Dan Marino was the last man standing from the fabled quarterback draft class of 1983 at the start of the 1999 season. John Elway, Marino's greatest counterpart from that draft class, decided to ride off into the sunset that offseason after winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Broncos. Jim Kelly, who led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls at the start of the decade, had retired three years earlier. But despite aching knees and an aging right arm, the 38-year-old Marino made one last run at winning a championship that had alluded him up until that point.
Marino's last stand kicks off this week's edition of NFL Throwback, a weekly series where history intertwines with the NFL's upcoming matchups. This week, we take a look at some memorable games from previous Dolphins-Seahawks and Broncos-Jets matchups plus a Larry Fitzgerald gem during an incredible postseason run.
Marino's last stand
Despite getting walloped by Elway's Broncos in the '98 divisional round, Marino and then Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson decided to come back for the '99 season. While injuries limited him to just 11 games, Marino did have a vintage performance in Week 4, as the threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute to defeat Peyton Manning and the Colts.
After a 7-1 start, the Dolphins limped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Their first-round playoff opponent was the Seahawks, who at that time were still part of the AFC. In a defensive slugfest, the Dolphins finally found the end zone in the third quarter when Marino hit Oronde Gadsden for a game-tying touchdown. Miami immediately gave those points back to Seattle, however, as Charlie Rodgers ran the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a score.
Marino, as he had done numerous times throughout his 17-year career, brought the Dolphins from behind. After a field goal trimmed Miami's deficit to four points, Marino completed three passes to Tony Martin that covered 60 yards. Facing a third-and-10 from his own 29, Marino's 24-yard completion to Gadsden set up J.J. Johnson's game-winning touchdown run, as the Dolphins prevailed, 20-17. It would be the final playoff win for Marino, whose Dolphins fell the following week to the Jaguars, 62-7. Marino retired that offseason, as did Johnson, who will join Marino in the Pro Football Hall of Fame next summer.
Ironically, Marino's first playoff win came against the Seahawks. Following an MVP season that saw him set then NFL records for passing yards (5,184) and touchdown passes (48), Marino threw three touchdowns in the Dolphins' 31-10 win over the Seahawks in the 1984 playoffs. The Dolphins would then defeat the Steelers before falling to the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX, Marino's first and last Super Bowl appearance.
🐬 Dan Marino won his 1st playoff game 34 yrs ago today with a 31-10 win over the Seahawks in the 1984 AFC Divisional Playoff! Marino finished the game 21 of 34 for 262 yds & 3 TDs including a 33 yd pass TD to Mark Clayton that put the @MiamiDolphins up 28-10! #FinsUp #Dolphins pic.twitter.com/wMhxNUJyFg— 80s Football Cards (@80sFootballCard) December 29, 2018
Fitzgerald frazzles Panthers once but not twice
Larry Fitzgerald's decorated career includes one of the most dominant individual postseason runs in NFL history. In the 2008 playoffs, Fitzgerald caught 30 passes for 546 yards and seven touchdowns as he led the Cardinals to their first ever NFC title.
After catching six passes for 101 yards and a score in Arizona's wild-card win over Atlanta, Fitzgerald torched the Panthers' defense in the divisional round, catching eight passes for 166 yards and a score in the Cardinals' 33-13 win. Fitzgerald outplayed Panthers Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, who was held to 43 yards and a score on two receptions.
Fitzgerald's dominance continued in the NFC title game, as he caught nine passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles. In Super Bowl XLIII, his two touchdown catches and 127 receiving yards nearly led Arizona to an upset of Pittsburgh, who needed a last-minute touchdown to defeat the Cardinals.
While Fitzgerald and the '08 Cardinals got the better of them, the Panthers evened the score in dramatic fashion in the 2015 NFC title game. With Fitzgerald held to just 30 receiving yards, the Cardinals had no answer for Cam Newton, whose 335 passing yards and two touchdowns helped propel the Panthers to a 49-15 win.
Jets put scare into scoreboard-watching Broncos
Heading into championship weekend, It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Broncos would face the Vikings in Super Bowl XXXIII. The Vikings, led by the receiving duo of Cris Carter and rookie Randy Moss, went 15-1 during the regular season. Denver, the defending champions, coasted through a 14-2 regular season before dismantling the Dolphins in the divisional round.
The Vikings however didn't do their part, as they were upset by Falcons after Gary Anderson, who had not missed a field goal that season up until that point, missed a 37-yard field goal that would have iced the game. The Falcons mounted a game-tying drive before stealing the game in overtime.
The end of the NFC title game was watched by nearly 76,000 fans packed into Mile High Stadium at the start of the Broncos' game against the Jets. Those fans knew that they would face the Falcons and not the Vikings if they defeated the Jets, who under Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Bill Belichick went 12-4 during the regular season before beating a talented Jaguars team in the divisional round.
Denver, a team that finished second to Minnesota in scoring during the regular season, did not score a single first-half point against the Jets. Conversely, the Jets, after taking 3-0 halftime lead, increased their lead to 10-0 after Curtis Martin scored following a blocked punt. The Jets, nearly 30 years to the day after shocking the Colts in Super Bowl III, appeared poised to pull off another monumental upset.
As soon as Jets fans allowed themselves to begin dreaming of a trip to Miami, Elway, playing in his final home game, willed the Broncos back. Four seconds after Martin's touchdown, Elway connected with Ed McCaffrey on a 47-yard pass. Elway then hit Howard Griffin for an 11-yard score as the game's momentum shifted in Denver's favor. The Broncos then tacked on two field goals before Terrell Davis, the league's MVP that season, broke the game open with a 31-yard touchdown run. Denver's defense sealed the Broncos' 23-10 win, as the Jets committed three turnovers in the game's final stanza.
The Broncos would go onto defeat the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, while the Jets are still waiting to return to the Super Bowl.