Miami Faces Big Test In Denver

Posted: January 04, 1999

DAVIE, Fla. — Even eternal optimist Jimmy Johnson admits his Miami Dolphins face long odds in the second round of the playoffs.

Jacksonville's 25-10 victory yesterday over New England determined the pairings for next weekend's AFC games, and the Dolphins will play Saturday at Denver. That means Miami must contend with the well-rested defending Super Bowl champions, a hostile crowd and winter weather.

And the Dolphins must do it without their only Pro Bowl player. Defensive tackle Tim Bowens underwent surgery yesterday to repair a torn tendon in his arm, and he'll miss the rest of the postseason.

Bowens was hurt in Saturday's 24-17 wild-card victory over the Buffalo Bills, Miami's first postseason win in four years. With Denver looming, the thrill of victory didn't last long.

``We know it's going to be an uphill battle playing on the road when they have two weeks to prepare and a bye and an opportunity to get their team healthy,'' Johnson said. ``That's why teams with a bye playing at home have such a high winning percentage in the playoffs. We know the odds are against us.

``By the same token, anything can happen, and we like the opportunity to go take a few chances.''

The Dolphins beat the Broncos two weeks ago, 31-21, but Denver had already clinched home-field advantage for the playoffs and had little incentive to win. And that game was in Miami.

The Dolphins' last road victory in the postseason came 25 years ago - against Minnesota in Super Bowl VIII. Miami has since lost eight postseason road games, and Johnson acknowledged cold weather would put his team at a disadvantage.

``We're not acclimated to it,'' he said. ``We don't like it, we don't practice in it, we rarely play in it, we don't live in it, and we don't want to live in it.''

Johnson then grinned, but didn't smile when discussing the Dolphins' injuries. Leading receiver O.J. McDuffie (sprained foot), tight end Troy Drayton (sprained ankle) and long snapper Frank Wainright (sprained shoulder) could miss the Denver game. Tackle Richmond Webb (torn arm tendon) and guard Kevin Donnalley (sore knee) played Saturday, but might miss practice time this week.

The loss of Bowens hurts the run defense as it gears up to deal with 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis. The Dolphins were already shorthanded in the front four because end Jason Taylor was sidelined for the season by a broken collarbone last week.

``We're pretty beat up,'' Johnson said, ``like every team is this time of year - or at least the teams that are still playing.''

Saturday's win was a thriller.

The Bills twice erased deficits before falling behind 24-14, then rallied again. After Steve Christie kicked a 33-yard field goal with 1:33 left, making it 24-17, Buffalo recovered an onside kick and drove 64 yards in 10 plays.

On first down at the 5-yard line, Bills quarterback Doug Flutie pumped to throw, cocked his arm again and was leveled by Miami defensive end Trace Armstrong, knocking the ball loose.

``I had a chance to put a solid hit on him,'' an exhausted Armstrong said. ``I was elated, because I didn't know if I could go another play. I'm sure they're sitting over there thinking one got away from them.''

In the celebration after the game, Johnson symbolically smashed a box of Flutie Flakes - part of the proceeds of which go to help autistic children like Flutie's son, Doug Jr. - on a locker room table, scattering the cereal around the room.

Told of Johnson's actions, Flutie, displaying the same flair for dramatics he had shown with his famous, last-second touchdown bomb to lead Boston College over the University of Miami in a 1984 game at the Orange Bowl, took exception.

``That's like stepping on my son,'' Flutie said.

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