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Fiedler looks like right pick

By JOE FRISARO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 4, 2000


MIAMI -- The choice of Jay Fiedler as Dan Marino's successor was panned by much of south Florida and second-guessed by Marino himself.

During Inside the NFL on HBO, Marino questioned the Dolphins' decision to start the former Dartmouth quarterback over Damon Huard. Few are debating coach Dave Wannstedt selection today.

Without posting Marino-like numbers, Fiedler methodically guided the Dolphins to a 23-0 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

"I hope this reinforces why he started," Wannstedt said. "Jay was very efficient. I thought he played real smart."

The free agent and former Jaguar didn't dazzle with his 15-for-24 performance for 134 yards and one touchdown. What he did was keep Seattle's defense on the field for 38:20 before it wilted in the 89-degree heat and 59 percent humidity. The ground game that never materialized in coach Jimmy Johnson's four seasons in Miami emerged behind Lamar Smith's 145 yards. In all, the Dolphins ran for 181 yards and averaged 4.4 yards.

"Marino had an opinion," Fiedler said. "I went out and proved I was the right guy."

On Miami's first possession, Fiedler converted third-and-long passes to former Buc Bert Emanuel (16 yards) and Thurman Thomas (15 yards). Smith's 4-yard touchdown run capped the 13-play, 70-yard drive that ate up 7:17.

The last time Miami scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the season was 1992.

"Jay managed the game very well," offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said. "He handled the team very well.

"We'll probably never know how important scoring a touchdown on our first drive will have on our season. It certainly helped our confidence."

Miami's defense shared in the glory with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison twice picked off John Kitna, who was benched at halftime.

"It's all about getting turnovers, taking the ball away," Madison said. "We work on stripping the ball, breaking on the ball, just reacting."

Sunday marked the third time the Dolphins posted an opening-game shutout. It was their first since 12-0 over Buffalo in 1983.

Miami has won nine straight openers, which ties the Chicago Bears, who had their run from 1984-92.

"It was disappointing and frustrating," said Kitna, who was replaced by Brock Huard, Damon's brother. "I made some bad plays and bad decisions. They capitalized on every one of them."

All the points came in the first half. Olindo Mare had field goals of 48, 25 and 30 yards. Fiedler's touchdown was a 16-yarder to Oronde Gadsden.

"We were just clicking," Fiedler said. "I had some quick passes out there to the flat. On the touchdown pass, it looked like the defense might have messed up their coverage."

When Seattle wasn't self-destructing with turnovers, it committed crucial penalties. In the third quarter, defensive end Michael Sinclair jumped offside, negating what would have been a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Jay Bellamy.

"The Dolphins kicked us around pretty good," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "We weren't very good offensively. Our defense was on the field a long time."

A year ago, Miami was 22nd in in rushing offense. It averaged 3.3 yards.

"We feel confident with what we've got out there," Fiedler said. "We wanted to run the ball. We wanted to wear them out."

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