40-Year Phiniversary: Dolphins Overcome 16-Point Fourth-Quarter Deficit to Beat Saints

by Mike Ferguson

Photo courtesy of Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame

In September 1980, the Miami Dolphins won three football games.

In each of those, they rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. The final of those three came on this day 40 years as Miami climbed out of a 16-0 hole to beat the New Orleans Saints, 21-16.

Setting the Stage

Early in the 1980 season, the Dolphins were becoming the cardiac kids. After opening the season with a loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins rallied from 14 down in the final quarter to beat the Cincinnati Bengals. Miami did likewise against the Atlanta Falcons a week later.

On Sept. 28, 1980, the deficit was even larger at the Orange Bowl. Against the 0-3 Saints, Miami was shutout through three quarters for the second time in three weeks. That would be no issue.

Griese Saves the Day

Come-from-behind victories wasn’t the only theme for Miami early in 1980. The Dolphins also couldn’t settle on a quarterback.

After splitting time with Don Strock throughout the early parts of the season, Bob Griese was called upon to replace an ineffective David Woodley in the second half. Griese would finish with 241 yards passing and led three fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Miami broke up the shutout early in the fourth quarter on Steve Howell’s short touchdown plunge. After a long completion to Duriel Harris, Griese’s lone touchdown pass came on a 5-yard toss to Ronnie Lee to cut the lead to two. With more than three minutes to go, Devin Williams gave the Dolphins their first lead with an 8-yard touchdown run.

On their next-to-last drive, the Saints marched near midfield, but Earnest Rhone intercepted New Orleans’ Archie Manning to seemingly seal the Miami win. But with just seconds to go, the Saints blocked George Roberts’ punt to get one final play. New Orleans appeared to score on that play as Manning found Ike Harris, but Harris was called for offensive pass interference and the Dolphins prevailed.

Prior to the final quarter, the game’s only touchdown came on a 25-yard pass from Manning to Ike Harris in the third. Manning passed for 201 yards. The Saints got the scoring started with three second-quarter field goals from Benny Ricardo. Tom Myers recorded two interceptions for the New Orleans defense.

Miami finished with 424 yards to just 263 for the Saints, but five turnovers killed the Dolphins’ scoring opportunities early on. Dolphins’ running back Tony Nathan led all receivers with seven catches for 118 yards.

In Hindsight

After missing an opportunity to win in Miami, the Saints went on to lose their next 10 games. New Orleans would beat the New York Jets in mid-December for their only win of 1980.

For Miami, the fourth quarter magic would run out as it dropped four of its next five games. The Dolphins finished the year just 8-8.

Still, September 1980 would be one of the more exciting months in franchise history. The Dolphins rallied from three straight double-digit deficits in the final quarter to win. The last of those came on this day four decades ago.

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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