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Fiedler starts badly, ends well

Booed in the first half, the Dolphins quarterback rebounds to lead the second-half comeback.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 31, 2000


MIAMI -- Their faith in Jay Fiedler is not blind, nor is it binding. Miami Dolphins fans reserve the right to unload on him, his status as the team's starting quarterback tenuous in their minds.

Fiedler will get no bronze statues in front of Pro Player Stadium, unlike Dan Marino.

So it came as no surprise when Fiedler heard the boos Saturday, the Dolphins in despair. Three interceptions in the first half, two leading to Indianapolis points. A two-touchdown deficit at intermission. A solid, if not overachieving, season about to come to a disappointing end.

No worries.

After playing poorly enough to get pulled, Fiedler was a different quarterback in the second half, guiding the Dolphins to a game-tying touchdown in the waning seconds and helping them secure a 23-17 victory over Indianapolis in an AFC first-round playoff game. Miami will play at Oakland on Saturday in an AFC divisional playoff game.

"You always have to keep hoping," Fiedler said. "It was just an amazing victory. I can't describe the feeling I have right now."

If you didn't see the first half, you would never know how much Fiedler struggled. His final numbers were decent: 19 completions in 34 attempts for 185 yards and a touchdown -- pretty amazing when you consider how Fiedler started: 5-of-14 for 42 yards and three interceptions. In the second half and overtime, Fiedler was 14-for-20 for 143 yards.

"In the first half ... I have no idea," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I just think that he was antsy and tried to force some things. I don't know. He didn't lose his composure, though. We came in at halftime and talked about what we could do in the second half to not put him in situations as far as throwing the ball."

It didn't hurt that running back Lamar Smith was rushing for 209 yards on a playoff-record 40 carries. Or that Fiedler himself started scrambling effectively. Or that his teammates kept the faith.

"It's the same thing he's been doing for us all year long," center Tim Ruddy said. "He's just like anybody else. He's going to make some mistakes. They're just amplified because he's the quarterback and everybody is looking at him."

"You can't put your finger on what he has," guard Mark Dixon said. "He has character. They used to say about Michael Jordan, 'He has it.' But they don't know what 'it' is. But he has it. Jay is a little bit like that. You don't know what he has, but he has something."

Fiedler had something at the end of regulation. If he didn't, Miami's season would be over.

The Dolphins trailed 17-10 after a 50-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt and took over with 4:47 left at their own 20.

All season, the Dolphins had driven 80 or more yards for a touchdown just twice, but Fiedler did not panic. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 67 yards on the final drive, scrambled twice for 14 yards and hit tight end Jay Weaver for a 9-yard, game-tying touchdown with 40 seconds left. On the winning drive in overtime, he completed 3 of 4 passes for 26 yards.

"Jay played, I guess you'd have to say, one of his greatest games of the season after the first half," Miami receiver Oronde Gadsden said. "I don't think anyone lost faith in Jay. There were definitely some boos. It's hard for a young quarterback. But he stood up to it."

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