November 29, 2012

1974: Blazers Upset Southmen in WFL Semifinal Playoff Game

Determining the playoff format for the World Football League’s 1974 season proved to be a reflection of the overall chaos surrounding the entire operation. A structure was finally agreed to that would include six teams and allow the Memphis Southmen and Birmingham Americans, the clubs with the best records, to have a bye for the first round. While The Hawaiians upset the Southern California Sun in one contest, the Florida Blazers defeated the Philadelphia Bell in the other. On November 29 the Blazers traveled to Memphis to take on the Southmen in a Semifinal Playoff game.

The Blazers hadn’t been paid in 13 weeks due to lack of income compounded by organizational flux and lawsuits that prevented the league from stepping in to compensate the players. In addition, the Blazers were angry because they had to beat Philadelphia to advance to the Semifinal game while Memphis and Birmingham drew first-round byes.

Head Coach Jack Pardee held the team together through all of the adversity, and Florida had topped the Eastern Division with a 14-6 record. The offense was directed by QB Bob Davis, formerly of the Oilers, Jets, and Saints, and had the WFL’s leading rusher in rookie RB Tommy Reamon (pictured above). The defense was one of the league’s best and contained All-League selections DE John Ricca, DT Mike McBath, and CB Miller Farr, an ex-NFL star primarily with the Oilers and Cardinals.

The Memphis Southmen (or “Grizzlies”, as the local fans preferred to call them), coached by John McVay, were well-funded as well as successful on the field, having topped the Central Division with a 17-3 tally. 31-year-old veteran QB John Huarte, a journeyman backup in the AFL and NFL, competently directed an offense that featured a solid stable of running backs led by rookie J.J. Jennings and a fine receiver in WR Ed Marshall. CB David Thomas was the featured player on defense. Moreover, the Southmen had not lost at home all season.

There were just 9692 fans in attendance at Memphis Memorial Stadium (aka the Liberty Bowl) on a cold and rainy Friday night. Memphis scored in the first quarter on a one-yard carry by Jennings. The Southmen got another TD before the opening period was over thanks to a completion by Huarte to Marshall that covered 45 yards. While Jennings successfully ran for the action point following his initial score, the attempt failed following the second TD, but Memphis was out in front by a score of 15-0 (in the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and were followed by an “action point” that couldn’t be kicked).

It only seemed to get worse for the Blazers in the second quarter when Bob Davis suffered a rib injury and was replaced by rookie Buddy Palazzo, who had thrown just five passes during the regular season. But while there was no further scoring in the first half, most notably thanks to an interception by Miller Farr of a Huarte pass in the end zone, Florida began to close the gap in the third quarter.

First, capping the Blazers’ first series of the second half, Dave Strock kicked a 25-yard field goal and then Tommy Reamon ran for a 21-yard touchdown. The action point was successfully added and the tally was at 15-11 heading into the final period.

It looked as though it would stay that way until the Blazers got a break late in the fourth quarter. Forced to punt after Palazzo was sacked deep in in his own territory, David Thomas fumbled the kick and TE Luther Palmer recovered at the Memphis 22 with 1:13 remaining. Four plays later RB Richard James ran four yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The pass attempt for the action point was intercepted but the Blazers were ahead by three.

Memphis still had a chance, but Bob Etter’s 40-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds on the clock was blocked by DE Louis Ross. Florida advanced to the WFL Championship game by a score of 18-15.

The Blazers gained just 58 net passing yards but more than made up for it with 213 yards on the ground. They also had the edge in first downs (17 to 15). There were three turnovers, with Memphis giving up two of them.

Tommy Reamon was the offensive star as he rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries that included a touchdown. Bob Davis completed only three of 10 passes for 20 yards with one intercepted before exiting the contest and Buddy Palazzo was good on three of six throws for 47 yards with no TDs but also no interceptions. TE Greg Latta led Florida’s receivers with three catches for 26 yards. 

For the Southmen, J.J. Jennings rushed for 106 yards on 24 attempts. John Huarte (pictured at left) was successful on 17 of 22 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown and had one picked off. WR Jack Ettinger had 9 catches for 105 yards.

“We beat Memphis, the World Football League, and their money,” exulted Florida LB Larry Ely afterward. It was a stunning win for the underfunded underdog team.

“We were mad and hungry,” summed up Coach Pardee. “We played that way.”

