Monday, December 27, 2004

Mare's 51-yard field goal wins game

from ESPN.com
When Olindo Mare kicked the winning field goal with 7 seconds left, the 20,000 fans still on hand rose and roared, pleased to avoid having to watch an overtime.

Four quarters was bad enough. In a matchup of last-place teams, the Miami Dolphins were just a little less awful than the Cleveland Browns, with Mare kicking a 51-yarder for a 10-7 victory Sunday night.

"It wasn't a pretty game for people who like to see 80 points on the board," Browns safety Earl Little said. "We knew somebody would get that one break at the end and win."

Jim Bates won in the matchup of interim coaches against Terry Robiskie. Bates improved to 3-3 since Dave Wannstedt resigned, but he'll be replaced after the season by LSU coach Nick Saban, who accepted the Miami job Saturday.

"I have built confidence being in this position that I can handle this job," said Bates, who interviewed unsuccessfully for the job. "There isn't any doubt in my mind that I can do this type of work."

The Dolphins (4-11) made it two wins in a row for the first time this season, although they hardly looked like the same team that upset defending Super Bowl champion New England last Monday.

Lee Suggs broke Jim Brown's 45-year-old Cleveland franchise record for carries with 38 for 143 yards, but the Browns (3-12) still lost their ninth game in a row. Robiskie fell to 0-4 since replacing Butch Davis.

With 1:49 left, the Dolphins took possession at their 28-yard line following a punt. A.J. Feeley moved the team 40 yards in eight plays, setting up Mare for the winner.

"A lot of times, we've seen teams quit," Bates said. "They're 4-11, and they're ready to go home. They've got their bags packed.

"This team has not quit."

Still, Miami's victory was hardly picturesque. The teams combined for six turnovers and went 3½ quarters without a point after an early 7-all tie with impressive ineptitude.

"A lot of times, we kind of stepped on our foot," Feeley said.

The Dolphins faked a field goal, tried a pooch punt instead and netted 2 yards. They had a 6½-minute drive that barely reached midfield. Tight end Randy McMichael, who has lobbied for more passes, dropped two. Feeley drilled a throw 5 yards into the chest of defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, who was too astounded to make the interception.

The Browns lost a fumble at the Miami 2 and had a takeaway negated by a penalty. But the ugliest moment came in the third quarter, with an interception and two fumbles on the same play.

Luke McCown's deep throw was intercepted by Arturo Freeman, who fumbled. Teammate Patrick Surtain picked up the ball, then lateraled to Sam Madison, who fumbled. The Browns recovered for a net gain of 26 yards.

More comedy came three plays later, when Phil Dawson missed a 43-yard field goal when his attempt hit the right upright.

"That kind of sums up our season," Browns center Melvin Fowler said. "We haven't gotten many breaks."

With the stands more than half-empty, as they have been much of this season in Miami, Pro Player Stadium had all the atmosphere of an August exhibition game. The Dolphins struggled to take advantage of Cleveland's four turnovers, sputtering on offense against a Browns team that allowed 158 points in the past four games.

An interception by Surtain set up the game's first score, which came on an 18-yard pass from Feeley to Derrius Thompson.

Cleveland pulled even 88 seconds later. McCown was flushed out of the pocket and threw long across his body, hitting Dennis Northcutt in stride for a 58-yard score.

The Browns squandered a chance to take the lead in the second quarter when Suggs fumbled and Miami's Sammy Knight recovered at the 2.

"Both teams scored early, and we thought it was going to be a shootout," Northcutt said. "Then it was just drive and punt, drive and punt."

LSU coach decides NFL can't wait

By Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com
After three days of emotional deliberations, personal and professional discussions with family members and close associates which tore Nick Saban in two directions, the Miami Dolphins have a new head coach.

Saban decided Saturday to leave his comfort zone at LSU, a university for which he has great respect and fondness, and accept the task of rebuilding the Dolphins organization. The decision came after long Thursday and Friday sessions at his home in Baton Rouge, where he weighed his future with his wife, Terry, and his agent, Jimmy Sexton.

"We've never ever taken over successful programs," said Saban, who announced his decision, after apprising university officials and his players of it, at an evening news conference in Orlando on Saturday. "We've taken challenges that were difficult, worked hard and had an effect in a positive way. That's one of the reasons I feel I can be successful in this challenge."

The contract will be for five years and is worth $4.5 million-$5 million annually. It will also provide Saban with near-absolute control over football-related decisions and allow him to help reshape the organization following a disastrous 2004 season.

He will take over in Miami after coaching LSU in its bowl game on Jan. 1. The Tigers, who won their final six games this season to finish at 9-2, will face Iowa in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

The following day, the Dolphins conclude their worst season since the 1960s, and their first losing season since 1988.

Saban on Wednesday was formally offered the Dolphins job and told Dolphins and school officials he might need a day or two to come to a decision. Clearly, he wanted a resolution before Christmas, when his team was scheduled to leave for its bowl game, but could not meet his original timetable because of his strong feelings for LSU.

Sexton spent much of Wednesday meeting in Fort Lauderdale with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga discussing contract parameters. The two made what one source termed "significant progress" toward a deal, but an agreement wasn't struck. There remained some details to be hammered out and, more important, Saban needed time to examine the offer and review his own priorities. Sexton then hunkered down with Saban for nearly three days to discuss the options.

