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Sinking fast . . . who will bail?

Dolphins, Seahawks try to right ships today, but season will end for one of the fading teams.

By CHAD CAPELLMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2000


Should either the Dolphins or the host AFC West champion Seattle Seahawks not know what hit them in today's AFC wild-card game, it probably will be because they backed into one another.

Both teams have lost the ball repeatedly en route to losing five of their last six games, and are mutually grateful they have one another to play against in the first round. In their past 12 combined games, the Dolphins (19) and the Seahawks (16) have combined for 35 turnovers.

"It's good that they've been on a losing streak, but it doesn't matter now," Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said. "You've got to put it together now, that's the thing. They've lost a lot of games because of turnovers. That's the same thing with us. They're probably going to try to play a little more conservative. We're hoping that we take care of the ball and cause some turnovers." This is the final game in the Kingdome, which many believe is the loudest stadium in the NFL. And fans will be celebrating the Seahawks' first playoff appearance since 1988.

The Dolphins' last road playoff victory was in the 1972 AFC Championship Game. But while the teams are lacking recent positive playoff history, the two coaches have more than their share. Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson led the Cowboys to Super Bowl titles in 1993 and '94. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren -- who has never lost a home playoff game -- coached the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 1997 and the NFC championship the next season.

"I'm really excited for the whole franchise and everybody to be able to go to the playoffs," said Seahawks running back Ricky Watters, who is recovering from a sprained right knee but expected to start. "But when you lose five of the last six, there's got to be a bad taste in everyone's mouth. We have not been getting the job done. I hope everybody feels the same way. If we keep playing the way we've been playing, is it going to matter? We're going to get beat."

While Watters fears the worst, others are filled with relief. And perhaps no player feels that way more than Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. The 17-year veteran has struggled while receiving little support from the league's 22nd-ranked rushing attack. In 11 games, Marino has a 55.3 completion percentage, 17 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes. While he has not publicly announced his plans, this might be his last season.

"It's refreshing for us because we've had a long year and a tough year," Marino said. "We've kind of gotten a little reprieve. If we win three games, we're in the Super Bowl. It's an old cliche, but we've got to take one game at a time and go to Seattle believing in this team."

A Dolphins victory likely will rest on the defense, which faces Jon Kitna. The third-year quarterback has been sacked 32 times.

"They've got some good receivers, and they like (to use) the tight end," Dolphins safety Brock Marion said. "They throw the ball to the back out of the backfield. It's the West Coast offense, they can strike right away. If we're playing pass and making sure we make them break off their routes, then I think we'll be all right."

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