The Blazers came up short in the league title game, called the World Bowl, by a 22-21 score against the Birmingham Americans. It marked the end for the team, as what was left of the franchise was transferred to San Antonio for the WFL’s second (abbreviated) season in 1975, including around 20 of the leftover players.

November 28, 2012

1982: Saints Overcome Late Rally to Beat 49ers

Under second-year Head Coach Bum Phillips, the perennially-losing New Orleans Saints were showing signs of improvement. They started off the 1982 NFL season at 1-1 before the whole league went on hiatus for eight weeks due to a players’ strike. Upon returning, the Saints defeated the Chiefs and headed to San Francisco for a matchup with the 49ers on November 28.

36-year-old QB Ken Stabler (pictured at right) had been picked up just before the season began after having been unceremoniously released by the Oilers. Taking the spot of injured QB Dave Wilson, “The Snake” had beaten out 11th-year veteran QB Archie Manning for the starting job. RB George Rogers was also a key player in the conservative offense that Phillips preferred to utilize. The defense had promising young talent, most notably DE Bruce Clark and LB Rickey Jackson.

The 49ers, under Head Coach Bill Walsh, were coming off a championship season in 1981 but had lost their first two pre-strike games in ’82 and, having also won their first post-strike contest, were at 1-2 as they hosted the Saints. While QB Joe Montana, who had emerged as a star in the title year, was still playing at a high level, the running game was insufficient and injuries on defense were a problem.

There were 51,611 fans at Candlestick Park on a rainy day in San Francisco. Things didn’t start out in promising fashion for the visitors. On their initial possession, a Stabler pass was deflected and intercepted by LB Willie Harper. While the 49ers weren’t able to capitalize on the turnover, they advanced to the New Orleans 34 and Jim Miller’s punt pinned the Saints down at their own one yard line.

However, Ken Stabler completed all five of his passes as the Saints drove 99 yards in the rain for the early lead. “The Snake” started with a 16-yard pass to TE Hoby Brenner from the one yard line, included another pass to Brenner for 25 yards, and finished off the series with a 10-yard scoring throw to FB Wayne Wilson.

San Francisco came back in the second quarter with a 57-yard drive in eight plays that ended with Ray Wersching kicking a 40-yard field goal. But later in the period, Rickey Jackson (pictured below) recovered a fumble at midfield and New Orleans capitalized as George Rogers ran for a 38-yard gain and RB Jimmy Rogers capped the five-play possession with a two-yard run for a touchdown. While Toni Fritsch’s extra point attempt hit the upright and was unsuccessful, the Saints were ahead by 13-3. Just before the end of the first half, Wersching booted a 45-yard field goal to narrow the margin to 13-6.

In the third quarter, New Orleans had first possession and methodically went 54 yards in 11 plays ending with Fritsch kicking a 27-yard field goal. Shortly thereafter, Jackson made another big play on defense as he intercepted a Montana pass and returned it 32 yards to the San Francisco six to set up a second scoring run by George Rogers, this time of just a yard. The extra point was good and the Saints held a seemingly-comfortable 23-6 lead.

The New Orleans defense stymied the 49ers until late in the fourth quarter and San Francisco also fumbled the ball away twice, once at the New Orleans 24. But with just over five minutes remaining to play, Montana and the 49ers caught fire. They drove 79 yards in nine plays that featured pass completions of 24 and 12 yards to WR Dwight Clark and 14 yards to WR Freddie Solomon. Following Montana’s completion to FB Earl Cooper for 13 yards to the New Orleans 17 in a second-and-15 situation, HB Jeff Moore ran for five yards and a first down and Montana fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to Moore

After a short series and punt by the Saints, the Niners got the ball back at their 41. A Montana pass to Solomon, who lateraled to Moore, got the ball to the New Orleans 29. It took a total of six plays to get into the end zone with Montana hitting TE Russ Francis from 17 yards out. But the score came with just five seconds remaining and San Francisco’s slim comeback hopes ended on the ensuing onside kick that WR Jeff Groth recovered for the Saints. New Orleans came away with a 23-20 win.

The 49ers gained more yards (376 to 324) and had more first downs (21 to 17) than the Saints, but also turned the ball over three times while New Orleans did so just once. San Francisco’s problems running the ball were also a hindrance, with 55 yards on 16 carries.

Ken Stabler completed 11 of 20 passes for 154 yards with a touchdown and an interception. George Rogers (pictured below) rushed for 97 yards and a TD on 17 carries, the biggest chunk of the 170 yards on the ground for New Orleans. Wayne Wilson, who ran for 25 yards in 8 attempts, had 53 receiving yards on his three catches to lead the club, and scored a touchdown. Hoby Brenner also had three receptions, for 49 yards.

