap from center was recovered by the Jaguars' Chris Howard. Three plays later, running back James Stewart went around left end and dashed 25 yards for a fifth Jaguars touchdown. He was untouched until Miami's Jerry Wilson was called for a personal foul when he shoved Stewart in the end zone.
At that point, it was 38-0, and any semblance of a riveting playoff game had vanished. Still, Jaguars Coach Tom Coughlin told his team at halftime, "I didn't want a dip in our game. . . . They have Dan Marino and things can happen. We just talked about going back and doing our business. I didn't want people thinking the game was in hand."
But it was over. The Jaguars were so confident, they pulled Brunell with 11:45 left in the second quarter, the better to save his balky knees for next week.
Marino drove his team to a touchdown in the final seconds of the half to cut Jacksonville's advantage to 41-7. But after he failed to pick up a first down on Miami's opening series of the third period, he also was removed.
When someone asked him if he had just played in his last game, Marino snapped: "Don't ask me that question. We didn't compete at all. We played horrible. I've never experienced a game like this in my life, ever since I was a little kid. I've never seen anything like this."
Most points in a playoff game
73 Chicago vs. Washington, 1940
62 Jacksonville vs. Miami, 2000
59 Detroit vs. Cleveland, 1957
58 Philadelphia vs. Detroit, 1995