In a game filled with poignant implication and dramatic revelation, the Jaguars sent Marino out with a whimper and the Miami Dolphins home with a shocking, 62-7 loss at Alltel Stadium yesterday.
Scoring one of the quickest knockouts in NFL playoff history -- and the second-biggest rout -- the Jaguars advanced to the AFC championship next Sunday against the winner of today's conference semifinal between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.
So much for the notion that the Jaguars are 15-2 because of a soft schedule. Yesterday stamped them as a team worthy of a Super Bowl berth. That was the revelation.
This was the implication: Marino is probably finished as an active quarterback, his place in the Hall of Fame long since assured. What's more, there will be no John Elway finish for the most prolific passer in NFL history.
Indeed, Marino has never looked as far away from a Super Bowl as he did against the Jaguars in a humiliating first half. He went 0-for-his-first-7, with two interceptions, a lost fumble and a sack, helping dig the Dolphins (10-8) a 24-0 first-quarter hole. If this was his swan song, it was a discordant note of futility for one of the game's most respected players.
Curiously, Marino sounded like a man not yet ready to walk away, painful as a 55-point loss looked.
"I talked about this many times already this year," he said warily in a crowded interview room, "and I'll wait and see as time goes on what the circumstances are here with the Dolphins and myself, and how I feel.
"I still feel like I can win games in this league. I've proven that, and will continue to do that. So we'll see."
Marino will wait out coach Jimmy Johnson, whose four-year era in Miami appears to be at its end and whose legacy with the Dolphins will fall far short of his Super Bowl promise. If Johnson goes, Marino believes there still may be room for him in Miami. He has said repeatedly that he does not want to play for another team.
Johnson revealed nothing of his plans, though. Stone-faced, staring straight ahead, he blamed himself for the Dolphins' deplorable effort, then walked away from the podium without taking a question.
"I take the blame for this one," he said in a raspy voice. "Jacksonville's got a great team, and they played great. I don't know if we would have had a chance to win the ballgame had we been fresh. But I tried to prepare them too much.
"I should have pulled back after the long trip to Seattle. It was obvious from the start that we were dead-legged. I feel bad for our guys. I wish I had at least had them fresh coming into this game to at least give them a chance. I didn't give them a chance, and that's what we've got to live with."
It will be an ugly memory for the Dolphins.
Reduced to sporadic drives and occasional flashbacks, Marino had just one of each against the Jaguars. After starting 3-for-14 for 12 yards, he finished the first half with an 80-yard, nine-play scoring drive. The coup de grace, and likely last touchdown pass of his career, was a perfectly thrown, 20-yard strike to Oronde Gadsden with three seconds left.
It got the Dolphins within 41-7.
Not surprisingly, Johnson had decided to switch to quarterback Damon Huard at halftime. Marino, ever the warrior, wanted one more chance.
"I asked him if I could have another shot, and it didn't go so well," said Marino, whose relationship with Johnson has been stormy at best. "That was very fair of him."
Marino's last series was three-and-out. It featured a 4-yard dump-off to J. J. Johnson and a final, third-down incompletion, intended for O. J. McDuffie. He finished the game 11-for-25 for 95 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
There was precious little compassion on the Jaguars' sideline.
Asked whether he felt bad for Marino, cornerback Aaron Beasley, who had a pair of interceptions, said the obvious: "I can't say I do. This game is not about feeling for your opponent. It's about beating them."
And the Jaguars beat the Dolphins in every conceivable way. They rolled up 520 yards -- almost 400 more than Miami. They coerced seven turnovers out of the Dolphins, cashing in 20 points.
Their 41 first-half points tied an NFL record set by the Buffalo Bills against the Los Angeles Raiders in 1990. Their 62 points represented the second-most points in an NFL playoff game behind the Bears' 73-0 win over the Redskins in 1940.
Running back Fred Taylor produced the longest run in NFL postseason history, a 90-yarder on which at least four Dolphins missed tackles. Wide receiver Jimmy Smith produced the team's longest postseason pass play -- a 70-yarder that came from backup Jay Fiedler and made it 48-7 in the third quarter.
The Jaguars were able to sub Fiedler for gimpy starting quarterback Mark Brunell just 3: 15 into the second quarter. Brunell threw for two touchdowns and 105 yards, and left with a 38-0 lead. Fiedler threw for 172 yards and two scores.
Jacksonville's defense not only raked the Dolphins for five sacks and seven turnovers, but also churned out an unlikely touchdown. Defensive end Tony Brackens achieved a football grand slam on one play to get it. He sacked Marino, stripped the ball, recovered it and, after some prodding from his teammates, lumbered into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and 24-0 first-quarter lead.
Until Brackens got a not-so-gentle push from teammate Bryce Paup, he didn't know the play was alive.
"I thought I was down because I felt a pile of guys on top of me," he said. "I was on my way to the sideline when I got pushed in the back [by Paup] and somebody told me to run. It seemed like I didn't have too far to go."
The Jaguars don't have far to go, either. Refreshed with a bye week and fortified by their home-field advantage, they looked primed to take the next step yesterday, just as they shoved Marino out the door.
Piling up the points
Numbers game: The Jaguars poured it on early and never let up in pounding the Dolphins, 62-7.
NFL's biggest postseason victory margins:
Pts. Score Year Round 73 Chicago 73, Washington 0 1940 NFL title 55 Jacksonville 62, Miami 7 2000 AFC divisional 49 Oakland 56, Houston 7 1969 AFL divisional 48 Buffalo 51, Raiders 3 1991 AFC title 46 Cleveland 56, Detroit 10 1954 NFL title 46 Giants 49, San Francisco 3 1987 NFC divisional 45 San Fran. 55, Denver 10 1990 Super Bowl
Romp in review
The Jaguars' 62 points and 55-point victory margin were the most in a playoff game since the Bears' 73-0 win over the Redskins in 1940.
The Jaguars set a club record for points and Dolphins a club mark for points allowed.
The Jaguars' 41 first-half points tied the playoff record for most in a half, set by the Bills vs. the Raiders in 1990.
Fred Taylor's 90-yard carry was the longest touchdown run in NFL history.
The Jaguars had six plays go for at least 25 yards and out-gained the Dolphins 257-21 in rushing yards, 263-110 in passing yards and 276-73 in return yards.
The Dolphins committed seven turnovers.