For the Niners, Joe Montana was successful on 27 of 42 throws for 334 yards and two scores while tossing one interception. Dwight Clark pulled in 6 passes for 90 yards and Earl Cooper also had 6 catches for 68 yards to go along with his 15 yards on five runs. Likewise Jeff Moore, the team’s leading rusher with 23 yards on 8 attempts, gained more yards through the air as he caught four passes for 65 yards and a TD.

“That was one of the finest football games I’ve seen in the last few years,” said Bum Phillips. “The 49ers didn’t give up, showed why they are champs.”

“A lot of people had written me off, but I don’t ever remember leaving,” said Ken Stabler.

It was the high point of the abbreviated season for the Saints, who at 3-1 were off to the best start in franchise history and thinking playoffs. They lost their next four games and ended up with a 4-5 record, placing ninth and just out of the running for a postseason slot in the revised post-strike structure (no divisions with the top eight teams in each conference qualifying for spots in the playoff tournament. The Detroit Lions, also 4-5, came in eighth due to a better conference record than New Orleans). San Francisco had an even more disappointing year in going 3-6 to finish eleventh in the NFC.

Ken Stabler didn't have a big statistical season but helped the Saints with his leadership and savvy. He completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 1343 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Injuries wore him down, as was also the case with George Rogers, who was nagged by a hamstring injury but rushed for 535 yards in six games and earned a second straight trip to the Pro Bowl.

November 27, 2012

1952: Dallas Texans Stun Bears for Only Win

The Dallas Texans entered the 1952 NFL season with great expectations, having purchased the assets of the failed New York Yanks franchise with the intent of establishing a viable team in the football hotbed of Texas. Instead, the Texans averaged just 15,000 fans per game for four losses at the Cotton Bowl and the owners pulled out, with the league taking over operation of the club for the remainder of the schedule. The team wasn’t even based in Dallas any longer, having become a traveling club based out of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Coached under these difficult circumstances by Jimmy Phelan, the Texans had talent on the roster, most notably halfbacks George Taliaferro and Buddy Young on offense and rookie DE Gino Marchetti and second-year DT Art Donovan on defense. But there were not nearly enough quality players and the team’s record stood at 0-9 as it hosted the Chicago Bears in Akron, Ohio on November 27.

Chicago, under owner and Head Coach George Halas, was suffering through a rare down year. The offense was missing the retired Johnny Lujack at quarterback and unproven quantities George Blanda, Steve Romanik, and Bob Williams split the job with inadequate results. The Bears came into the matchup with the Texans sporting a 4-5 tally, but were still a heavy favorite against the hapless road team – an opponent they had handily beaten earlier in the year at Dallas.

There were just 3000 in attendance at the Rubber Bowl for the Thanksgiving Day contest – far fewer than the 14,800 who turned out in the morning for a high school game. The first quarter was scoreless and then the Bears put the first points on the board when DHB Don Kindt tackled Buddy Young in the end zone for a safety. However, turnovers set up scores by the Texans during the second quarter.

First, LB Pat Cannamela recovered a fumble by HB Eddie Macon at the Chicago 45 and five plays later, FB Zollie Toth scored from two yards out, although the extra point attempt failed. Then, just before the half, end Gene Schroeder fumbled at his own 38 and DHB John Petitbon recovered for the Texans. The ensuing four-play drive resulted in George Taliaferro throwing to end Dick Wilkins for a 13-yard TD. This time the PAT was successful and the score stood at 13-2 in favor of Dallas at the half.

In the third quarter, DHB Stan Williams intercepted a pass for the Texans and returned it 25 yards to the Chicago 40. Dallas kept the ball on the ground, taking seven plays to score on a one-yard carry by QB Frank Tripucka. But the 20-2 lead proved to not be safe.

While Chicago had two drives end with pass interceptions in the fourth quarter, the Bears still rallied furiously to score three touchdowns and take the lead. DE Ed Sprinkle recovered a Tripucka fumble at the Dallas one to set up an easy TD for HB Billy Stone. George Blanda threw to HB Babe Dimancheff for a 41-yard touchdown and then to Schroeder for another TD from 35 yards out. Blanda successfully added the extra points after each and, with a 23-20 edge it appeared that the Bears would send the unfortunate Texans to another defeat.

