Originally created 12/31/01

Dolphins 21, Falcons 14



MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins are in, and the Atlanta Falcons are out - by a foot.

Miami made two goal-line stands, stopping Bob Christian on fourth down from the 1-foot line with 47 seconds left to survive rookie Michael Vick's late heroics and win 21-14 Sunday.

The result clinched a playoff berth for the Dolphins and eliminated Atlanta. Also, the Falcons' loss gave Tampa Bay the final NFC wild-card spot.

The Dolphins forced four turnovers, including Brock Marion's 26-yard interception return for a touchdown. They also made four sacks, knocked quarterback Chris Chandler out of the game in the second quarter and then hung on against the scrambling Vick, who threw for a score but also committed three turnovers.

Miami's Jay Fiedler threw two touchdown passes, both in the final 1:02 of the first half.

Breaking a two-game losing streak, the Dolphins (10-5) became the only NFL team to make the playoffs each of the past five years. They still have a slim shot at the AFC East title next Sunday if they beat Buffalo, and New England loses to Carolina.

Atlanta (7-8) lost for the fourth time in five games. The Falcons were all but eliminated from playoff contention when Tampa Bay beat Baltimore on Saturday night.

Bidding to tie the game, Vick drove the Falcons 76 yards in the final 5:22, and they had a first down at the 4. But Christian was stopped for no gain on third-and-goal and again on fourth down, with tackle Ernest Grant making the game-saving stop.

Zach Thomas stopped Maurice Smith for no gain on fourth down at the 1 in the third period, when the Falcons trailed 21-14.

Chandler, who threw for a team-record 431 yards last week, left because of a right elbow injury with the score 7-all in the second quarter.

Vick enlivened what was a dull game early, scrambling for 30 and 23 yards. The top pick in last April's draft threw a 48-yard laser on the run to Shawn Jefferson, setting up a 1-yard touchdown pass to Derek Rackley with nine minutes left to make the score 21-14.

Leading by 14, Miami appeared to have the victory sealed when Patrick Surtain intercepted Vick with 10 minutes to go. But Surtain lost a fumble following a 51-yard return.

Vick finished 11-for-20 for 214 yards and ran for 63 yards in five carries. He also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.

The Dolphins had played badly in their past two games, and there were early signs - both on the field and along the sideline - that they were unraveling. After Terry Cousin received a 15-yard penalty for taunting and came to the bench, coach Dave Wannstedt angrily shouted at his cornerback and several other players. Wannstedt then walked away and Cousin followed the coach, shouting at him and waving his arm.

Miami went the first 21 minutes without a first down, drawing boos from the crowd, but led 21-7 at halftime thanks to two scores in the final 1:02.

Travis Minor turned a short pass from Fiedler into a 17-yard score to put the Dolphins ahead. Two plays later Vick lost a fumble when sacked at the Atlanta 30, which led to Oronde Gadsden's 1-yard touchdown reception with eight seconds left.

The Dolphins netted minus-7 yards in their first 10 plays, but the score was 7-all thanks to Brock Marion's touchdown on a 26-yard interception return. Chandler overthrew intended receiver Tony Martin, and Marion ran into the end zone untouched for Miami's fourth score on an interception return this season, tying a team record set in 1966 and matched in 1998.

Atlanta's Ray Buchanan intercepted Fiedler on Miami's first play of the game, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by Michael Smith.