On Friday morning, Huizenga flew to Baton Rouge for another round of meetings. He had hoped to bring Saban back to Miami with him on his private plane, but the coach reiterated that he needed more time.

At no time, sources said, did LSU attempt to significantly augment Saban's contract. Two sources said that, at the outset of the process with Miami, school officials told Saban and Sexton how far they could go financially. There was never a formal counteroffer in an attempt to keep him in Baton Rouge.

There are likely to be dramatic changes now in the Dolphins organization.

Miami will hire a new team president to replace the much-respected Eddie Jones, who will retire in March, and the hiring of Saban could also end the tenure of general manager Rick Spielman, who has been a part of the search for the successor to Dave Wannstedt. It is anticipated that Saban would want to bring aboard his own general manager or personnel director to head the scouting department.

"We most certainly want to have success in an organization that has been rich in tradition and success in the past," Saban said. "[We're] going to work extremely hard to try to restore that success."

One of the deal-breakers 11 months ago, when Saban rejected the Chicago Bears head coach job, was that he was not offered control over some staffing and personnel matters. Confidants of Saban have reiterated to ESPN.com that control, particularly in terms of acquiring players, was a more critical issue to him than finances.

Saban began taking a hard look at the Miami job a year ago, when it appeared Wannstedt might be in trouble, following a second non-playoff season. A candidate for several NFL jobs since leaving the league to become head coach at Michigan State in 1994, Saban has always indicated he would return to the league only under optimum conditions.

Part of his attraction to the job was that Huizenga is regarded around the league as an owner who does not meddle in football matters, who essentially gets out of the way and lets his coach do his job.

"Your boss is always really important," Saban said. "And I was really, really impressed with Wayne Huizenga in terms of what he wants to accomplish, what his vision is for this team and what his goals are. I would like to work in partnership with people like that."

The other intriguing element for Saban is the opportunity to rebuild a football organization to his own specifications.

The Dolphins first huddled with Saban on Dec. 14, in a late-night meeting, and it was clear from the outset that he topped the Miami wish list. Teams officials also interviewed former Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell, currently a league vice president, and interim head coach Jim Bates for the position. But there was never any doubt that Saban was their man if a deal could be struck.

Saban, 53, has enjoyed great success at LSU, and leaving the school would be a difficult decision for him. As late as Tuesday morning, even before he had the Dolphins offer in hand, he told athletic director Skip Bertman that he probably faced a tough call and praised the school for its commitment to him and his family. After rebuffing the Bears advances, Saban signed a new seven-year contract, making him the highest paid college head coach in the country.

His team won the national championship in 2003 and, in five seasons in Baton Rouge, he compiled a 48-15 mark.

Following the Tigers' practice Sunday in Orlando, their first since his announcement, Saban said the team is taking his imminent departure well.

"At some point in everyone's life, they have to make some kind of career decision that affects other people, and that's how I explained it to them," Saban said. "They have managed this well -- better than I have."

LSU All-American defensive end Marcus Spears said the Tigers weren't surprised by Saban's decision.

"It's not the first time coach has had to entertain the idea of taking another job," Spears said. "I think most of the guys are happy for him. Some young guys may have concerns, but that's normal."

In stints at LSU (2000-present), Michigan State (1995-99) and Toledo (1990), Saban had a record of 91-41-1.

His previous NFL experience came as secondary coach with the Houston Oilers (1988-89) and the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns (1991-94), where he worked on the staff of longtime friend Bill Belichick.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

SCORING SUMMARY

from the offical site of the Maimi Dolpins
Jason Elam kicked a 50-yard field goal with 2:50 left Sunday to help the Broncos eke out a 20-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Denver's Tatum Bell ran for 123 yards after replacing fumble-prone Reuben Droughns early in the game and ran for two scores, but shortly after, he left with a sprained shoulder that could end his season. That forced Droughns back into the backfield after he had fumbled twice -- losing one -- on his first four carries.

Jake Plummer threw for 219 yards and two interceptions, yet the Broncos (8-5) kept pace with Baltimore for the AFC's final wild-card spot.

But this performance couldn't have fooled anyone. The Dolphins (2-11) took this game to the wire -- not bowing out until A.J. Feeley threw incomplete on fourth down with 1:59 left -- and this version of the Broncos hardly looked like the one that will hand Mike Shanahan his first playoff victory since the 1998 Super Bowl.

Plummer was off-target all day and his two interceptions were both abominable. The first went to Jay Williams, the fourth defensive lineman to intercept him this season, and led to Miami's first touchdown. The second went to Sammy Knight on an ill-advised pass with the game tied at 17 and the Broncos driving.

Denver held after the interception and Droughns ran 21 yards to set up Elam's winning field goal.

Droughns finished with 62 yards on 18 carries to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

Bell pretty much defined Denver's day in the third quarter during two plays on the same drive. First, he made it around the corner and could have walked in untouched for a score, but slipped at the 7. Three plays later, he dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone and forced the Broncos to settle for a 20-yard field goal and a 17-14 lead.

Feeley threw for 170 yards and one touchdown, an 8-yarder to Marty Booker that gave the Dolphins an early 7-0 lead. After Denver tied it, the Dolphins went ahead again, 14-7 on an 11-yard run by Sammy Morris, who led the Dolphins with just 36 yards rushing.