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Home is where the hurt is for Dolphins, Colts

Miami seeks to reverse a trend of victories by the visiting team when the two meet today.

By JOE FRISARO

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2000


MIAMI -- Recent history reveals home field is not such an advantage when the Miami Dolphins play the Indianapolis Colts.

The last two years, the visiting team has won all four games in the Colts-Dolphins series. Today, Miami (11-5) hopes to reverse the trend when it faces Indianapolis (10-6) at Pro Player Stadium in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

"I don't think home-field advantage makes a difference," Miami linebacker Robert Jones said. "We've proven that. We've gone into extreme temperatures and come out on top. When we're down here in comfortable temperatures where it's warm, we've lost games."

For Miami, it's not just the Colts who give them trouble at home. The Dolphins enter the post-season riding a three-game losing streak at Pro Player Stadium in which they've turned the ball over 12 times.

"This game should come down to who can break a tackle, who doesn't make a mistake, and who can make a play here and there to get points on the board," Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said.

The Colts capitalized on three Dolphins turnovers in a 20-13 win Dec. 17 in Miami. Jeff Burris' interception ended Miami's late rally.

On Nov. 26, Miami rallied to beat the Colts 17-14, scoring on a late touchdown after safety Brock Marion picked off Peyton Manning.

"More important than having a bye or home-field advantage is to be playing good football," said Manning, who led the NFL with 4,413 yards passing and 33 touchdowns.

Manning played mistake-free in the Colts' win at Miami, completing 21 of 28 passes for 206 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and one sack.

"The home-field advantage hasn't been much this year," Dolphins linebacker Derrick Rodgers said. "But I think our crowd is going to get into the game and can cause a lot of mistakes, especially when you're in the playoffs. The stakes get higher, the intensity goes up."

One phase of the game in which the home crowd actually is a disadvantage, some Dolphins players say, is on defense.

Crowd noise at Pro Player Stadium gets so loud that the Dolphins secondary struggles to hear coverage schemes. When that occurs, the safeties and cornerbacks communicate by hand signals.

"It's been a problem in some games," safety Brian Walker said. "Our linebackers and defensive linemen will cheer on the crowd, but in the secondary we have difficulty calling the plays. Fortunately, our cornerbacks are very good and alert. They know all the checks."

Against Manning, Dolphins defenders say it's imperative for the secondary to be on the same page. In the last meeting, the third-year veteran from Tennessee burned the secondary for a 50-yard touchdown to Marcus Pollard one play after a Miami penalty prolonged the drive.

"Indianapolis really handed it to us two weeks ago," Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said. "They're playing really well right now. Peyton is the best quarterback I've faced in my five years in the league."

Thomas said Manning executes the play-action fake better than anyone in the NFL. Two weeks ago, Manning used a play-fake to Edgerrin James to freeze Walker, allowing his tight end to get open.

"One bad technique, one bad read can cost you the game," said Walker, who blew the coverage on Pollard.

Miami believes the best way to contain Manning is to shut down James, the NFL's rushing leader with 1,709 yards. It's easier said than done. James has rushed for 118 and 112 yards in the two games. But he has been held out of the end zone and has a long gain of 15 yards.

"If Edgerrin rushes for 130 or 150 yards against us, it could be a long day for us," Marion said.

Home or away, Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said the key is not being careless.

"Up there we didn't have penalties or make mistakes," Wannstedt said. "Down here they did the same thing. We know they're capable of coming in here and winning in our back yard."

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