McKnight falls down on the job


MIAMI -- All the Miami Dolphins asked of veteran receiver James McKnight in yesterday's 20-3 AFC wild-card loss to the Ravens was to make one play.

One play.

The opportunity came midway through the fourth quarter with the Dolphins trailing 17-3.

The Dolphins were at the Ravens' 42-yard line when quarterback Jay Fiedler dropped back to pass and winged his best throw of the day in McKnight's direction.

McKnight had broken free on a post pattern, but as he zeroed in on the ball near the 4-yard line, he lost his footing and his concentration. Although McKnight was falling, the ball still practically hit him between the "8" and the "0" on his jersey.

What happened next might be a good representation of how McKnight's season has gone.

The ball bounced off McKnight and into the hands of Ravens cornerback Duane Starks at the 2. He returned it 26 yards to the 28.

"I missed the ball," McKnight said. "I didn't make the play. I didn't give my team an opportunity to score and get back in the ballgame. That's the bottom line. I didn't make the play. No excuses. I take full blame for it."

The play was reminiscent of McKnight's blunder against the New York Jets on Nov. 18 at Pro Player Stadium. An almost-perfect pass bounced off McKnight's face mask and was returned 60 yards for a touchdown by Aaron Glenn. That was the start of a 24-0 Jets romp.

In the Dolphins' 24-20, come-from-behind victory at Seattle, McKnight caught the game-winning 39-yard touchdown pass -- which atoned for losing a fumble earlier in the game.

Two weeks ago, McKnight was tattooed against Atlanta and lost a fumble -- and consciousness -- after making a catch.

Yesterday's mistake by McKnight virtually killed any hopes the Dolphins had of defeating the defending Super Bowl champions.

"That falls into that group of plays where we had an opportunity," Miami coach Dave Wann- stedt said. "We score there, it's a seven-point game."

Until that pass, the Dolphins' offense showed no signs of making a big play.

With rookie receiver Chris Chambers out with sprained ankles, the deep threat was gone. Even though McKnight tied for the team lead in receptions (55) and was third on the team in receiving yards (674), he wasn't really viewed as a legitimate deep threat.

And with the Ravens' defensive plan of playing their safeties deep to take away those throwing opportunities, the play to McKnight was even more valuable because it was so rare.

Contrary to how it appeared, the Dolphins had figured a few deep passes into their game plan.

"We had a whole lot of things in our package we didn't get an opportunity to run," McKnight said.

That was because the Ravens didn't allow those chances until that fourth-quarter play.

McKnight had a decent five years with Seattle, spent the 1999 season on injured reserve with Dallas and then had a breakout year last season with 52 receptions for 926 yards and two touchdowns.

When the Dolphins signed McKnight to a five-year contract in March, he came with a label.

"He was a good guy and very fast," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said in October, recalling his memory of McKnight. "Would drop a pass on occasion, but a talented guy."

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, McKnight lived up to that label yesterday.

Out with a whimper

The Dolphins have been outscored 164-16 in their past five playoff losses:

Date Opp. Round Result

1/13/02 Ravens WC L, 20-3

1/6/01 Oak. Div. L, 27-0

1/15/00 Jac. Div. L, 62-7

1/9/99 Den. Div. L, 38-3

12/28/97 N.Eng. WC L, 17-3

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