What We Learned
Three things we know after the Dolphins' 18-15 victory
Updated: Monday September 24, 2001 3:42 AM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
MIAMI -- The Dolphins continued their September mastery at home Sunday, rallying in dramatic fashion to defeat Oakland 18-15. Miami now has won its past 15 September home games, dating to 1994, and is 19-1 at home in the month since 1990. Here are three observations from the game:
1. If you're scoring at home, it was a decisive, clear-cut victory for the Miami's well-respected secondary in its high-profile matchup against Oakland's feared receivers.
Here's all you need to know: Miami's stellar cornerback tandem of Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison held Oakland's receivers to a combined four catches for 27 yards, with no receptions of 10 yards or longer. That's four for 27, for a pair of Hall of Famers.
Breaking it down, the Raiders' Tim Brown had three catches for 20 yards, with Jerry Rice contributing just one 7-yard reception. Oakland's other 10 receptions for 98 yards were all turned in by either running backs or tight ends.
Rice, blanketed most times by Madison, came dangerously close to having his NFL record streak of 226 games with at least one reception snapped. He didn't catch a pass until just under 10 minutes remained in the game, and then it was a short, relatively risk-free first-down call that had the look of being a streak-saver.
In the second half, in which Oakland had just two first downs, Brown and Rice had just one catch apiece, for a combined 12 yards. The Raiders went without a first down on five of their six full-fledged second-half drives.
2. With apologies to the acclaimed Mr. Rice, the best player the Raiders' stole from their neigbors to the West this off-season was running back Charlie Garner.
The former 49er was a versatile and effective weapon for Oakland on Sunday, especially in the first half, when the Raiders dominated the flow of play but couldn't finish their drives with touchdowns.
Used in a variety of ways, Garner caught a game-high six passes for 75 yards, and added 30 more yards on seven rushes. Eighty-eight of those yards came in the first half, when he had five receptions for 68 yards and bedeviled the Dolphins with matchup problems.
Garner, who signed with Oakland in free agency after San Francisco made it clear it couldn't afford him, caught several passes in which he lined up as a receiver. His finest moment came in that role, when he lined up wide right and caught a short out pattern late in the first quarter. Turning up field, Garner juked his way past Miami strong safety Brian Walker and streaked down the sideline for a 21-yard gain.
Garner later even beat Madison on a 20-yard reception, after Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon side-armed a pass to him as he was running a crossing pattern the entire width of the field.
The Dolphins' defense adjusted in the second half, limiting Oakland's offense to a measly 67 yards. But the Raiders attack features a dangerous inside-outside running combination with Garner and the powerful Tyrone Wheatley, and Oakland seems intent on getting Garner the ball in any number of ways.
3. The NFL returned on Sunday with pre-game solemnity and a display of patriotic emotion. But once the hitting started, it was the same game we've come to expect.
Both head coaches agreed that the pre-game salute to America and the victims and heroes involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks provided the emotional high point of the day. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was even captured by TV cameras wiping away tears on the sideline at the end of the 15-minute pregame ceremony. He pumped his left fist in the air repeatedly just before kickoff, clutching a small American flag in his hand.
Dolphins fiery middle linebacker Zach Thomas said he wished he could bottle the emotion that cascaded over everyone at Pro Player Stadium on Sunday, using it to motivate himself every week.
Something obviously moved Thomas to great heights. He had a game-high 18 tackles (nine solos and nine assists) against Oakland, and was particularly omnipresent in the first half.
But as for the fears that America's recent tragedies would somehow dampen the ability of players to bring the same level of intensity to the game, they were ill-founded. Once the ball was kicked off, the Raiders and Dolphins played with as much fervor as ever, punishing each other with abandon.
Was there ever a doubt?