DAVIE, Fla. -- An impressive shutout proved Jimmy Johnson's point.
The Miami Dolphins' 17-0 victory over the Tennessee Titans confirmed that even against good teams, Johnson's blueprint works. He wants a run-oriented offense with no frills and no mistakes, and that's the way the Dolphins played Sunday night.
"Run it, run it, run it. Then we punt it," Johnson said Monday. "Kind of a rhyme, isn't it?"
Quarterback Damon Huard, willing to hand off and wary of risky passes, improved to 3-0 as an NFL starter. Under his direction, the offense hasn't surrendered a fumble or an interception in the past two games.
So what happens when Dan Marino is ready to return?
Johnson three weeks ago: "Marino is our starting quarterback. I don't want any controversy."
Johnson on Monday: "I didn't say there wouldn't be a quarterback controversy."
The earlier comment was made the day Huard replaced an injured Marino and rallied Miami past New England. Now, three victories later, the Dolphins are 7-1 and Huard -- with help from a dominating defense -- has shown he can win in the NFL.
Marino, who missed the past three games because of a pinched nerve in his neck, hopes to receive medical clearance this week to resume practice. He might rejoin the starting lineup Nov. 21 against New England.
"Whenever the doctors tell me he can practice, we'll put him in practice," Johnson said. "He'll start sharing time and we'll evaluate him in practice. ...
"When Dan is 100-percent healthy, and he's 100-percent as far as being back in the offense in rhythm, he's our starter.".
But there's no doubt Marino, at 38, is less firmly entrenched as No. 1. After all, his backup is unbeaten.
"Damon can really be good in this league," Johnson said. "He's a very accurate passer. He's got plenty of strength in his arm. He's got mobility and a flair for making plays. We've just got to protect him better."
The Dolphins have a share of the AFC lead and a shot at the Super Bowl. They also have a daunting schedule that includes AFC East contenders three of the next four weeks, starting Sunday at Buffalo (6-3).
"Every game is going to be critical," Johnson said. "Head-to-head matchups are going to determine who wins the division."
So Marino will return at a potentially pivotal time, and he must adapt to an offense more conservative than when he left the lineup. Johnson threatened to bench him earlier this season because of turnovers.
"If we don't turn it over, we'll win the game," Johnson said Monday. "Count on it."
And if Marino turns it over? Miami's opponents will try to find out.
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