However, with a minute to go Dallas drove 75 yards to score the deciding touchdown, including six pass completions by Tripucka – the last and biggest an 18-yard throw to end Tom Keane that moved the ball to the Chicago two yard line (he also hit Toth and ends Barney Poole and Ray Pelfrey along the way). For the second time Tripucka gained the last yard himself, diving into the end zone with 34 seconds left on the clock. The Texans came away with an unlikely 27-23 win.

Dallas had the most total yards (334 to 317) and first downs (22 to 15) although also the most penalties (7 for 82 yards, to 5 at a cost of 54 yards on the Bears). Chicago turned the ball over eight times, to four by the Texans.

Frank Tripucka (pictured at right) completed 16 of 26 passes for 205 yards for Dallas and also scored on the two short touchdown carries. George Blanda completed 9 of 16 aerials for 138 yards and two TDs in nearly pulling out a win for Chicago.

“Unaccustomed as I am to winning, I feel all right,” said a happy Coach Jimmy Phelan.

“It’s pretty hard for a team like ours to keep morale up with no home ties,” added Phelan. “We have nobody to play for except (NFL Commissioner) Bert Bell.”

It was the high point of a dismal season for the Texans. They lost their remaining two games to finish at the bottom of the National Conference with a 1-11 record before fading into oblivion – the last NFL franchise to fold. The Texans were replaced the following year by the re-born Baltimore Colts, and while just 13 players who had been with Dallas made the Baltimore roster, they included Buddy Young and George Taliaferro, as well as the future Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan. Frank Tripucka, the fourth-year quarterback, moved on to Canada and eventually the American Football League in 1960.

The Bears ended up a spot above Dallas in the standings with a 5-7 tally – the club’s worst since 1945.

November 25, 2012

1979: Bradshaw Out-Duels Sipe as Steelers Edge Browns in Overtime

The Pittsburgh Steelers were defending NFL Champions and off to a 9-3 start in 1979 but found themselves in a dogfight in the AFC Central with the Houston Oilers, also 9-3, and Cleveland Browns at 8-4. On November 25 they hosted the Browns. Head Coach Chuck Noll’s team was coming off a humiliating loss at San Diego the previous week but still contained the key players that made the Steelers a champion three times in the previous five seasons, including future Hall of Famers QB Terry Bradshaw (pictured above), RB Franco Harris, DT “Mean Joe” Greene, MLB Jack Lambert, and CB Mel Blount.

The Browns, under Head Coach Sam Rutigliano, were a resurgent and exciting team, prone to playing in games that weren’t decided until the last seconds. QB Brian Sipe had emerged as a fine passer and clutch performer and had good receivers to throw to in wide receivers Dave Logan and Reggie Rucker and TE Ozzie Newsome.

There were 48,773 fans at Three Rivers Stadium. The Browns went 75 yards in 11 plays on their opening possession despite Sipe being sacked once for a nine-yard loss. Sipe completed 5 of 6 passes, including three that converted third downs and the last a scoring toss of 21 yards to Newsome.

DB Larry Anderson fumbled when returning the ensuing kickoff and CB Ron Bolton recovered for the Browns at the three yard line. Cleveland couldn’t penetrate the end zone from there and settled for a 20-yard Don Cockroft field goal to go up by 10-0.

Pittsburgh came back with Bradshaw throwing to WR John Stallworth for a 34-yard gain to the Cleveland 35. It set up a 45-yard field goal by Matt Bahr and the score was 10-3.

HB Dino Hall returned the next kickoff 33 yards to give the Browns good starting field position at their 44. In a series that continued into the second quarter, Cleveland went 56 yards in 13 plays, helped along by a defensive holding penalty that converted a punting situation into a first down. Sipe completed a pass to Newsome for 20 yards and Cockroft kicked another field goal, this time from 32 yards, to make it 13-3.

Pittsburgh moved into scoring territory on its next possession but Bahr was wide on a 39-yard field goal attempt. Getting the ball back, RB Rocky Bleier gained 31 yards on four carries and Franco Harris (pictured below) had another for 11 yards. After TE Bennie Cunningham just missed scoring on a pass into the end zone – he was stripped before gaining possession – Bahr was successful on a 34-yard field goal try.

Another good kickoff return of 28 yards by Hall once again gave Cleveland good field position and the Browns made the most of it as Sipe threw to Newsome for seven yards and then to HB Calvin Hill for 30. On a third-and-seven play, Sipe threw to Dave Logan for a 16-yard touchdown and 20-6 lead.

