Dolphins 30, Chargers 3
The result was impressive enough, but far more eye-opening than what the Miami Dolphins did today at Pro Player Stadium was how they did it. The cold numbers are as follows: the Dolphins defeated the San Diego Chargers, 30-3, in a game so lopsided it felt more like a spectacle than a competition, fortifying their front-runner position in the AFC East and keeping San Diego in the fray of the AFC West.
As notable as the numbers was the story behind them, a sunny Miami tale of redemption and evolution. The Dolphins at least temporarily upset San Diego Coach Marty Schottenheimer's reconstruction project with a second-string quarterback, Ray Lucas, who had seemed emotionally broken after an horrific debut a month ago. They won with a defense that all but tied down LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL's top running back, who finished with just 45 yards.
And, providing a bit of an historic twist, Miami did it by running the ball.
Ricky Williams is one of the league's quietest players, yet he is nonetheless changing the personality of the Miami franchise or, at least, helping reintroduce his teammates to a long-, long-, long-lost tradition. He ran for 143 yards on 29 carries today to go over 1,000 yards for the season, becoming only the fourth Dolphin in the last 24 years to do so.
He also became the only Dolphin to surpass 100 yards rushing in more than five games in one season. Miami is 6-0 in his 100-yard efforts. By Week 13, he likely will break the Dolphins' single-season rushing record of 1,258 yards, set by Delvin Williams in 1978.
Williams, typically, had little to say about his performance, which included two touchdowns, other than crediting virtually the entire organization for opening up holes for him.
"Ricky doesn't say much at all," Lucas said. "But when we came out at halftime, he told me, 'I'm a beast in the second half.' I told him, 'You're a beast for four quarters.' "
Miami, a franchise that for years leaned on Dan Marino's arm, suddenly resembles the bullish teams of the 1970s, the ones that rode the legs of Larry Csonka and -- perhaps not coincidentally -- won a pair of Super Bowls. San Diego's defense, ranked third in the NFL against the run before today, seemed to see the connection after allowing 222 yards on the ground.
"We never thought Ricky would do to us what he did," San Diego safety Rodney Harrison said. "We couldn't stop them today. They played like Super Bowl champions."
In a matchup of two former Washington Redskins coaches, Schottenheimer and Miami offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Turner looked smarter and happier all afternoon. Schottenheimer has revived the 7-4 Chargers, a team that finished 5-11 a year ago. Today, however, Schottenheimer couldn't diagram an antidote to an offense powered by Williams and orchestrated by Turner.
"I can't put a price tag on Norv Turner," said Lucas, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 194 yards with no interceptions and one touchdown. "I really can't explain it. He's invaluable to this offense. He calls a great game. . . . He makes us believe in the system. As much as I want to throw it, I think, 'If Norv called it, it's for a reason,' and I just get it to Ricky."
The Dolphins would like to believe today's game proves they are back to where they were before starting quarterback Jay Fiedler broke his thumb. With Fiedler, Miami was 5-1 and considered one of the top teams. Today's victory puts them at 7-4 with Fiedler expected to return to the starting lineup in a week or two.
"Over the last [few] years we've always started fast and ended bad," said linebacker Zach Thomas, whose interception on the second play of the game led to a field goal for Miami. "But we're starting to get a streak going now. . . . I like this because we're at the top [of the division] and haven't played our best ball yet."
After the Chargers tied the game with a 38-yard Steve Christie field goal, the Dolphins broke away early in the first half. Lucas fired a 20-yard pass to James McKnight for the team's first touchdown and a 10-3 first-quarter lead. Miami then exhausted San Diego's defense with a 14-play, 86-yard drive that consumed 8 minutes 15 seconds of the second quarter. Williams completed the drive with a one-yard touchdown to give the Dolphins a 17-3 lead.
A controversial ruling allowed Miami to extend its 20-3 halftime lead in the third quarter. The officials awarded Miami the ball at the San Diego 28 after a Dolphins player crashed into San Diego return man Reche Caldwell as a punt arrived, preventing him from receiving it. The officials ruled the defender had been pushed into Caldwell and that the result was a fumble.
Four players later, Williams ran right and dived into the end zone from 12 yards.
"We've got our confidence back," Williams said, "and it feels good."