Photo courtesy of Miami Dolphins
In the midst of their first winning season in four years, the Miami Dolphins are in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Playoff appearances have been few and far between for Miami over the last two decades. Even more scarce have been playoff victories.
The last playoff win for the Dolphins came on this day 20 years ago. Lamar Smith played the role of hero for Miami as he ran for 209 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner as the Dolphins rallied from 14 points down to beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card game, 23-17.
Setting the Stage
The Dolphins were in the playoffs for the fourth straight year as the teams arrived at Pro Player Stadium on Dec. 30, 2000. At 11-5, Miami had won the AFC East for the first time since 1994.
Indianapolis had split its two regular-season meetings with Miami. The two contests had been decided by just a total of 10 points. The Colts had won when the teams met in South Florida less than two weeks prior. For most of the day, it looked like they would do so again.
It was a late touchdown that had delivered Miami when the teams met in Indianapolis earlier in the season. With five minutes to play in the game, the Dolphins needed another one to keep their season alive.
After kicker Mike Vanderjagt’s third field goal of the day gave the Colts a 17-10 lead, Miami began at its own 20-yard-line. Quarterback Jay Fiedler and running back Lamar Smith were up to the task.
The drive lasted 15 plays and involved three third-down conversions. After Fiedler and Smith used their legs to convert a pair of 3rd-and-1s on the march, back-to-back completions to wide receiver O.J. McDuffie moved the Dolphins inside the 10-yard-line.
Two plays after McDuffie’s 1-handed catch set the Dolphins up with goal to go, Fiedler faced third down from the Indianapolis 9. With less than a minute to play, Fiedler found a slanting tight end Jed Weaver near the goal line. Weaver was able to make the catch and place the ball across the goal line with just 34 seconds remaining.
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To overtime, the contest went.
The Dolphins won the all-important coin toss, but managed just one first down before being forced to punt. Three completions from Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Marvin Harrison, totaling 47 yards put the Colts in field goal range. On 4th-and-1, Vanderjagt was set up to be the hero for Indianapolis.
Vanderjagt had missed just twice all season and was 3-for-3 on the day, but sending Indianapolis to the next round wasn’t in the cards. Perhaps partially deflected by a Miami defender, Vanderjagt’s kick stayed to the right.
Miami had new life. Smith made sure the Dolphins took advantage of it.
After a third down pass from Fiedler to Jeff Ogden gave the Dolphins a new set of downs in Indianapolis territory, Smith carried the ball six times over Miami’s final eight plays. Following a completion from Fiedler to Oronde Gadsden to the Colts’ 23-yard-line, Smith put the game away.
After a 6-yard rush, Smith hit the sideline and carried Indianapolis defenders into the end zone for the game-winning 17-yard touchdown. On 40 carries, Smith finished the day with 209 yards rushing — an AFC playoff record.
For nearly 37 minutes, the Dolphins were held scoreless. After a pair of Vanderjagt field goals, Indianapolis scored the game’s first touchdown midway through the second quarter.
Manning found Jerome Pathon for the 17-yard touchdown. He followed that up with a 2-point conversion pass to Ken Dilger to extend the lead to 14-0.
Miami cut that lead in half on Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run with 8:09 remaining in the third quarter. Olindo Mare’s 38-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter cut the deficit to four before Vanderjagt answered more than five minutes later.
Fiedler finished with 185 yards passing for Miami, but was intercepted three times, including twice by Chad Cota. Indianapolis was held to 293 yards in the loss. Edgerrin James rushed for 107 yards for the Colts in the loss.
The Dolphins would go on to fall to the Oakland Raiders in the Divisional round, 27-0. It would be three years later before the Colts won a playoff game with Manning as the quarterback.
As for Miami, the Dolphins have made the playoffs just three times since. The thrilling overtime victory over Indianapolis serves as Miami’s last playoff win. It came on this day two decades ago.