Originally created 01/03/01

Dolphins hope for faster start Saturday



DAVIE, Fla. -- With a dominant defense and improved running attack, the Miami Dolphins are built to control the ball and milk the clock.

That approach requires getting the lead, which has been a problem lately.

The Dolphins trailed at halftime in their last four games, a disturbing trend going into Saturday's playoff game at Oakland. But in comebacks worthy of the Dan Marino era, Miami rallied for victories the last two weeks, including Saturday's 23-17 wild-card win over Indianapolis in overtime.

"It just seems like we've played better with our backs to the wall lately," said Marino's successor, Jay Fiedler. "But you don't do that too often in the playoffs."

The Dolphins would prefer to play front-runners at Oakland. An early lead would take the Raiders' rabid crowd out of the game and allow Miami to rely heavily on Lamar Smith, who ran for 209 yards against Indianapolis.

But if the Dolphins fall behind, at least they'll know they can come back.

Needing a victory in the final regular-season game to clinch the AFC East, Miami trailed 21-17 at the half at New England but won 27-24. Against the Colts, the Dolphins overcame three early Fiedler interceptions and a 14-0 halftime deficit.

"It's not the funnest way to win, but whatever it takes," All-Pro defensive end Jason Taylor said. "We have confidence that when we fall behind, we can come back and win. But we don't want to do it every week."

With a first-year starting quarterback in Fiedler and a passing game that ranked 27th in the NFL, the Dolphins are hardly a team built for comebacks. But they've erased halftime deficits to win four times this season, largely because of their defense.

The Dolphins haven't allowed a second-half touchdown in the past month and have given up only nine points in the third quarter all season. Those statistics speak well for adjustments made by coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff at halftime.

"There's no yelling or screaming, whether we're winning or losing," linebacker Robert Jones said. "We've just been able to adjust to plays that really hurt us."

"We see some wrinkles and things that are new, especially lately," defensive end Trace Armstrong said. "Once you get through a half, you've had time to see them and adjust. We've been able to come back out and play well."

Fiedler has been a factor in the comebacks, too. In the first half of the past two games he's 10 of 27 for 78 yards with three interceptions; in the second half he's 39 of 52 for 371 yards with no interceptions. He threw a touchdown pass in the final minute against Indianapolis to force overtime.

Fiedler may be slow to warm up because of a slightly torn rotator cuff in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. At any rate, he admits he has been a streaky passer.

"When things are clicking," he said, "they're clicking pretty good."

The same is true of his teammates, who hope to be clicking from the outset at Oakland.