Very few quarterbacks can make you nervous when they're three points down, 84 yards away, with a minute left in the game. Joe Montana comes to mind. John Elway. And of course, Dan Marino.
After the Miami Dolphins blew a 20-3 fourth-quarter lead Monday night, Marino hit four quick passes on an 84-yard, 68-second drive that beat the Cleveland Browns 27-23. Mark Higgs finished it off by diving over from 1 yard out with seven seconds remaining.It's the 19th time Marino has brought the Dolphins back from a fourth-quarter deficit. He went 25 of 35 for 322 yards, leaving him eight completions away from surpassing Johnny Unitas for fourth all-time.
"That's about as thrilling as you can make it," coach Don Shula said. "It was vintage Marino."
"It's almost as if their offense is better at that time than at other time," Cleveland linebacker Clay Matthews said. "We did our best to try to be prepared, but we couldn't pull it off."
The game began Miami's season, their scheduled opener having been postponed last week to give south Florida more time to recover from Hurricane Andrew.
Marino, proving the layoff was inconsequential, completed his first seven passes, including a 25-yard scoring pass to Mark Duper and a 45-yard pass to Robert Clark that set up Higgs' first touchdown, a 7-yard burst up the middle.
Two field goals by Pete Stoyanovich extended the lead to 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, and the Browns - still smarting from a 14-3 loss at Indianapolis last week - seemed headed for another embarrassment, this one on prime-time television.
Bernie Kosar, however, limped onto the field on an ankle he had sprained in the first half and completed a 60-yard pass to Michael Jackson to the Miami 20, pumping life into an offense that hadn't scored a touchdown in its first seven quarters this season. Seven plays later, Jackson caught a 6-yard touchdown pass, making it 20-10.
Two plays after that, linebacker Mike Johnson stripped Higgs of the ball, and David Brandon returned the fumble 32 yards for another Cleveland touchdown.
"Defensively, we were talking about seeing if we could get a score and change the momentum," Johnson said. "That's what happened."
Kosar kept it going on the Browns' next possession, completing six straight passes including a 3-yard touchdown to tight end Mark Bavaro, who flipped over a tackler into the end zone with 1:18 to play. But when Matt Stover missed the extra point, banging it off the left upright, it meant the Dolphins could tie it with a field goal.
"It changed the whole outlook, because if we had made it, they'd have had to go for a touchdown," Browns safety Eric Turner said. "We could have played it differently."
They should have. Marino, who had only one timeout left, passed to Duper for 19 yards, to Bobby Humphrey for 9 yards, then hit consecutive passes to Fred Banks covering 22 and 18 yards. A roughing-the-passer penalty added 15 yards to Banks' first catch.
"It's frustrating and embarrassing that we couldn't stop them," Matthews said. "They made three or four catches that you'd like to deny in that situation. We just weren't able to do what we've practiced doing in that situation."