The Steelers, down by 14 points, came back on a drive highlighted by a sensational catch by Cunningham for a 10-yard gain, another Bradshaw throw to WR Lynn Swann for 17 yards, back to Cunningham for 20, and throws to Bleier and Harris that picked up a total of 15 yards. The 76-yard series ended with a short scoring throw to Harris. It was 20-13 at halftime.

The Browns put together a scoring series in the third quarter. Sipe threw to Logan for gains of 20 and 18 yards and to Reggie Rucker for 18. On a third-and-18 play at the Pittsburgh 33, Sipe connected with Logan for 23 yards to the 10. The possession ended with Sipe’s three-yard scoring pass to Hill.

Pittsburgh again fought back with an 89-yard drive in 10 plays. A third down was converted with a Bradshaw pass to TE Randy Grossman for 47 yards. Harris scored for the Steelers from a yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh’s defense forced the Browns to punt on the next series and it seemed as though the momentum was with the Steelers. However, the Browns got breaks when they recovered a fumble by Harris, who was stripped by SS Clarence Scott after picking up eight yards, and then Jack Lambert kept Cleveland’s ensuing drive alive by roughing Sipe on a third down play. It resulted in a field goal of 40 yards by Cockroft that put the Browns ahead by ten points.

Down by 30-20, the Steelers fought back and had a first down on the one yard line when Bradshaw was sacked. But they came back to score a touchdown on a three-yard run by Harris that, with Bahr’s extra point, made it a three-point contest.

On their ensuing possession, the Browns got a first down at midfield thanks to a face mask penalty on LB Robin Cole. However, DE L.C. Greenwood, who had an unofficial 4.5 sacks on the day (individual sacks were not officially compiled until 1982), combined with DT Steve Furness to dump Sipe shortly thereafter to force a punt. WR Theo Bell returned it 27 yards to the 50 to set up Pittsburgh’s drive to the tying points. Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal to knot the game with 24 seconds left in regulation.

In overtime, Mel Blount and Ron Bolton both had interceptions. The game turned on a Cleveland decision to accept an illegal motion penalty on the Steelers in a second-and-ten situation. Rather than facing third-and-nine, it was second-and-fifteen, giving Pittsburgh an extra down. It proved significant when, on third down, Bradshaw took off on a 28-yard scramble to the Cleveland 38. Five plays later, Bahr booted the game-winning field goal from 37 yards with just nine seconds remaining in the extra period. Pittsburgh won by a final score of 33-30.

The Steelers led in total yards (606 to 345) and first downs (36 to 22) – indeed, Pittsburgh’s yardage total was the second-highest in club history at the time and the 36 first downs were a new franchise record. The edge was particularly notable in the ground game as Pittsburgh accumulated 255 rushing yards to Cleveland’s 62. But the Steelers also hurt themselves by turning the ball over three times (to one by the Browns) and committing 10 penalties at a cost of 95 yards (as opposed to Cleveland’s 8 for 65 yards). However, they also sacked Brian Sipe seven times, including three in the fourth quarter alone.

Terry Bradshaw completed 30 of 44 passes for 364 yards and a touchdown with one intercepted – he also ran the ball three times for 43 yards. Franco Harris rushed for 151 yards on 32 carries with two TDs and caught a career-high 9 passes for 81 yards and another score. Rocky Bleier contributed 10 carries for 61 yards and pulled in 7 passes for 45 more yards. WR John Stallworth caught 6 passes for 75 yards. Rookie Matt Bahr kicked four field goals in five attempts.

For the Browns, Brian Sipe (pictured below) was successful on 23 of 38 throws for 333 yards with three touchdowns and an interception and was also the team’s leading rusher with 30 yards on three carries. Dave Logan topped the receivers with 7 catches for 135 yards and a TD.

“This was more satisfying than blowing them out,” said Terry Bradshaw. “It has to be the most gratifying win of the year. Let that stuff about the mighty Steelers and all of that garbage die. We’re in a tough division. We could have given up several times and said the defense wasn’t playing well, but we kept coming back.”

“It was a very demanding game,” added an exhausted Franco Harris. “We had no big plays. It was nothing but long drives. That takes a lot out of you.”

“This was one of the toughest games I’ve ever played in,” said a dejected DE Lyle Alzado from the Cleveland side. “This was the toughest one to lose, too.”

The win put the Steelers in a first place tie atop the division with Houston while Cleveland fell two games back. Ultimately, Pittsburgh went on to win the AFC Central with a 12-4 record and defeat the Rams in the Super Bowl – the fourth such win since 1974. The Browns defeated the Oilers the next week but lost their remaining two contests to finish in third at 9-7.

