Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 06:56 PM
MIAMI (Ticker) -- Olindo Mare has become a more potent weapon than Dan Marino.
Mare bailed out Marino with four field goals, including one from 31 yards with 4:22 remaining that tied an NFL record and lifted the sputtering Miami Dolphins to a 12-9 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
The win was the first in four games since the aging Marino -- the most prolific passer in NFL history -- returned from a neck injury. He has been unable to find a groove, putting pressure on Mare and the Dolphins' defense.
Both responded with superb efforts. Mare connected from 32, 21, 30 and 31 yards and has kicked 37 field goals this season, tying the 1996 mark set by John Kasay. The defense did not allow a touchdown for the fifth time this season and forced the turnover that set up Mare's winning kick.
"There's a lot more pressure kicking a game-winning field goal than there is going for a record," Mare said. "I'd rather be hitting PATs than field goals."
"We've been struggling and we've just got to find a way when we get down inside the 20," Marino said. "We were down there three or four times and we're not getting touchdowns. That's going to be a problem and that will hurt you down the line if you don't correct it. We've got to find a way to do that. We think we're doing the right things, so I guess it comes down to execution."
The third game this NFL season in which neither team scored a TD was not decided until San Diego's John Carney hit the left upright with a potential tying 35-yard attempt with five seconds to go. The miss ended Carney's streak of 13 consecutive field goals.
"Things just didn't go my direction on that last kick," said Carney, who kicked a game-winner last week. "The whole set up was fine. I just pulled it a little bit. Kicking is definitely a week-to-week thing and you saw that today. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the position."
"I feel like we dodged a bullet," Miami running back Stanley Pritchett said. "When he missed that field goal, I think the whole team breathed a sigh of relief."
The Dolphins (9-5) improved their playoff standing but can only reach the postseason as a wild card as Indianapolis clinched the AFC East title. Their remaining games are at home against the New York Jets and at Washington on the season's final weekend.
"We have opportunities to win games and that's what we are here to do," Mare said. "We are 9-5 and happy with that. Now we need to prepare for the Jets."
"We had to get back on the winning track," Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said. "Even though we are not playing as well as we are capable of, at least we got back and we are winning."
The loss was a devastating one for the Chargers (6-8), who were eliminated from playoff competition. They were kept out of the end zone for the fourth time this season.
Marino completed 22-of-36 passes for 241 yards. For the second time since his return, he failed to direct a scoring drive and also committed a critical turnover that ultimately set up his 36th career fourth-quarter comeback.
The credit for that should go to the defense, which allowed just 26 yards on the ground and collected five sacks, and Mare, whose accurate foot has been responsible for five wins this season.
"It's frustrating not scoring touchdowns and having to rely on the defense to play well for us to win," offensive lineman Mark Dixon said.
"There's always pressure on me," Marino said. "You're the quarterback, so there's pressure on you. That's just part of it."
The winning kick was set up by a turnover. Rich Owens stripped Jim Harbaugh, whose fumble was recovered by Brock Marion at the Chargers 20. Marino moved the Dolphins just six yards and Mare kicked the go-ahead field goal.
San Diego burned its final timeout unsuccessfully challenging Harbaugh's fumble and took over on its 20. Harbaugh, who was 20-of-40 for 178 yards, threw passes of 14 yards to Mikhael Ricks and 11 to running back Terrell Fletcher before finding Chris Penn for 24 yards to the Miami 30, moving into Carney's range with just over a minute to go.
After an incompletion in the end zone, Harbaugh threw six-yard passes to Fletcher and Ricks and took another shot at the end zone before Carney's inexplicable miss.
"It got a little scary there at the end," Johnson said.
Early in the final period, a punt pinned the Dolphins at their 6 and the Chargers took advantage after a turnover by Marino, who has had six giveaways returned for touchdowns this season. He was sacked by tackle John Parella and fumbled, with end Raylee Johnson recovering at the 4.
Miami's league-leading red zone defense stiffened for the third time, stopping Natrone Means for a one-yard loss, sacking Harbaugh for seven more and forcing an incompletion before Carney kicked a 31-yard field goal, giving the Chargers their first lead with 10:11 to play.
"We couldn't run the football at all on them, so we had to pass against their pass defense," Chargers coach Mike Riley said. "They're a very good red zone team. We had our chances, we just couldn't hit anything. They pretty much dominated us."
Undaunted, Marino marched the Dolphins 32 yards, setting up a tying 30-yard kick by Mare with 6:06 to go.
Marino had the rhythm early, setting up Mare's 32-yarder 7:19 into the contest with a pair of completions to Tony Martin. The receiver caught eight passes for 86 yards and needs 65 yards to join Irving Fryar as the only wideouts with 1,000-yard seasons for three teams.
Carney answered from 23 yards on the first play of the second quarter but a 55-yard pass from Marino to Oronde Gadsden set up Mare's 21-yarder, giving Miami a 6-3 lead with 5:28 to play in the first half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Carney booted a 22-yarder on the first play of the final period. The score was set up by Greg Jackson's recovery of tight end Hunter Goodwin's fumble at the Miami 34.
Gadsden caught four passes for 83 yards and tackle Daryl Gardener had two sacks for the Dolphins, who held a 284-186 edge in total yards. Fletcher caught nine passes for 66 yards for the Chargers.
"Our defensive line put a lot of pressure on Harbaugh and forced him to make decisions he didn't want to make," Miami linebacker Robert Jones said. "They forced him to throw the ball when he didn't want to throw the ball and basically took them out of their game."
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