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Goal oriented

Dolphins pleased, but need to get past second round

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Posted: Monday January 08, 2001 8:39 PM

  Jay Fiedler, Kevin Donnally, Rodrick Coleman Dolphins guard Kevin Donnally watches as quarterback Jay Fiedler is sacked by Oakland's Roderick Coleman. AP

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- A long, aqua and orange banner is hanging in the lobby of the Miami Dolphins' training facility.

Head coach Dave Wannstedt reminded his players of the sign's significance after the Dolphins were blown out of the playoffs in the second round for the third consecutive season.

The banner -- which reads "2000 AFC Eastern Division Champions" -- defines Miami's season as a success despite once again faltering down the stretch and then failing to score in a postseason game for the first time in team history.

The Dolphins (12-6) are looking at this past season as the starting point for even more impressive titles.

"As disappointing as they feel, that banner will always remain there, and that's something that hasn't been done in a few years," said Wannstedt, whose Dolphins won the AFC East for the first time since 1994. "With the things that we've accomplished, it was a very successful year.

"But the minute you say that, you preface it with what the ultimate goal is: getting to the Super Bowl. Let's not kid ourselves, but you have to start somewhere."

It certainly was a good start for Wannstedt, whose team wasn't expected to make the playoffs in his first season.

He replaced Jimmy Johnson last January and almost immediately revamped the coaching staff while delicately dealing with Dan Marino's retirement. Wannstedt hired Chan Gailey to build a post-Marino offense that would rely on the running game for the first time in 17 years.

It worked for the majority of the season.

The ground attack finished 14th in the league with 1,894 yards -- the Dolphins' highest rushing total since 1984. Lamar Smith became the team's fifth 1,000-yard rusher. He ran for 1,139 yards, second only to Delvin Williams' team-record 1,258 yards set in 1978.

The Dolphins will get at least another year to work on perfecting Gailey's offense. He signed a two-year contract extension Monday with the team.

"Another year with our offensive system in place, with players understanding it and the coaches understanding it, we'll go into the preseason and the minicamps a lot farther ahead than we were a year ago," Wannstedt said.

The biggest question remains at quarterback.

Jay Fiedler struggled down the stretch, throwing two touchdowns and 11 interceptions in the final five games of the season. He had one TD pass and six INTs in Miami's two playoff games, giving him a postseason quarterback rating of 36.2.

He also was largely to blame for two December losses to Tampa Bay (16-13) and Indianapolis (20-13) that cost Miami a shot at a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

So the Dolphins limped into the postseason again, and were hammered 27-0 at Oakland in the second round.

They suffered similar fates the previous two seasons. Miami finished 3-3 down the stretch in 1998 before losing 38-3 at Denver in the second round. Then last season, the Dolphins closed out the regular season 1-5 and were thumped 62-7 in the second round at Jacksonville.

Some of this year's problems can be attributed to Fiedler's torn rotator cuff in his left, non-throwing shoulder. He will have surgery later this week and then have his arm and shoulder immobilized in a sling while he begins a rehabilitation program that could take up to four months.

Fiedler -- who also missed time this season with injuries to his hip, back and right shoulder -- hopes to be ready for the team's minicamp in April.

"We like to think he's a 10-year veteran, but he's not. He is a first-year starter," Wannstedt said. "Will he be better with another offseason, another minicamp and another training camp? Yes. There's no question about that."

Still, Wannstedt hasn't ruled out the possibility of bringing in another quarterback.

"We're going to look at the quarterback position," he said. "Right now, Jay's our starter. We know that. He'll be the starter when we have minicamp, but we look at the quarterback position no different than any other spot. ... If there's a guy that becomes available that we feel can makes us a better team, we're going to investigate it."

But whatever happens, will it be enough to get the Dolphins another championship banner to hang in the lobby?

"We really thought this was the year we could get to the AFC Championship Game and then anything could happen," defensive end Jason Taylor said. "Unfortunately for us, it didn't work out that way."


 
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