David Whitley, The Tampa Tribune, published 22 September 1997

Wonder what Jimmy Johnson thinks now? He could have had Mr. Quarterback, Trent Dilfer. He could have been wearing that fashionable red and pewter on Sunday night. It's a little early to say Johnson made a bad career move, but it's becoming apparent he miscalculated on a couple of things. Maybe Dilfer can be a pretty good quarterback. And maybe Tampa Bay can become a power before Miami, especially now that Tony Dungy is leading the salvage operation.

One thing Dungy has done is give Dilfer some help, which is more than Dan Marino can say. That's not the only reason there's been a titanic power shift from Florida's east coast to the west, but it's a big one. The nice story line going into Sunday's game was the quarterback body- snatching. Dilfer was leading the NFC in passing, which made Johnson's low- ball estimation of him two years ago look pretty off-base. There were no hard feelings, mainly because Johnson was right. Dilfer told him so before the game. "Everything you said was fair," Dilfer said. "I hadn't earned it yet." Four touchdown passes later, he'd earned something. Like the knowledge he could have played for Johnson, though he probably wouldn't want to. Not with what Johnson has given Marino to work with.

Give Marino help like Warrick Dunn, Reidel Anthony and Mike Alstott, and the reports of his demise would be greatly exaggerated. Give them to Dilfer, and look what's happening. He continued his evolution from quarterback caterpillar to butterfly on Sunday, completing 13 of his first 15 passes. The only Dilfer relapse was an interception to Zach Thomas. That broke a string of 92 throws without an interception. Didn't Dilfer go 92 throws without a completion a couple of years ago? Those memories are fading fast, sort of like the ones of Marino the Magnificent.

Then again, you try throwing touchdowns to the fragile hands of Fred Barnett and Brian Manning. You have to feel sorry for Marino. He stands in the pocket on his creaky legs like the last great gunslinger and keeps firing away, but the battle seems futile, even embarrassing for a legend of his stature. For that, he partially can thank Johnson for surrounding him with guys who are either past their prime or will never have one. Johnson undoubtedly has a master plan to solve this mess. Unfortunately for Marino, it is not synchronised with his body clock. After 15 seasons, he is winding down while Johnson spins his coaching wheels.

A defining moment came in the second quarter when Marino threw a perfect 20-yard pass to Manning. It bounced off the rookie's hands. Marino just clapped in Manning's direction and kept firing. That he still can do. Marino dropping back and surveying the field still makes defensive co-ordinators swallow their hearts. He completed his next six passes as the Dolphins made it 14-7 at halftime.

The news Sunday was that Dilfer is now giving opponents the same feeling. His 38-yard touchdown pass to Anthony was Marinoesque. Maybe we should stop being surprised at such things, but it's still too soon to let old notions totally die. They came back briefly when Dilfer chunked a ball so far away he was called for intentional grounding. That gave the Bucs a third-and-29 at Miami's 42. What's a quarterback to do? These days, he just flips it out to Dunn and lets good things happen. Like a 58-yard score that clinched the game. "I was kind of embarrassed because of the play I'd made before," Dilfer said. No problem. Dungy has given him the help he needs to avoid all sorts of embarrassment. Marino can only look on and wish he was so luck.