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Careful now, it's going to be easy to get carried away by all of this. Let's keep it in perspective.
The Miami Dolphins were not the perfect offensive machine Sunday in their 44-24 victory over the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. They had an extra point blocked. Dan Marino threw an interception. They punted once. They had the ball for nine possessions and they scored only seven times. What's that you say? Seven scores in nine possessions is enough to win any game that's ever been played since Pop Warner was a water boy? But we're looking for perfection here, and the only thing perfect about the Dolphins is their record, 8-0. The last time they got off to a start like this was 1972, and they were never stopped. That ended at 17-0 and a Super Bowl victory.
It was an entirely different animal that Don Shula had in those days. It ranked with the old Lombardi Packers as the best-balanced offense the game had ever seen. The Dolphins could hammer you to death with Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick running behind an All-Pro middle threesome of Larry Little, Jim Langer and Bob Kuechenberg, and for flash and dash they had Mercury Morris. This cast produced the most rushing yards ever in one season, up to that point. When they wanted to air it out there was All-Pro Bob Griese throwing to a Hall-of-Famer, Paul Warfield, and their defense was a cerebral affair, keyed to the emerging genius of Bill Arnsparger and his new 53 concept and operated by a superb middle linebacker, Nick Buoniconti, and the All-Pro safetymen Dick Anderson and Jake Scott. The names glitter like diamonds. Talent, ball control, smarts, 17-0. Would there ever be anything to match it?
Shula won't compare this team with the '72 Dolphins. It's a sucker's game. The season is only half over, and who knows what perils lie ahead? So we'll do it for him. For the first six games, while the world was marveling at Marino gunning the ball and the twin Marks—Duper and Clayton—catching it two zip codes away, the whispers were starting. It's not a typical Shula-type team; it's all whoosh and no muscle. It's not the kind of team he's comfortable with. He's like a coachman with a team of runaway horses. All he can do is give 'em their head. Why else would he pick up a 265-pound cartoon-character of a fullback, Pete Johnson, a guy two teams, Cincinnati and San Diego, had given up on? His running game is nowhere, and sooner or later that will catch up with him.
Two weeks ago, halfback Tony Nathan went down with a strained hamstring, and Shula plugged in rookie Joe Carter, a fourth-round draft choice from Alabama. He went for 105 yards against the Oilers. It was the first time a Dolphin runner had made a hundred since 1982, but what the hell, it was Houston. People do what they want to the Oilers.
New England isn't Houston. The Patriots, who went into the Miami game at 5-2, are a proud bunch, with one of the best defensive coordinators, Rod Rust. They are a team with a fine old pro at inside linebacker, Steve Nelson; an emerging terror at an outside backer spot, Andre Tippett; and a solid cover man at the right corner, Raymond Clayborn. Let's see 'em do it to the Patriots.
What happened was scary. The Dolphins piled up 552 yards, tying their club record. Marino twisted down the choke on his long ball and threw for 316 yards on 15- and 18-yarders. He scrambled. He bought time. He looked the defenders off, and with his remarkable field of vision, he always seemed able to find the open man. He'd gallop, shake off a tackier, pull up and flick the ball.
Two lasting vignettes: Marino shrugging off blitzing linebacker Larry McGrew, who'd taken dead aim on him, and firing the ball to Carter for nine yards; Marino, one step away from the charging 271-pound Kenneth Sims, motioning his tight end, Dan Johnson, to go deeper, and then drilling the ball 16 yards to him on the dead run, down to the one-yard line.
"We should have had four or five sacks today," Patriot defensive end Doug Rogers said. "How does a guy like that escape, as big as he is?"
Marino is 6'3", 214 pounds, and his toes don't twinkle, but somehow he avoided every kind of rush New England mustered. He went unsacked on the afternoon; he has tasted the canvas only twice all season, which is just one of a laundry list of shocking statistics the Dolphins can throw at you. How about this one? Marino's four touchdown passes Sunday gave him 24 for the year—two more than Griese's club record—and the season is only half over.