© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2002
MINNEAPOLIS -- They field the NFL's rushing leader, the front-runner for defensive player of the year and four other Pro Bowl selections.
And the Dolphins might not make the playoffs.
The late-season swoon that has haunted the franchise for six seasons returned with a vengeance Saturday in a 20-17 loss to Minnesota at the Metrodome.
Vikings kicker Gary Anderson's 53-yard field goal with 17 seconds left ended any realistic chances the Dolphins can earn a first-round playoff bye and homefield advantage in the postseason.
Instead, the Dolphins must win Dec. 29 at New England to capture the AFC East title and guarantee a playoff berth.
"I feel awful right now," Dolphins fullback Rob Konrad said. "It seems like it happens to us every year."
The AFC playoff scenarios remain muddled until after today's games, but the Dolphins risk missing the postseason at 9-7.
"Either we win next week in New England or we (could) be sitting home for New Year's," Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said. "We are too good of a team to do that. We've got to get going."
That didn't happen against the Vikings, who looked more poised for a playoff run than a tired Dolphins squad playing its third game in 13 days.
Minnesota controlled the clock for 35:54, longer than any other Dolphins opponent this season, and limited rushing leader Ricky Williams to 67 yards on 15 carries. The Dolphins offense ran only 39 plays, the lowest total in any NFL game this season.
The biggest plays for Minnesota's offense involved quarterback Daunte Culpepper (20 of 29 passing for 244 yards), wide receiver Randy Moss (seven catches for 110 yards) or both.
With the Dolphins holding a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, Moss streaked past defensive backs Jamar Fletcher and Shawn Wooden for a 60-yard reception. Three plays later Moss took a handoff and tossed a 13-yard touchdown to D'Wayne Bates.
The Dolphins weren't as efficient in their subsequent trip inside Minnesota's red zone. A third-down pass from quarterback Jay Fiedler to wide receiver Cris Carter was tipped away by Vikings middle linebacker Greg Biekert, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a 25-yard Olindo Mare field goal that tied it at 17 with 6:12 left.
That series marked the last legitimate scoring chance the Dolphins had, as the Vikings chewed up 5:52 on a 12-play drive. Minnesota was ready to punt on fourth and 2 from the Dolphins 45 with 2:07 left, but coach Mike Tice changed his mind after a timeout and called for a Culpepper keeper. Culpepper quickly turned upfield and plowed ahead for 3 yards.
The Vikings then reached the Dolphins 35 before turning to the 43-year-old Anderson, who hadn't made a field goal from 53 yards since December 1998.
EAGLES 27, COWBOYS 3: Philadelphia (12-3) matched the most wins in team history and closed in on homefield advantage in the playoffs, and it made it look easy.
Duce Staley ran for a touchdown and A.J. Feeley threw for one, and Shawn Barber returned an interception 80 yards in the fourth quarter for the Eagles.
If this was the last time Emmitt Smith and Dave Campo called Texas Stadium home, it was a miserable way to say goodbye. Smith had 30 yards on eight carries and was only a decoy in the goal-line situation that used to be his specialty, marking one of many questionable coaching moves Campo made, the kind that might have prompted owner Jerry Jones to meet with Bill Parcells.
The Eagles won their sixth straight to reach 12 wins for the first time since the 1980 squad that reached the Super Bowl.
More importantly, Philadelphia can clinch homefield if Green Bay loses today and Tampa Bay loses Monday.
49ERS 17, CARDINALS 14: Jeff Garcia completed 23 of 39 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown and Garrison Hearst ran for a score as host San Francisco held on to win. With the 49ers' playoff position locked -- a first-round home game against a wild-card team -- 49ers receiver Terrell Owens took the day off because of a sore groin.
Is Jersey's Coach going to America's Team?
The retired Bill Parcells, stricken with his annual coaching itch, met with Cowboys owner Jones for five hours Wednesday at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
The former Giants, Patriots and Jets coach confirmed the meeting. He said he wasn't offered a position -- he didn't even specify if they discussed a coaching job -- but all signs point to that.
Parcells, 61, who jilted the Bucs in January after a hot-and-heavy courtship, admitted he hasn't been able to get coaching out of his system.
"I thought I did, but I'd be a fool not to listen," Parcells told the New York Daily News. "This is America, after all."
That Jones flew to New Jersey to meet with Parcells doesn't bode well for the future of Campo, who is 15-32.
"We discussed pro football, philosophy and the Cowboys," Parcells, who achieved fame as the Giants coach in 1983-90, said in a statement. "I have spoken to Jerry Jones several times over the years. He did not offer me a job with the Cowboys. Any speculation about the Cowboys' head-coaching job would be premature at this time."
Asked why Parcells, who quit the Patriots because of interference by owner Robert Kraft, would want to work for Jones, he told ESPN: "He wants to win and I wouldn't consider going to an organization that doesn't have that attitude. The effort to win is in Dallas."
OBIT: Gordon McCarter, 71, a referee whom Steelers coach Bill Cowher once chased across a field to stuff a snapshot of a play in his pocket, died Friday in Cleveland. Mr. McCarter, a referee from 1974 until his 1996 retirement, was in charge of several disputed games in his last seasons. In 1995 he was fined a game's pay for an incorrect call of 12 men on the field during a game in Pittsburgh against Minnesota. Cowher also was fined for stuffing into Mr. McCarter's pocket a Polaroid photo showing 11 Steelers on the field.
PACKERS: Cornerback Erwin Swiney was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man active roster. Running back Maurice Smith was placed on waivers to open the roster spot.
SAINTS: A fan who ran onto the field in a game and tried to sign a San Francisco player's jersey was fined $500 and barred from attending games for a year. Otis Henry, 50, originally had been charged with trespassing but pleaded no contest this month to disturbing the peace. He also must serve a year's probation and 60 hours of community service. Acting on a bet, Henry ran on the field late in the fourth quarter and tried to autograph 49ers center Jeremy Newberry's jersey.
VIKINGS: Doctors working for Korey Stringer's widow say the offensive lineman would have survived heatstroke if the team had provided proper treatment after he collapsed during a workout in training camp before the 2001 season. The five doctors and a trainer made the comments in statements prepared for Kelci Stringer's wrongful-death lawsuit against the team, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported. The lawsuit goes to trial in June.