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What a rush! Miami rallies for win

RB Lamar Smith's record-setting day lifts the Dolphins to an overtime victory.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 31, 2000


MIAMI -- There is only so far quarterback Jay Fiedler can take the Dolphins. Only so much their tenacious defense can do. If they are going to continue into the post-season, they will need someone else to carry them.

Saturday, it was Lamar Smith.

Smith carried the ball an NFL playoff-record 40 times for 209 yards and two touchdowns, including the winner on a 17-yard romp 11 minutes into overtime, as the Dolphins beat Indianapolis 23-17.

"That guy," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said, "has an awful lot of desire."

Down 14-0 at halftime, the Dolphins drove 80 yards to tie with 40 seconds left in regulation, survived a missed 49-yard field goal by Indianapolis' usually reliable Mike Vanderjagt, then went 61 yards for the win.

The victory sent the Dolphins to Oakland for an AFC divisional playoff game at 4 p.m. Saturday and, the players said, delivers a message to skeptics. "At the beginning of the year, the only people we had were the people in this locker room. We were supposed to be 5-12 or something," receiver Oronde Gadsden said. "Every week, it's something different where we have to prove ourselves. We're division champs, but we're still underdogs. Some people take that to heart; take that real serious.

"That kind of hurts."

South Florida fans were so ambivalent, the game didn't sell out until Saturday morning, meaning it was not on local television. And they booed lustily as the Dolphins fell behind in the first half.

Fiedler threw three interceptions, Olindo Mare missed a 38-yard field goal and a handful of penalties set them back.

But the Dolphins, playing the Colts for the third time in 35 days, didn't panic.

"It wasn't one of those locker rooms where we were throwing blackboards and Gatorade buckets," Wannstedt said.

Instead, logic prevailed.

The Dolphins figured they had come back from a 14-3 deficit to beat the Colts 17-14 at Indianapolis on Nov. 26, so why couldn't they do it again.

"If there was some way we could get one score, just one score, in the second half, we could get back in this football game," Wannstedt said. "And being at home, if we could get it down to the last couple of minutes, we felt like we could win it because of the home crowd."

The Dolphins came out and did just that, stirring the Pro Player Stadium crowd, announced at 73,193, by going 70 yards in 11 plays. Smith carried the ball six times, going 24 yards around left end to get the drive going and 2 yards up the middle to finish it. The Dolphins defense, solid in the first half considering the circumstances it faced, stepped up as well, allowing Indianapolis just three more points.

The exchange of fourth-quarter field goals left the Dolphins down 17-10 with 4:55 to play, but Fiedler and Smith brought them down the field again. Miami tied the score when Fiedler connected from 9 yards with reserve tight end Jed Weaver, his first career touchdown. The Dolphins stalled on their first overtime possession, then held their breath when Vanderjagt was wide right on his 49-yard kick.

Colts coach Jim Mora declined an offside penalty so Vanderjagt, who was 25-for-27 during the season and 3-for-3 in the game, could get on the field.

"I looked at Mike, and he said, 'I can make it.' I wouldn't second-guess my decision," Mora said.

"I caught some turf before I hit the ball, and that's what made it go right," Vanderjagt said. "I was born to be in that situation.

"I let my teammates down. I let the organization down. I let the city of Indianapolis down. It's a pretty big burden to carry into the off-season. But nothing can change that now."

The Dolphins went down the field again, mixing short passes and runs by Smith. They were positioning themselves for a short field goal when Smith broke around the right side for the winning score.

"I didn't have any idea the game was going to end up like it did today with me playing such a large role," said Smith, a free agent signee who rushed for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns during the season.

His 40 carries Saturday topped the mark of 38 held by Tampa Bay's Ricky Bell (against Philadelphia in a 1979 divisional playoff) and Washington's John Riggins (in Super Bowl XVII). Smith's 209 yards are second-most behind the 248 gained by Los Angeles' Eric Dickerson against Dallas in January 1986.

"Lamar's been a playoff back all year," Gadsden said. "He gets the tough yards, and he never goes down on the first hit.

"He's just a great running back. There ain't a lot to that."

Heading into the locker room, Wannstedt congratulated Smith in what seemed like fitting fashion.

"I told Lamar, 'You're carrying us all, and it starts with me,"' Wannstedt said. "I jumped on his back, and he carried me in."

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