Terry Bradshaw placed second in the league by averaging 7.9 yards per attempt, third with 3724 passing yards and fourth with 26 TD passes, although his 25 interceptions ranked second. He ended up with a fourth championship under his belt and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time.

Franco Harris rushed for 1186 yards on 267 carries (4.4 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth straight year.

Brian Sipe placed second in passing yards (3793) and tied for first in TD passes (28, along with New England’s Steve Grogan). However, reflecting his gambling style of play, he also led the NFL with 26 interceptions.

In his first NFL season, Matt Bahr (pictured below) was successful on 18 of 30 field goal attempts (60 %) and led the league with 50 extra points in 52 tries. He played one more year with the Steelers but lasted a total of 17 seasons – 8.5 of them with the Browns.

November 24, 2012

1991: Beuerlein Comes Off Bench as Cowboys Upset Redskins

The Washington Redskins were rolling along at 11-0 as they hosted their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, on November 24, 1991. In their eleventh year under Head Coach Joe Gibbs, they had been as dominating as the record indicated, putting plenty of points on the board (including a total of 97 in the previous two games) while the defense had recorded three shutouts and not allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points in the last seven contests.

The visiting Cowboys were a team on the rise under Head Coach Jimmy Johnson. But while they had gotten off to a 5-2 start, they had lost three of their previous four games and were at 6-5 coming into Washington. Furthermore, the defense was ranked 25th. Still, QB Troy Aikman was improving in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s system and RB Emmitt Smith and WR Michael Irvin were also emerging as stars.

There were 55,561 fans in attendance at RFK Stadium. They saw the Redskins take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when, with just under five minutes remaining in the period, CB Martin Mayhew intercepted an Aikman pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

The Cowboys evened the score in the second quarter when, facing a third-and-15 situation, Emmitt Smith scored on a draw play from 32 yards out. At the end of the first half, Aikman threw a “Hail Mary” bomb that WR Alvin Harper pulled away from CB A.J. Johnson for a 34-yard touchdown. Coach Jimmy Johnson had gone for the fourth down conversion for the third time rather than use PK Ken Willis, who tended to be more dependable kicking on an artificial surface than grass. In any case, it had worked out with Dallas holding a 14-7 halftime lead. The Cowboys had done a fine job of keeping the ball away from Washington’s offense in the first half and limited the Redskins to just 16 rushing yards.

It looked like trouble for Dallas, however, when Aikman left the game early in the third quarter with a sprained right knee. In to replace him was QB Steve Beuerlein (pictured at top). The 26-year-old Beuerlein had played three years with the Raiders after coming out of Notre Dame before moving on to Dallas just before the ’91 season to back up Aikman. A classic dropback passer with limited mobility, he also had strong leadership skills.

The Cowboys came up empty following Beuerlein’s entry into the game when Willis missed a field goal attempt. On their next drive, Beuerlein completed two throws to WR Michael Irvin but Dallas didn’t hit paydirt until the following possession as Irvin caught two more passes, including a one-handed grab for a 24-yard TD on the third play of the fourth quarter.

In response, the Redskins shifted to a no-huddle offense and drove 92 yards in 13 plays. RB Gerald Riggs ran the final yard for a touchdown and the Dallas lead was cut to 21-14 with 8:21 remaining to play. Dallas then ran some seven minutes off the clock in a 15-play series that ended with Willis kicking a 42-yard field goal for a 24-14 lead with 1:14 left in the game.

In the closing seconds, Rypien passed to Sanders for a 29-yard touchdown to narrow the margin. But the Cowboys recovered the ensuing onside kick and that was it. Dallas came away with a 24-21 win.

The Cowboys led in total yards (399 to 262) and first downs (23 to 15) and also held onto the ball for almost 39 minutes. The Redskins, for their part, recorded five sacks. Each team turned the ball over one time.

Troy Aikman was successful on 13 of his 20 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception before giving way to Steve Beuerlein, who completed 7 of 12 throws for 109 yards and a TD. Michael Irvin (pictured below) had an outstanding performance and consistently outmaneuvered CB Darrell Green, catching 9 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Alvin Harper added 101 yards on his four receptions that also included a score. Emmitt Smith rushed for 132 yards and a TD on 32 carries.

