I'd been reading all that stuff about how Dan Marino was going to be cut or traded or benched, so on Sunday I showed up at the Meadowlands to watch the Dolphins-Jets game and see for myself what the wreckage of this once-great quarterback actually looked like. What I saw was a guy who operated on New York like a surgeon, finding the creases when the Jets dropped and played coverages, going to his hot reads against the blitzes so quickly that the coverages couldn't catch up.
I saw 372 yards' worth of passing and no sacks—Marino has been sacked only once in the last four games—and no interceptions. "Vintage Marino," Miami wideout O.J. McDuffie said afterward. "He was putting the ball in exactly the right place."
So where did all this trade and waiver talk come from? "Beats me," Marino said. "I had a bad game against the Colts in the opener, and that's when it started. I'm used to it now."
I must admit that for a while I was thinking that maybe this really was the time for Jimmy Johnson to cut the apron strings, but when you watch a performance like the one Marino turned in against the Jets, you come away thinking, Someday, maybe, but not now.
When Marino's throwing on rhythm and he gets hot, Miami can give anyone a run for it. When the pressure is allowed to leak through, the trouble starts. Will Baltimore get to him? The Ravens can bring it at times, they've had a bye week to get ready for this one, and the game is in their place. But I just can't help feeling that Danny's on a roll, and it's not about to stop here. It'll be shootout football—most of the Ravens' games are—and I like the Dolphins in this kind of action.
I got burned on the Jets last weekend, and on a few of my other forecasts, as you might have noticed, and in analyzing my failings, I realized that I fell into the good old home-field trap, putting way too much emphasis on familiar terrain. But when you look at the last couple of weeks, especially at the Jets' next foe, New England, how can you help it? The Patriots looked like pussycats against the Broncos in Denver in that Monday nighter, on Oct. 6, and killed themselves with penalties. Then a week later, at home, they came out roaring against the Bills, and their special teams guys were tearing down the field like maniacs. They didn't commit a penalty until late in the third quarter, when the score was 26-0.
So how will things shake out on Sunday, when the Patriots face a team they know should have beaten them in their own place last month? Here's what I think will happen: The Jets will get away from their 3-4, which couldn't generate much pressure against Marino and which is burning out their best pass rusher, Hugh Douglas, and go more 4-3 on base downs. They'll blitz, they'll gamble, they'll generate some pressure on Drew Bledsoe, who tends to get a bit flighty with the ball when he's not comfortable in the pocket. The Jets will pick off a couple and squeak out a win against the AFC East's showpiece.
Jacksonville, coming off a solid home victory over the Eagles, travels to Dallas, which is terra incognita for them. For sumo fans it'll be a real treat, as two of the biggest offensive lines in history show their stuff. Mark Brunell isn't throwing for as many yards as he did last year, and the Jaguars' attack shows more balance, but that isn't why I like Jacksonville to win. I just don't favor an aging team coming off an emotional Monday nighter. Youth and fresher legs are the formula here, which means a Jaguars victory.
Indianapolis will get on the board with its first win, against the Bills at home on Monday night. The Colts should have beaten the Steelers on Sunday, and they would have if they had only taken the bold step and thrown one or two short passes to get kicker Cary Blanchard a bit closer for a go-ahead attempt at the end. I don't like their offensive line against that nasty Buffalo defense, no, I don't like that at all. But I don't think one game is enough to remove the rust from Billy Joe Hobert, who took over the Bills' attack when Todd Collins went down with a strained left rotator cuff. Turnovers will decide this one.
Why am I tempted to pick the Raiders to upset unbeaten Denver on the Coast? I know why, because I'm in danger of falling into that home-field trap. Plus I believe that Oakland is ready to put together one complete game; Heaven knows, the Raiders have enough tools for that. And I don't like the way John Elway was throwing the ball against New England, the way it kept diving on him. Balance this with the fact that you're dealing with two completely different organizations, one that has everything together, the other that is in deep turmoil, and you get one reluctant, totally gutless vote for the Broncos. Can't help it. After last week I need wins real bad.