30-Year Phiniversary: Dolphins Score Two TDs in Fourth to Stun Chiefs in Wild Card Game

AP Photo, appeared in Ocala Star-Banner

The final win for Dan Marino in his illustrious Miami Dolphins’ career was a Wild Card comeback to beat the Seattle Seahawks.

More than nine years prior to that however, Marino engineered an even bigger comeback in the Wild Card round. That one came on this day 30 years ago. Marino capped a pair of long touchdown drives with touchdown passes as Miami rallied from 13 points down to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-16.

Setting the Stage

Despite going 12-4 during the regular season, the Dolphins were forced to settle for second place in the AFC East and the Wild Card round. Miami arrived at Joe Robbie Stadium for the contest on Jan. 5, 1991.

Kansas City finished 11-5 during a strong regular season. The Chiefs had capped the previous year with a 27-24 win at Miami to end the Dolphins’ playoff hopes. Kansas City again appeared to be on the verge of making sure the Dolphins’ season was over.

Back Comes the Dolphins

Through three quarters, all Miami had managed was a field goal. As the contest went to the final period, the Dolphins trailed 16-3.

On the final play of the third quarter, Sammie Smith had converted a critical fourth down. That seemed to ignite the Miami offense.

The final period begin with a pair of completions from quarterback Dan Marino and was followed by a pair of runs by Smith. On 1st-and-goal from the Kansas City 1-yard-line, Marino faked the hand-off before finding fullback Tony Paige for the Dolphins’ first touchdown of the day.

The next possession for the Chiefs reached Miami territory before ultimately stalling. The Chiefs were able to back Miami inside its own 20, but for Marino and a suddenly resurgent offense, that wouldn’t matter.

On the decisive drive for Miami, Marino was 5-for-5, but it was a balanced attack that led the Dolphins 85 yards. Marino started the drive with a 37-yard completion to tight end Ferrell Edmunds, but Smith and Marc Logan rushed for 22 yards on the march to keep the Dolphins in manageable third down situations.

Following a 6-yard completion from Marino to Mark Clayton on 3rd-and-5 and three straight runs, resulting in 12 yards, Miami took its first lead. At the Kansas City 12, Marino fired for Clayton. Chiefs’ cornerback Albert Lewis nearly stepped in front of the pass, but came up empty. Clayton walked into the end zone with 3:28 remaining.

The extra point gave the Dolphins a 17-16 lead, but the Chiefs weren’t going to go quietly. Christian Okoye rumbled for 26 yards to move inside the Miami 30 and appeared to have the Chiefs in the red zone on the next carry, but a critical holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 37. From there, a 3-yard run from Okoye was all the Chiefs could muster.

Kicker Nick Lowery was sent out to try a 52-yard field goal attempt. Lowery had been 3-for-3 on the day, but his final try came up just short. With 49 seconds to go, Miami took over and proceeded to run out the clock.

Leading Up

Despite the miss, Lowery got the scoring started with a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter. He added a pair of makes in the third quarter to extend the Chiefs’ lead to 16-3.

Pete Stoyanovich tied the game for Miami on the first snap of the second quarter with a then playoff record 58-yard field goal. Kansas City scored its only touchdown with less than two minutes to play in the first half when quarterback Steve DeBerg found Stephone Paige for a 26-yard score. That allowed the Chiefs to take a 10-3 lead into the locker room.

DeBerg passed for 269 yards in the loss. Marino finished with 221 yards passing and complete his final 10 passes. Okoye and Smith, finished with 83 and 82 yards rushing, respectively. Stephone Paige finished with a game-high eight catches for 142 yards receiving.

Miami turned the ball over twice to just one for Kansas City. The lone interception of the day however, came from Dolphins’ safety Jarvis Williams off DeBerg.

In Hindsight

For Kansas City, the loss ran the Chiefs’ drought without a playoff win to 21 years. They would however, break the streak a year later with a Wild Card win over the Los Angeles Raiders.

As for the Dolphins, they would fall a week later to the rival Buffalo Bills in a 44-34 shootout in the AFC Divisional round. The comeback against Kansas City however, remains the largest fourth-quarter comeback for Miami in a playoff game.

The win was the first playoff victory for Miami in five years. It took place in the first-ever playoff game at Joe Robbie Stadium and on this day three decades ago.


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Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.