Dolphins 34, Broncos 10
When the Miami Dolphins scored their first touchdown for new coach Nick Saban, he celebrated by pacing the sideline with a stoic expression.
Randy McMichael strutted into end zone with the score, Jason Taylor jumped for joy and Gus Frerotte did a jig. But Saban kept his game face, well aware that one touchdown -- and one win -- is merely a start.
Frerotte led a creative offense by throwing for 275 yards, Taylor returned a fumble 85 yards for a score and Miami successfully kicked off the Saban era by routing the Denver Broncos, 34-10, on Sunday.
"It's important how you respond to good things and bad things," Saban said. "We should enjoy this for 24 hours, but this is one game in a long season."
It was a long day for the Broncos. They lost cornerback Champ Bailey and running back Mike Anderson to injuries, wilted in the 90-degree South Florida heat and fell to 0-7 in Miami.
"We knew it was going to be difficult to come in here and deal with the elements in their back yard," said Coach Mike Shanahan, now 10-3 in season openers with Denver and Oakland.
Frerotte, starting his first game for his sixth NFL team, went 24 for 36 with touchdown passes of two yards to McMichael and 60 yards to Marty Booker. Wide receiver Chris Chambers ran 61 yards on a reverse to set up a field goal, and the defense did the rest.
Taylor punctuated the victory on the final play by knocking the ball out of Jake Plummer's grasp, scooping up the fumble and sprinting for a touchdown.
"The longest 20 seconds of my life," the weary Taylor joked. It was his fifth fumble return for a score, tying the NFL record set by Jessie Tuggle.
The game was 20 minutes old before Plummer completed a pass on his seventh attempt, and the Broncos' lone touchdown was set up by a fumbled punt. Miami mounted a goal-line stand in the second quarter to protect a 6-0 lead, stopping the Broncos five consecutive times after they had a first down at the 3-yard line.
It was a lot to cheer about for Miami fans who endured a 4-12 record in 2004, the Dolphins' first losing year since 1988. The dismal season led to the hiring of Saban.
"He came in and did things his way," McMichael said. "And his way works."
The Dolphins took little time to fulfill Saban's pledge for a more imaginative offense. On their second possession, Chambers took a handoff from Ronnie Brown on a reverse and dashed down the sideline, accompanied by a convoy of blockers including Frerotte.
The first touchdown came with a new wrinkle: Defensive end Taylor lined up as a tight end and took two defenders with him to clear out the flat for McMichael, who caught the scoring pass.
Saban allowed himself a grin during his postgame news conference.
"I'm really pleased for the players," he said. "They've suffered a little bit over the last year or so. They all wanted to prove something, and I'm happy we could help them do that."
The Dolphins occasionally looked as self-destructive as last season. Five false-start penalties in the opening half prompted boos by the crowd, and twice they failed to convert a fourth and one.
But as often happens in early-season games in Miami, the visitors wilted in the sweltering weather. Denver cornerbacks Darrent Williams and Lenny Walls went to the sideline with cramps, and the Dolphins scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the second half.
"We're in this heat for 21/2 hours every day, and we used it to our advantage today," McMichael said.
The Dolphins' point total was their highest since beating Detroit in the 2002 opener, 49-21.