What We Learned
Three things we learned after the Colts-Dolphins game
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
MIAMI -- In the first overtime NFL playoff game since the 1998 NFC title game between Minnesota and Atlanta, Miami put up a combined 23 points in the second half and the extra period to continue Indianapolis' recent run of postseason frustration. The Dolphins' 23-17 victory at Pro Player Stadium sends them to Oakland for next Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game.
1. Get ready to hear it Jim Mora. You, too, Peyton Manning. An old, old story got some new legs Saturday.
The can't-win-the-big-one chorus will only grow louder in the wake of the Colts' wild-card overtime loss to Miami. And it's hard to take issue with the evidence.
The monkeys on the back of Mora and Manning aren't going anywhere for a while. That's because Mora dropped to 0-6 in the playoffs in his NFL head coaching career, and Manning is now 0-6 in the biggest games of his brief playing career.
Of the 63 NFL head coaches who have worked at least four playoff games, Mora is the only one without a victory. Mora went 0-4 in four playoff trips with the New Orleans Saints -- who, ironically enough won their first postseason game in franchise history later Saturday -- and is now 0-2 with the Colts, including back-to-back dismissals in 1999 and 2000.
Need more ammunition for the Mora-is-less theme come playoff time? Of the 27 NFL head coaches to win at least 100 games in their careers, Mora is the only one without a postseason victory. Ouch.
Mora snapped at and then discounted the predictable snakebit question in his postgame news conference, but the real problem is, he has no good answer for his playoff woes. After nearly missing the postseason, his Colts were regarded as one of the hottest and most dangerous teams in this year's playoff field, and Indianapolis beat these same Dolphins 20-13 two weeks ago at Pro Player.
Manning's record of big game failures spans his collegiate and pro career. While at the University of Tennessee, he was 0-3 against Florida and lost to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl as a senior. Now he is 0-2 in the NFL playoffs. Considered one of the game's most talented and productive quarterbacks -- his 4,413 yards passing led the NFL this season -- Manning will never truly rise to the level of the game's greats until he reverses his record in the most meaningful of games.
In retrospect, this one might hurt worse than ever for Mora and Manning. Indianapolis blew a 14-0 halftime lead and was slightly more than a half-minute away from securing victory in regulation when Miami tied it on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Jay Fiedler to little used tight end Jed Weaver. The Colts had either led or were involved in a scoreless tie in the game's first 59 1/2 minutes.
For Manning, there should be plenty more chances. For Mora, 65, the opportunities are dwindling. A two-time USFL champion, Mora let perhaps his best shot at an NFL playoff victory slip away.
2. It was the right call, at the right time. It just didn't work out.
The critics who question whether the Colts and Mora should have allowed kicker Mike Vanderjagt to attempt a game-winning 49-yard field goal in overtime -- which he missed wide right, setting up Miami's game-deciding drive -- don't have the facts on their side.
Facing a third-and-12 from the Dolphins' 42-yard line, Manning found receiver Marvin Harrison for 11 yards to the 31. After some debate, the Colts declined a defensive offside on the play that would have moved the ball back to the 37 and out of field goal range, but given Indianapolis another chance to pick up the first down.
Was Vanderjagt from 49 yards a better bet than picking up a third-and-7? Yes. And here's why. Vanderjagt was 25-of-27 this year on field goals, missing only from 59 and 47 yards. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he had made a 50-yard field goal easily, at the same end of the field, with the wind at his back.
In his three-year NFL career, Vanderjagt had missed just a total of 10 field goal attempts before his overtime failure, with an 86-of-96 success ratio. Yes, missing from 49 yards allowed the Dolphins to start their game-winning drive from their 39, dramatically shortening the field. But the percentages were strongly in the Colts' favor, and there was no telling if they'd ever be in such a position again.
Vanderjagt said he caught some turf before he hit the ball, causing it to float right. The picture of dejection in overtime, with his head in his hands on the sideline, Vanderjagt took full responsibility for the miss, saying he let his teammates, organization and the city of Indianapolis down.
That's more blame than he deserves to take. But by comparison, Mora has none coming. His decision to kick was not only defensible, it was logical.
3. For most of the game, it looked as if the good TV viewers of South Florida knew something when they didn't snap up all the tickets to this game, thereby making it the first blacked-out postseason game in the NFL since 1993.
But what is about overtime playoff games and the Dolphins that wind up producing classics? This was the third playoff game in Miami history to go past regulation, and the other two are among the game's greatest:
In the case of the Colts and Dolphins, familiarity apparently bred competitiveness that showed itself in memorable fashion. It was the teams' third meeting in 35 days, the first time that has happened since the Giants and Redskins met that often in 1943.
To beat the Colts, Miami had to overcome a significant chunk of its own history. Turnovers have been the X factor in the Dolphins' season, but that trend went out the window against Indianapolis. Miami had three turnovers to none for the Colts, all of which were first-half Jay Fiedler interceptions. Coming into play, Miami had averaged 3.2 turnovers in its five losses this season, and less than one per game (.90) in its 11 wins.