For the Redskins, Mark Rypien went to the air 33 times and completed 17 for 212 yards with a touchdown and one intercepted. WR Gary Clark caught 7 passes for 82 yards. The miniscule running attack was led by RB Ricky Ervins and his 29 yards on five attempts while RB Earnest Byner carried 8 times for 22 yards.

“From the very start, we were going to be aggressive,” said Jimmy Johnson. “We were going to be aggressive in all three phases and we would be aggressive in the play-calling.”

“It was one of those things – we just didn’t play well on any level,” summarized Joe Gibbs for the Redskins. “I thought they played very well.”

While the injury to Troy Aikman knocked him out for the remainder of the regular season, the Cowboys won their remaining games with Beuerlein at quarterback to finish with an 11-5 record for second place in the NFC East and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Dallas defeated the Bears in the first round before losing to Detroit at the Divisional level.

The Redskins came back to win three straight before losing the season finale and ending up with a 14-2 record atop the NFC East. They went on to win Super Bowl XXVI over the Buffalo Bills.

Steve Beuerlein completed 68 of 137 passes (49.6 %) for 909 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions and despite his lack of mobility was sacked just six times. He also led the Cowboys to their Wild Card playoff win. Beuerlein backed up Aikman again in 1992 before moving on to the Cardinals.

Michael Irvin caught 93 passes for a league-leading 1523 yards (16.4 avg.) and eight touchdowns. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first of five consecutive years. Emmitt Smith led the NFL in rushing with 1563 yards on 365 carries (4.3 avg.) and 12 touchdowns (he added another TD as a receiver). He also was named to the Pro Bowl, for the second of six straight seasons and eight overall.

November 22, 2012

1962: NY Titans Pull Out Wild Win Over Broncos

As the 1962 American Football League season progressed, the state of the third-year league’s New York City franchise, the Titans, was precarious, at best. Flamboyant and controversial owner Harry Wismer was in serious financial straits and the club was a poor draw at the decrepit Polo Grounds. By early November the league had taken over the running of the Titans.

The team’s original head coach, all-time great quarterback Sammy Baugh, had been demoted to assistant coach following the ’61 season and replaced by ex-Bears star Bulldog Turner. Still, despite all of the chaos, the Titans were competitive and showing signs of life on the field. Starting out at 2-1, they lost four straight before running off consecutive wins against the Chargers and Raiders prior to succumbing to the Dallas Texans. Coming into their Thanksgiving Day matchup at Denver on November 22, New York’s record stood at 4-6.

The Broncos, under first year Head Coach Jack Faulkner, had gotten off to a 7-2 start but were losers their two most recent games. The passing attack, with QB Frank Tripucka primarily throwing to split end Lionel Taylor and flanker Bob Scarpitto, made Denver exciting and capable of putting points on the board, but the running game and defense were suspect. They very much needed a win against the Titans to remain in contention in the Western Division.

There were 15,776 fans in attendance at Bears Stadium for the nationally televised game. It was all Titans in the early going. FB Bill Mathis ran for a one-yard touchdown and HB Dick Christy caught a pass from QB Johnny Green (pictured above) for a six-yard score that put New York ahead by 14-0 in the first quarter.

It was 17-0 in the second quarter following a 28-yard field goal by Bill Shockley (pictured below) before the home team finally got on the board. Tripucka threw to Scarpitto for a 35-yard touchdown and Gene Mingo added the extra point. The Titans responded with another score, however, as Green threw to split end Art Powell for a four-yard TD. But Denver managed to whittle away at New York’s lead with two field goals by Mingo, of 45 and 8 yards, to make it 24-13 at the half. It still seemed to be a comfortable margin for the Titans.

In the third quarter, the tables turned in favor of the Broncos. First, star DT Bud McFadin picked up a fumble and ran 69 yards for a touchdown. Then QB George Shaw, in for the injured Tripucka, tossed a six-yard TD pass to Scarpitto. Denver was in front by a score of 27-24.

The Titans narrowed the margin to 27-26 when Shaw recovered a loose ball in his own end zone for a safety. New York regained the lead thanks to a Green pass to flanker Don Maynard for a 35-yard touchdown. While the attempt to run for a two-point conversion failed, New York was on top by 32-27 heading into the fourth quarter.

Once again the Broncos rallied. Shaw connected with Taylor for a three-yard TD, followed it up with a two-point conversion, and then CB Jim McMillin intercepted a pass and returned it 59 yards for another touchdown, followed by Mingo’s kick. When Mingo kicked a 49-yard field goal with the wind at his back, Denver held a 45-32 lead with six minutes remaining to play.

