The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack


By halftime of this rain-soaked game against the Jets, Coach Saban had seen enough of his starter at quarterback, Joey Harrington, who was then 7 of 15 for a mere 42 yards. Saban yanked him at halftime in favor of Cleo Lemon who responded by leading a nice drive for a touchdown (which put the Dolphins ahead 7-3) in the fourth quarter and an Olindo Mare field goal (which tied the game at 10) with 2:10 left. Mare did the job on the ensuing kickoff, too, putting the ball so deep it could not be returned by the Jets, forcing them to start from their own 20-yard line with only 2:09 left. Unfortunately, on the first play from scrimmage, a Pennington screen pass to Leon Washington went for 64 yards to set up the Jets’ winning field goal with 10 seconds remaining.

The only question coming out of this game is why did Joey start in the first place? Joey has proven himself to be an inconsistent, mediocre quarterback through 4 seasons in Detroit and 10 starts for the Fins. With the Fins being officially out of contention for a playoff spot in the wake of last week’s loss in Buffalo, the season’s last two games seemed to be a perfect opportunity to find out what Cleo Lemon could do under real game conditions. Until he inserted him into the Bills’ game with 10 minutes remaining, Saban had only seen Lemon play in preseason games against players who were either second back-ups or soon to be waived. Such playing time is hardly telling. Why not give him 2 full games playing with the first team against real opponents to see if he is a worthy second string or even a potential future starter? This week Nick answered this question by saying that Joey gave the team their best chance to win. However, given Joey’s performance in Buffalo, what was there to lose in seeing what Cleo could do? If Cleo was really that bad, then why did Saban trade away Sage Rosenfels to get Cleo in the first place? Of course, old Sage was going nowhere fast in the Dolphins’ organization anyway, but what was the purpose for the trade if there was no potential upside to Cleo?

Funny thing is that Cleo got 98 yards and almost a touchdown in garbage time against the Bills and he also led the team to 10 points in the second half against the Jets, going 11 of 15 for 104 yards. Albeit considerably less experienced than Joey, he was certainly more effective against both the Bills and the Jets. Cleo passed for 202 yards to Joey’s 62 yards in the last two games even though Joey played twice as many minutes. Admittedly, it is unlikely Cleo can play the piano up to Joey’s standards, but one wouldn’t think that was what the Nictator was looking for when he traded for Cleo last season.

One bright side was the return of Ronnie Brown. He showed no ill effects of his hand injury, coming off the bench for 110 yards on 18 carries (a 6.1 average). He should give the Fins a solid rushing attack next year whether or not Ricky Williams returns to the fold.

Cleo might even have pulled out a win for the Fins had it not been for two fourth quarter defensive lapses. On the drive which led to the Jets’ only touchdown of the game, Michael Lehan let a sure interception go through his hands which would have given the Dolphins the ball in good position with the score still 7-3 in their favor. The drive which led to the Jets’ winning field goal was made possible by a 64-yard screen pass that should have gone for little or no gain.

Now the Fins must regroup before their season finale in Indianapolis against the slumping, but playoff-bound Colts. The game is meaningless, except that it gives Saban one more opportunity to put the ball in the hands of Cleo Lemon. Let’s hope that come next Sunday Saban remembers that he has already seen enough of Joey.

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