MIAMI — MIAMI -- By the third quarter, when it was perfectly clear who would represent the AFC in Super Bowl XXVII, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino offered what amounted to a concession speech.
Buffalo Bills defensive end Phil Hansen remembered it this way:
"He was on the ground, and I was lying there with him. He cursed and said, 'My receivers just don't want to get open.'
"I said I thought they were trying to get open, but our secondary was not letting them."
While Buffalo's defensive backs matched Dolphins receivers stride for stride, the Bills' pass rush was opening lanes to Marino.
Four sacks and five turnovers later, the Bills had a 29-10 triumph and Marino's Super Bowl drought had been extended to nine years.
Marino completed 22 of 45 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown, but also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
He was victimized twice in the first half on potential big plays that instead became big drops for the Dolphins.
Trailing 3-0 late in the first quarter, the Dolphins had moved to the Buffalo 38 when wide-out Mark Clayton dropped Marino's bullet at the 10. Two plays later, Cornelius Bennett sacked Marino at the 34,
and the Dolphins had to settle for a 51-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.
In the second quarter, the Dolphins squandered another opportunity. Trailing 13-3 with the ball at Buffalo's 36, Marino threw deep to wide receiver Tony Martin running a sideline streak pattern.
But Martin muffed the third-down pass at the 5, and, on fourth down, Miami punted.
"We had a couple of opportunities early," Dolphins coach Don Shula said. "Clayton had one. Tony Martin had a long pass down the sideline. Those are the kind of plays you need to make when you play a team that's as good as Buffalo."
Marino's fumble set up Buffalo's first field goal, a 21-yarder by Steve Christie. On third down from the Buffalo 41, Marino was blindsided by defensive end Bruce Smith and lost the ball. Linebacker Darryl Talley recovered at the Bills' 47.
"Our defensive backs had great coverage downfield," Talley said, "and that allowed our pass rush to get there."
One minute into the second quarter, Hansen batted a pass by Marino into the air and settled unsteadily under it for an interception at the Miami 17. The Dolphins held Buffalo to a 33-yard field goal by Christie that made it 13-3.
"When it comes to big games, you've got to get big plays," Hansen said.
The Bills were able to exert considerable pressure against Marino, and took away his comfort zone in the pocket.
"They pulled the center out to
help block against Bruce," Hansen said. "We took advantage of that with a twist between me and Jeff [Wright], and we had a good push inside. It kept Dan from stepping up in the pocket."
The Dolphins had three turnovers in the first half. Cornerback Nate Odomes stripped wide receiver Fred Banks after a first-quarter catch and recovered the fumble himself on the Miami 25. The Bills weren't able to capitalize on that turnover, though, as Jim Kelly threw an interception on the next play.
The Dolphins fumbled away the second-half kickoff and fell behind 20-3. Things went downhill from there for Miami.
The Dolphins had 2 yards of offense in the third quarter and no first downs. They were down 23-3 going into the final period.
"It was a real disappointment that we didn't play better in a game that meant so much to us," Shula said. "Overall, this football team made strides this year. This was the big test that we had to overcome in order to get into the final ballgame, but we weren't ready for it."
The Bills say they're a better team than the one that lost to the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXVI.
"The biggest difference is the way our defense plays," center Kent Hull said. "They play really well, and it allows us to make mistakes [on offense]. We had unbelievable field position today. You ought to score a lot of points when that happens."
Said Talley: "All you can say is that's three [AFC titles]. This football game speaks for itself."