40-Year Phiniversary: Dolphins Rally From 14 Down in Fourth to Top Falcons

by Mike Ferguson

AP Photo/Appeared in Ocala Star-Banner

The 1980 season wasn’t one of the better seasons in Miami Dolphins history, but the month of September was nothing short of exciting.

After dropping their season opener, the Dolphins won three straight games with improbable fourth-quarter comebacks. The second of those three came on this day 40 years ago.

Setting the Stage

The Dolphins were 1-1 as they arrived at Fulton County Stadium to take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 21, 1980. Miami had rallied from a 14-0 deficit against the Cincinnati Bengals the week prior to improve to 1-1.

The Falcons were also 1-1. Atlanta dropped a heartbreaker to the Minnesota Vikings to open the season, but bounced back with a win over the New England Patriots. For most of the day, a victory looked inevitable for the home team, but the Dolphins scored 17 fourth-quarter points for the second straight week to stun the Falcons, 20-17.

The Comeback

Atlanta took a 14-3 lead into the final quarter, thanks to a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who passed for 332 yards. The Falcons wasted little time extending that lead in the final period. Tim Mazzetti’s 37-yard field goal pushed the lead to 17-3.

As was the case the week prior against Cincinnati, special teams would play a major role in igniting a Miami rally. Following the field goal, Don Bessillieu returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards to put the Dolphins within sniffing distance of the end zone. Miami’s first touchdown of the day came shortly after on a short touchdown pass from Bob Griese to tight end Bruce Hardy.

The reverse of the previous week when Don Strock rallied Miami, Griese had replaced Strock in Atlanta. He proceeded to show terrific command of the Dolphins’ offense. With less than five minutes to go in the contest, his 4-yard touchdown toss to Ronnie Lee drew the Dolphins even at 17.

With just over two minutes to play, Mazzetti had a chance to put the Falcons back in front with a 47-yard field goal attempt. Bob Baumhower was able to block the kick for the Dolphins to keep the score tied at 17 apiece.

A 33-yard strike from Griese to Nat Moore would put the Dolphins in field goal range. After hitting the game-winner the week before with less than two minutes to play, Uwe von Schamann came through again. von Schamann connected on a 27-yard field goal with 32 seconds left to put Miami ahead for good.

In Hindsight

The Falcons wouldn’t dwell on the disappointing loss for too long. After a 1-2 start, Atlanta won 11 of its next 12 games and finished the season 12-4. That was a franchise record for wins at the time.

Miami would go on to finish just 8-8 in 1980. The season however, was hardly a snooze-fest. The Dolphins’ second win of the season was about as thrilling as the first and it happened on this day four decades ago.


AP Story/Ocala Star-Banner
Pro Football Reference

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.

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