Thaddeus Lewis is making the first NFL road start, a week after his Buffalo debut, possibly while hobbled by a sprained foot.
Miami is 3-2, but can not seem to run the ball or protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Today’s meeting in South Florida shapes up as one of those field-goal-ridden slop-fests that ends with a score like 19-14 or 15-10 that have peppered the series between the once-bitter rivals over the past decade, as both franchises cycle through quarterbacks and wallow in league-wide irrelevancy.
Dan Marino made his first professional start against Buffalo a little more than 30 years ago. A few years before Jim Kelly arrived to provide his persistent foil, the man who would become perhaps the least interesting broadcaster in sports history got out-dueled by Joe Ferguson.
Ferguson was in his last full season as Buffalo’s starting quarterback and the first after Chuck Knox bolted for Seattle, leaving behind an aging roster and an overmatched replacement in Kay Stephenson.
Buffalo jumped out 14-0 on Ferguson’s first two touchdown throws of the day, both to the legendary Byron Franklin. It took Marino a little longer to get untracked, but once he did, the Bills and Dolphins did not stop scoring until regulation ended with the score tied at 35.
Miami had gone ahead 35-28 on a 14-yard Marino-to-Mark Clayton hookup with 3:06 left, capping a drive set up by a Ferguson interception.
Rather than hang his head and throw another, Ferguson completed nine of the 11 passes he aimed at a receiver (he also threw one away to stop the clock) to move the Bills 80 yards. The final yard came on a fourth-down flip to Joe Cribbs with 23 seconds left.
In overtime, Miami moved the ball, but Uwe von Schamann missed 52- and 43-yard field goals. Ferguson hit one more big throw, a 35-yarder to Mike Moseley, which led to Joe Danelo’s 36-yard game-winner with 23 seconds left in overtime.
The official game book, including the play-by-play description is available here.
Without video available, the hand-written stats and old-fashioned typewriter type give reading it an historic feel, heightened by the knowledge that a ditto machine was almost certainly involved in its distribution.
Besides Ferguson’s career day (38-of-55 for 419 yards and five touchdowns, all Bills records at the time), the win also involved one of Booker Moore’s two career touchdowns, an 11-yard pass from Ferguson in the third quarter.
Marino was no slouch, either, going 20-for-30 for 370 yards and four scores.
Lewis and Tannehill don’t figure to approach those numbers today, particularly with Tannehill getting sacked an average of nearly five times per game.
He may not have much choice but to air it out, though, with Miami’s running game averaging 69.6 yards, including just 22 in last week’s 26-23 overtime loss to Baltimore
, the second straight for the Dolphins after a 3-0 start.
As for Lewis, after last week
, nothing he does could be especially surprising.
Danelo’s kick dropped the ’83 Dolphins to 3-3, but they recovered to finish 12-4 and win the AFC East before.
The win would prove to be the beginning of the end for Ferguson and the 4-2 Bills. They got to 7-4 and a solid shot at the postseason, but Fergy threw 11 interceptions during a 1-4 finish.
Ferguson played one more year in Buffalo, losing the job he had held for more than a decade to Joe Dufek, then six more as a backup with Detroit, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.
Ferguson never won a conference or league championship, so is remembered as the third-best quarterback in Bills history, behind a couple of guys who did.
For one sunny afternoon, though, he was better than one of the NFL’s best ever.
David Staba has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other topics, since 1990 for a variety of outlets, including We Want Marangi since way back in 2012.