Every NFL fan has a loss by their team that they cannot shake. Maybe it was a key game in the playoffs. Maybe it was coming up one-yard short in the Super Bowl. Maybe it was the first time you went to see your favorite team live, and they lost at the last second. Whatever the case, fans hold on to that gut-punch for a long time.
Every NFL franchise has those moments as well. Sometimes it is the loss that turns an up-and-coming team into a sidenote as they fall back into obscurity. Maybe it is that same one-yard short Super Bowl loss, and the team does not make it back to the championship contest, let alone back to within three-feet of the Lombardi Trophy. Maybe it was a devastaing loss that then led to the retirement of a future Hall of Famer that causes the franchise to sink into a 15 year abyss. Whatever the situation, every team has that moment when reality strikes.
Sports Illustrated this week has been posting a series of "NFL Worst Week" articles, taking a look at some of the worst moments, decisions, plays, and players in league history. Included in that series is the "worst gut-punch" in the history of each team. Sadly, we will look at the Miami Dolphins' worst gut-punch, but then we will also look at the time the Dolphins were the team doing the punching.
Dolphins' worst gut-punch
January 15, 2000
AFC Divisional Playoff Game
Miami Dolphins 7 - Jacksonville Jaguars 62
Yes, as much as we all try to forget this game, it actually happened. Jaguars fans are very proud of the game that ended Dan Marino's career. It was a comedy of errors throughout the contest for the Dolphins, including two interceptions thrown by Marino, seven total turnovers, 21 yards of rushing for Miami on 18 carries, and Marino not completing a pass until 10:48 remaining in the first half and Jacksonville already leading 38-0.
Yeah, it was bad.
Marino had four turnovers in the first half - he completed just ten passes in that same span, and seven of those came on the team's only decent possession of the game, an 80-yard drive to end the first half with a touchdown, closing the gap to just 41-7 at the break.
This game was so bad, punter Tim Hutton actually missed the ball on a punt. Simply missed the ball.
SI's Doug Farrar, who put together the gut-punch article for the AFC, wrote about Miami's loss:
When the Dolphins hired Jimmy Johnson to be their head coach in 1996, they hoped the coach could build a team that could win multiple Super Bowls—exactly what he did with the Cowboys. Miami never finished higher than 10–6 in four years under Johnson, winning just two playoff games. And it was this loss to the Jaguars—marking the end of Johnson's tenure and Dan Marino's final game—that was the most agonizing.
Miami was hopeful after beating the Seahawks in the wild-card round, but the Dolphins ran into an unexpected buzzsaw against the Jaguars, who handed them the second-worst postseason loss in NFL history, behind only the 73–0 thrashing the Bears handed to the Redskins in 1940. The Jaguars were up 41–7 at the half, and never hit the brakes. Marino was on the bench early in the third quarter, and the Dolphins amassed just 131 total yards on offense.
It has been 15 years since that loss - and the Dolphins have not won a playoff game since (the won the AFC Wildcard game a week before the Jaguars game). Marino retired that offseason, and the Dolphins have had a rotating carousel at quarterback ever since, including Jay Fiedler, who thre two touchdown passes for Jacksonville during this game.
Dolphins giving the gut-punch
Time to get away from the pain of that game and take a look at happier times - in other words, times when Miami was on the right side of a franchise's gut-punch.
November 27, 1994
Miami Dolphins 28 - New York Jets 24
Pete Carroll and the Jets were struggling through a mediocre first year together, sitting just above .500 heading into a late-season game against the Dolphins. New York seemed to be taking all of their frustration out on Miami, leading 10-0 at the half, then 17-0 in the third quarter before Marino decided enough was enough. Marino found Mark Ingram for a ten-yard touchdown pass, which Boomer Esiason answered later in the third with a 14-yard score of his own.
It was all Marino and Ingram after that. A 17-yard score near the end of the third, then a 28-yard connection in the fourth made the score 24-21 New York. Miami again started driving late in the game, and, with time running out, Marino rushed to the line for a "clock play," likely looking to set up a tying field This happened instead:
The kick was never needed.
The Jets were 6–5 to start Pete Carroll's first season as an NFL head coach, but things were about to go downhill very quickly. Carroll's team welcomed the Dolphins to Giants Stadium in Week 13, and got out to a 17–0 lead in the third quarter. But Miami stormed back with Dan Marino's four touchdown passes to Mark Ingram. One of those four was a fake spike that the Jets thought Marino was taking to stop the clock with 22 seconds left. Instead, he threw a game-winning eight-yard touchdown pass to Ingram. It was backup quarterback Bernie Kosar who came up with the idea, and the befuddled Jets never won a game the rest of the season. Carroll was fired at the end of the season, to be replaced by... Rich Kotite. Ouch.
An excuse to watch the Fake Spike is always welcome. It should help you forget whatever it was the first half of this article discussed.