MIAMI -- Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula went to his heavy-metal act last week. He showed off his 1972 Super Bowl ring to his players at practice. You know the ring. The one from the season the Dolphins went unbeaten. Huge glob of gold, surrounded by diamonds.
"The young guys were impressed and the veterans got hungry,said Miami free safety Louis Oliver. "We played well in the first half of the year, but got complacent in the second. The ring alerted us that it was time to prepare for the big dance. It whetted our appetite. We knew it was meal time."
And so the Dolphins went out and devoured the San DiegChargers, 31-0, in an AFC semifinal yesterday before 71,224 at Joe Robbie Stadium.
It was ugly, so ugly, in fact, that some of the Dolphins already were preparing for Buffalo-Miami III, the AFC championship game here next Sunday.
"It was a great game for us, a complete effort," said Byran CoxMiami's starting inside linebacker. "But after I AFC, from enjoy a little time with my family tonight, I'll turn my psyche toward the Buffalo Bills. We ain't won nothing yet."
The Dolphins and Bills, AFC East rivals, split this season, the Dolphins winning at Buffalo, 37-10, in October and the Bills taking the November rematch here, 26-20.
But the Dolphins feel they have a big advantage this time. It's home playoff game.
"No snow. No flights. The crowd in our favor. Advantage, Miami," said Cox.
Miami quarterback Dan Marino agrees.
"The Bills are a team that I have a lot of respect for and we've played them many times," said Marino. "They know us real well and we know them. It's going to be a great ballgame. They're very experienced in these situations. They have been to the last two Super Bowls. But I'm real happy we are playing in Miami."
Miami fans are happy again, too. The Dolphins' offense had come under criticism in the last half of the season as Miami scored only six touchdowns in its last six games. The team's top offensive weapons were its defense and kicker Pete Stoyanovich.
The offense struggled again early yesterday, but was jump-started by a defense that intercepted Stan Humphries four times, three in the second quarter that led to a 21-0 Miami halftime lead.
And once the run-oriented Chargers had to come from behindthe Dolphins (12-5) buried them with a strong pass rush and, at times, six and seven defensive backs. San Diego (13-5) had only four first downs in the second half, all in the fourth quarter. Miami took the Chargers out of the run mode by sometimes crowding eight players on the line of scrimmage on first downs.
"Their strength is being able to run," said Miami cornerback J. BBrown, who played at Maryland. "Once they set up the run, then they pick and choose with their passing attack. We stopped their running game [70 yards] and then took control of the game. All week we heard how great their defense was, but today we showed them how great our defense can be."
Miami's first touchdown was set up by the first of twinterceptions by rookie cornerback Troy Vincent, who stepped in front of Humphries' pass intended for Anthony Miller with 11:30 left in the half.
Vincent, who was doubtful before the game with a stomach virus, returned it to the San Diego 48. Nine plays later, Marino, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 167 yards on a rain-drenched field, passed for a 1-yard touchdown to fullback Tony Paige in the right flat that gave the Dolphins a 7-0 lead.
Then with 1:59 left in the half, Humphries threw a pass slightlbehind wide receiver Nate Lewis, who saw it slip put of his hands and into the arms of Vincent at the San Diego 37.
Marino then passed to Mark Duper for 28 yards, and then threa 9-yarder to tight end Keith Jackson for a touchdown as Miami went ahead 14-0 with 1:46 left in the half.
But Humphries wasn't finished. Cox stepped in front of widreceiver Shawn Jefferson for another interception and returned it to the San Diego 43. Four plays later, Jackson ran a straight fly pattern against broken zone coverage and Marino hit him for a 30-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Any notions of a Buffalo vs. Houston comeback weren't realisticBuffalo survives by passing. San Diego throws only to complement its running attack.
The second half was nothing more than Miami showing the Billthat its offense is improving for next week's game.
Marino wasn't great, but he was more than adequate in the second half. The big factor was that he had time to throw against one of the best pass-rushing teams in the AFC. The Dolphins also rediscovered their running attack as Bobby Humphrey, subbing for the injured Mark Higgs (knee), had 71 of the team's 157 yards rushing.
"They were really well prepared, and our turnovers did us in,"
said Bobby Ross, the San Diego coach whose team had an eight-game winning streak stopped. "We were hopeful we would get the running game going, but we didn't and I will have to find out why. We won't build on this loss, we'll put it behind us and get on with the rest of the things we are trying to get done."
Shula said: "We went into it with a lot of youth and inexperience on defense. So for young people to come through and have this win today has got to give them confidence heading into the championship game against the Buffalo offense."
"We're still hungry," said Cox, "only this time we're going hunting for some Buffalo meat."
When last they met
The Bills and Dolphins will face each other for the third time this season in next week's AFC championship game. A look at how the games went between the two AFC East rivals:
Dolphins 37, Bills 10 On Oct. 4 in Orchard Park, N.Y., Miami dealt Buffalo its first loss the season. In his first game for the Dolphins after signing as a free agent, tight end Keith Jackson caught four passes for 64 yards and one touchdown. But the biggest play of the game was turned in by Miami defensive back Louis Oliver, who ran back an interception an NFL-record-tying 103 yards for a touchdown. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly was intercepted four times.
Bills 26, Dolphins 20 In a Monday night game on Nov. 16 in Miami, the Bills eliminated the turnovers that had cost them in the first meeting with the Dolphins. Buffalo didn't turn the ball over, but Miami gave up a fumble and interception and added two defensive penalties that led to Bills scores. Although Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino completed his first 11 passes, he was cooled off by the Buffalo pass rush, which got to him for four sacks.
Third time a charm?
Next week, the Bills and Dolphins will meet in the AFC title game, the third time they have played this season. The Bills have faced an opponent three times in one season six times, winning the series four times, including in 1990 against Miami. The Dolphins have had triple meetings four times, winning two of the series. How they've fared:
Year .. .. .. .. Opponent .. .. .. W-L-T
.. .. .. .. Patriots .. .. .. 1-2-0
1964 .. .. .. .. Chargers .. .. .. 3-0-0
1965 .. .. .. .. Chargers .. .. .. 1-1-1
1966 .. .. .. .. Chiefs .. .. .. ..1-2-0
1981 .. .. .. .. Jets .. .. .. .. .2-1-0
1990 .. .. .. .. Dolphins .. .. .. 2-1-0
1971 .. .. .. .. Colts .. .. .. .. 2-1-0
.. .. .. .. Jets .. .. .. .. 3-0-0
1985 .. .. .. .. Patriots .. .. .. 1-2-0
1990 .. .. .. .. Bills .. .. .. .. 1-2-0