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Classic Rewind: Marino Out-Guns Bledsoe in Return From Achilles Injury

Posted on September 30, 2010 by A.J. Foss

Going into the 1994 NFL season, many pro football experts and Miami Dolphins fans were skeptical that legendary quarterback Dan Marino could return to his old brilliant self.

In the fifth game of the 1993 season, Marino tore his Achilles tendon on a play in which he was not even touched.

Marino missed the rest of the season as the Dolphins finished with a 9-7  record and failed to make the playoffs.

Even though the tendon was healed by the time training camp began for the 1994 season, it did not appear that Marino was ready.

Not only did Marino have to wear a special shoe for the foot in which he tore his Achilles tendon, his right calf was atrophied, further limiting his already lack of mobility.

To make things worse, Marino completed only four of 12 passes for 37 yards and threw two interceptions during his playing team in the Dolphins’ four preseason games.

While the future looked bleak for Marino, the sky was the limit for the Patriots’ quarterback, 22-year old Drew Bledsoe.

Bledsoe had been selected as the #1 overall pick of the 1993 NFL Draft by the Patriots and started 12 games in the 1993 season as he threw for 2494 yards and 15 touchdowns to comply a 5-7 record in the games he started.

After a solid rookie season, Drew Bledsoe was poised for a big year with the Patriots in 1994.

The Week 1 game in Miami was seen by some as a passing of the torch from one great quarterback to the next great quarterback.  While Bledsoe showed his upside in this game, Marino proved to the critics that he was back and as good as ever.

The Patriots went three-and-out on its opening drive punting the ball to the Dolphins, where Miami would drove to the New England 41-yard-line until they faced a fourth-and-one.

Head coach Don Shula decided to go for the first down but the gamble backfired when running back Terry Kirby fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Patriots.

The Patriots took advantage of the turnover as they drove 59 yards in 10 plays, ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Kevin Turner to put New England ahead 7-0, with 4:44 to go in the first quarter.

On their ensuing drive, the Dolphins drove to the Patriots’ nine-yard-line only to have a Marino pass go off the hands of Keith Byars and into the arms of Patriots linebacker Dwayne Sabb for an interception.

The Patriots were poised to cash in on the turnover as they drove to the Miami’ nine-yard-line until Bledsoe was intercepted when free safety Gene Atkins deflected a pass which landed in the arms of cornerback Troy Vincent for a Miami interception.

Four plays later, Marino found Mark Ingram down the middle on a deep post pattern for a 64-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 7-7 with just 2:15 to play in the first half.

Following the Ingram touchdown, Bledsoe and the Patriots went to their two-minute drill offense as they drove 68 yards in 8 plays, as Bledsoe found tight end Ben Coates for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 14-7 with 25 seconds left before halftime.

But that was just enough time for Marino to drive the Dolphins into field goal range as he completed back-to-back 21-yard passes to O.J. McDuffie and Scott Miller, setting up a 42-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich as time expired in the first half to trim New England’s lead to 14-10.

The Dolphins got the ball first in the second half but went three-and-out, punting the ball to the Patriots at their own 37-yard-line.

Coming off an Achilles tendon injury, many wondered if Dan Marino's best days were behind him.

On the very first play, Bledsoe went deep and found Coates down the middle for a 63-yard touchdown to increase the Patriots’ lead to 21-10.

After both teams went three-and-out on their next drives, the Dolphins got the ball at their own 39-yard-line where it took them four plays to get into the end zone, a 26-yard touchdown pass from Marino to tight end Keith Jackson, who made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone to cut the Patriots’ lead to 21-16

This was the first season in which NFL teams could attempt two-point conversions, so Miami took this opportunity to go for two and make it a three-point game.

Kirby ran it for the two points and the Dolphins now trailed 21-18.

On its next possession, the Patriots marched to the Dolphins’ 35 until Bledsoe was intercepted by Atkins, giving the ball back to Miami.

But on the very next play, Marino fumbled the snap from center Jeff Dallenbach, giving the ball right back to the Patriots at the Miami 24-yard-line where it took New England five plays to get into the end zone as Bledsoe threw his third touchdown pass of the day, a five-yarder to Michael Timpson to put the Patriots up 28-18 with 2:15 left in the third quarter.

However, Marino had an answer as he hit Irving Fryar for a 54-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-15, to make it a three-point game again, 28-25, before the end of the third quarter.

The score remained at 28-25 when the Dolphins got the ball back at their own 46 where on second-and-six Marino handed the ball off to Kirby, who appeared to be running the ball up the middle.

Former Patriot Irving Fryar came back to haunt the Dolphins.

But Kirby turned around and tossed the ball back to Marino found Fryar wide open down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown to give the Dolphins their first lead of the game at 32-28 with 14 minutes to play.

Bledsoe and the Patriots responded with a six-play, 67-yard drive, culminating with a spectacular 23-yard touchdown catch by Ray Crittenden, who stretched his entire body in the back corner of the end zone to make the catch and to give New England the lead once again, 35-32 with 10:12 to play in the fourth quarter.

The Dolphins did not have an answer on their ensuing drive as they drove to the Patriots 38 before they punted the ball back to New England.

However, the Dolphin defense held and forced a punt, giving Marino the ball back at his own 20 with less than eight minutes to play.

Marino made two key third-down completions as the Dolphins drove to the New England 35 where they faced a fourth-and-five with 3:25 to play.

Instead of going for the potential game-tying field goal, Shula decided to go for the first down, the second time in the game for the Dolphins.

On the play, Marino took the snap and dropped back a few steps, then threw the ball down the right sideline where he found Fryar, who made his third touchdown catch of the game to give Miami a 39-35 lead with 3:19 to play in the fourth quarter.

Now, the Dolphin defense had to stop Bledsoe one more time to preserve the victory.

But once again, Bledsoe lead the Patriots down the field and into Miami territory where he found Coates once again for a 23-yard completion to the Miami 30.

That is where Atkins struck again as hit Coates at the end of that completion forcing a fumble which was recovered by strong safety Michael Stewart at the Dolphin 26-yard-line with less than two minutes to go and a chance for the Dolphins to run the clock out.

However, the Dolphins could not get a first down and had to punt the ball back to the Patriots, who got the ball back at their own 35 with one minute to play.

Bledsoe completed three passes to get the Patriots to midfield, but then misfired on his next four passes to end the game as the Dolphins came away with a 39-35 win.

Both quarterbacks were amazing in this game as Bledsoe and Marino combined to throw for 894 yards and nine touchdowns, 574 yards and seven touchdowns in the second half alone.

The stats for Bledsoe were impressive as he completed 32 of 51 passes for 421 yards, and four touchdowns, with his main target being Coates who caught eight passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

Marino’s stats were even more impressive as he completed 23 of 42 passes for 473 yards (330 in the second half) and five touchdowns, with three touchdowns going to Fryar who made five receptions for 211 yards, all in the second half.

Bledsoe would finish the season as the league leader in passing yards as his 4,555 yards lead the Patriots to first playoff appearance in eight years.

But like this game, Marino would one-up Bledsoe in the season.

Marino finished behind Bledsoe in passing yards, as Marino threw for 4,453 yards and 30 touchdowns to be named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year as the Dolphins went 10-6 to win the AFC Eastern Division and defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-17 in their Wild Card Game before bowing out to the San Diego Chargers in the following round.

Marino would play five more seasons before he retired after 17 seasons as quarterback of the Miami Dolphins.

While he never won a Super Bowl, Marino is considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history with many numerous legendary performances, including a 470-yard performance in his first full game back from an Achilles tendon injury.

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