The Dolphins' hopes of repeating as AFC East champions disappeared last Sunday afternoon while the Carolina Panthers were showing all those watching why they had the worst record in the league.<P> But the Dolphins weren't about to throw away a home playoff game by losing to a Buffalo team that wasn't that much better than Carolina this season.

Even with two more starters sidelined because of injuries and a third severely limited, the Dolphins dominated the Bills to put the finishing touches on their second consecutive 11-win season by routing Buffalo 34-7.

The victory clinched the No. 4 seed for the Dolphins, assuring them of a playoff game at Pro Player Stadium this weekend.

The Dolphins will face either the Baltimore Ravens or the New York Jets. If Baltimore beats Minnesota on Monday night, the Ravens will travel to Pro Player Stadium on Sunday afternoon. If Minnesota upsets Baltimore, then the Dolphins would play host to the dreaded Jets.

Regardless of who they face, the Dolphins wouldn't mind a repeat performance from Sunday afternoon. That's because, as Coach Dave Wannstedt pointed out afterward, it was the type of victory the Dolphins prefer: great running game, great defense.

The defensive effort was highlighted by a trio of interceptions, including one returned 100 yards for a touchdown by safety Brock Marion on the last play of the game.

This was nothing new for the Dolphins, who have been dominant defensively at home all season. The Dolphins wound up allowing only six offensive touchdowns in their eight home games. What wasn't so expected was the breakthrough performance by the running game, Lamar Smith in particular.<{> Smith finished with a season-high 158 yards and also scored his first touchdown since the Dec. 2 victory over Denver.

It's a good thing Smith came through because the passing game was shorthanded. Oronde Gadsden sat out the game because of his hamstring injury, James McKnight played only sporadically because of the face and throat injury he sustained in the victory over Atlanta, and rookie Chris Chambers didn't play after aggravating an ankle injury in the first quarter.

Jay Fiedler finished with only 110 yards passing, but his totals included a 16-yard touchdown pass to McKnight and Fiedler also scored on a nifty 18-yard run.

The two fourth-quarter scores gave the Dolphins a 27-7 lead and ended any suspense. Not that there should have been any after the way the Dolphins dominated in the first half.

Miami outgained Buffalo 154-13 in the first half, and had an 11-2 advantage in first downs. Yet the halftime score was only 13-0 because the Dolphins could only turn three first-and-goal situations into one touchdown and two field goals.

The Dolphins got a break early in the third quarter when a Buffalo interception return for a touchdown was nullified because of a marginal defensive holding penalty.

Buffalo got to within 13-7 when Travis Brown, who had never completed an NFL pass when he replaced injured starting quarterback Alex Van Pelt, connected with fullback Larry Centers on a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

But that was one of the few things that went wrong for the Dolphins, who finished the regular season with victories for the first time since 1996.

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