I'd been reading all that stuff about how Dan Marino was going
to be cut or traded or benched, so on Sunday I showed up at the
Meadowlands to watch the Dolphins-Jets game and see for myself
what the wreckage of this once-great quarterback actually looked
like. What I saw was a guy who operated on New York like a
surgeon, finding the creases when the Jets dropped and played
coverages, going to his hot reads against the blitzes so quickly
that the coverages couldn't catch up.
I saw 372 yards' worth of passing and no sacks--Marino has been
sacked only once in the last four games--and no interceptions.
"Vintage Marino," Miami wideout O.J. McDuffie said afterward.
"He was putting the ball in exactly the right place."
So where did all this trade and waiver talk come from? "Beats
me," Marino said. "I had a bad game against the Colts in the
opener, and that's when it started. I'm used to it now."
I must admit that for a while I was thinking that maybe this
really was the time for Jimmy Johnson to cut the apron strings,
but when you watch a performance like the one Marino turned in
against the Jets, you come away thinking, Someday, maybe, but
October 19, 1997
When Marino's throwing on rhythm and he gets hot, Miami can give
anyone a run for it. When the pressure is allowed to leak
through, the trouble starts. Will Baltimore get to him? The
Ravens can bring it at times, they've had a bye week to get
ready for this one, and the game is in their place. But I just
can't help feeling that Danny's on a roll, and it's not about to
stop here. It'll be shootout football--most of the Ravens' games
are--and I like the Dolphins in this kind of action.
I got burned on the Jets last weekend, and on a few of my other
forecasts, as you might have noticed, and in analyzing my
failings, I realized that I fell into the good old home-field
trap, putting way too much emphasis on familiar terrain. But
when you look at the last couple of weeks, especially at the
Jets' next foe, New England, how can you help it? The Patriots
looked like pussycats against the Broncos in Denver in that
Monday nighter, on Oct. 6, and killed themselves with penalties.
Then a week later, at home, they came out roaring against the
Bills, and their special teams guys were tearing down the field
like maniacs. They didn't commit a penalty until late in the
third quarter, when the score was 26-0.
So how will things shake out on Sunday, when the Patriots face a
team they know should have beaten them in their own place last
month? Here's what I think will happen: The Jets will get away
from their 3-4, which couldn't generate much pressure against
Marino and which is burning out their best pass rusher, Hugh
Douglas, and go more 4-3 on base downs. They'll blitz, they'll
gamble, they'll generate some pressure on Drew Bledsoe, who
tends to get a bit flighty with the ball when he's not
comfortable in the pocket. The Jets will pick off a couple and
squeak out a win against the AFC East's showpiece.
Jacksonville, coming off a solid home victory over the Eagles,
travels to Dallas, which is terra incognita for them. For sumo
fans it'll be a real treat, as two of the biggest offensive
lines in history show their stuff. Mark Brunell isn't throwing
for as many yards as he did last year, and the Jaguars' attack
shows more balance, but that isn't why I like Jacksonville to
win. I just don't favor an aging team coming off an emotional
Monday nighter. Youth and fresher legs are the formula here,
which means a Jaguars victory.
Indianapolis will get on the board with its first win, against
the Bills at home on Monday night. The Colts should have beaten
the Steelers on Sunday, and they would have if they had only
taken the bold step and thrown one or two short passes to get
kicker Cary Blanchard a bit closer for a go-ahead attempt at the
end. I don't like their offensive line against that nasty
Buffalo defense, no, I don't like that at all. But I don't think
one game is enough to remove the rust from Billy Joe Hobert, who
took over the Bills' attack when Todd Collins went down with a
strained left rotator cuff. Turnovers will decide this one.
Why am I tempted to pick the Raiders to upset unbeaten Denver on
the Coast? I know why, because I'm in danger of falling into
that home-field trap. Plus I believe that Oakland is ready to
put together one complete game; Heaven knows, the Raiders have
enough tools for that. And I don't like the way John Elway was
throwing the ball against New England, the way it kept diving on
him. Balance this with the fact that you're dealing with two
completely different organizations, one that has everything
together, the other that is in deep turmoil, and you get one
reluctant, totally gutless vote for the Broncos. Can't help it.
After last week I need wins real bad.
Try this one as a closing thought. Carolina visits New Orleans.
The teams have almost identical records, 2-4 for Carolina, 2-5
for New Orleans. Who would have believed it? The Saints, with
Mike Ditka finally biting the bullet and benching Heath Shuler
for rookie Danny Wuerffel, have lost 12 in a row to NFC West
foes. The Panthers will make it 13.