The Titans proceeded to drive for another touchdown, this time on a five-yard pass from Green to Christy. Shockley’s extra point narrowed the score to 45-39, but the six points still seemed formidable as time was running down. Denver took over at its own 20 following a long kickoff by Shockley and New York proceeded to get a huge break when HB Al Frazier fumbled a handoff and FS Lee Riley recovered for the Titans.

With the time now down to three minutes, New York capitalized when Green tossed his fifth touchdown pass, of three yards, to Powell. Shockley’s extra point was successful and the Titans were staked to a one-point lead.

The Broncos still had a chance, and managed to get into New York territory, but with time running out Mingo attempted a 52-yard field goal that was straight but too short. The Titans came away with a thrilling 46-45 win.

The Titans led in total yards (381 to 294) and first downs (25 to 19). Each club turned the ball over four times. Denver was especially hurt by penalties, drawing 11 flags at a cost of 130 yards to four for 27 yards on New York.

Johnny Green had a noteworthy performance, completing 22 of 46 passes for 292 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Bill Mathis rushed for 49 yards and a TD on 13 carries. Dick Christy (pictured below) caught 9 passes for 82 yards and two scores, ran the ball 9 times for another 30 yards, and returned a kickoff 28 yards. Don Maynard had 105 yards on four pass receptions that included a TD and Art Powell had three catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns.

For the Broncos, Frank Tripucka was successful on 9 of 15 throws for 113 yards with a TD and two interceptions before leaving the game and George Shaw added 12 completions in 26 attempts for 117 yards with two TDs and an interception. FB Bo Dickinson was the leading rusher with 48 yards on 6 carries and also contributed 5 catches for 57 yards. Lionel Taylor had 6 pass receptions for 60 yards and a TD and Bob Scarpitto gained 89 yards and scored twice on his 5 catches.

The exciting win at Denver was the last for the Titans – they lost their remaining three games to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Division with a 5-9 record. The franchise was sold during the offseason to an ownership group headed by Sonny Werblin and was revamped and rechristened the Jets for 1963.

The loss wiped out any lingering hopes for the Broncos of winning the Western Division title. They, too, lost their remaining games and closed out at 7-7 for second place. It would prove to be their best record until 1973.

Johnny Green, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, saw the most action at quarterback for the Titans in ’62 and completed 49.6 percent of his passes for 1741 yards with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. While he had a strong arm, he lacked accuracy and consistency and saw little action in his last year with the Jets in 1963.

As the numbers from the Denver game indicated, Dick Christy was a productive all-purpose halfback who led the AFL in total yards with 2147 (535 rushing on 114 carries, 538 on 62 pass receptions, 824 on 38 kickoff returns, and 250 on 15 punt returns). He was selected to the AFL All-Star Game.

Don Maynard caught 56 passes for 1041 yards (18.6 avg.) and eight touchdowns and went on to star with the Jets. Art Powell had 64 receptions for 1130 yards (17.7 avg.) and eight TDs as well. Disgruntled after three years in New York, he moved on to the Raiders in ’63 and also continued to excel. 

November 21, 2012

1976: Falcons Upset Cowboys with Fourth Quarter Scoring Flurry

The Atlanta Falcons were stumbling along at 3-7 as they hosted the Dallas Cowboys on November 21, 1976. Head Coach Marion Campbell had already been let go and Pat Peppler, the general manager, took over in the interim. The Falcons had also lost second-year QB Steve Bartkowski to a knee injury and journeyman QB Scott Hunter was starting in his place. While they had beaten the 49ers the previous week, they were heavy underdogs against Dallas, a club they had never won against in five regular-season meetings.

The Cowboys had been to the postseason nine times in the previous ten years under Head Coach Tom Landry and sported a 9-1 record coming into the game at Atlanta. While they lacked speed at running back, they had a decent stable of runners and a proficient passing game led by QB Roger Staubach. The defense was typically strong. However, there were danger signs in that the Cowboys were coming off of two mediocre performances against the Giants and Bills, although they won both contests.

There were 47,947 fans in attendance on a 47-degree day at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Cowboys scored on a 16-yard run by FB Scott Laidlaw in the first quarter. However, there was little further excitement as neither team was able to generate much additional offense and the score remained 7-0 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Cowboys added a 23-yard Efren Herrera field goal. While they were only up by 10-0, it seemed likely to be enough against the hapless Falcons. But in a five minute span of the fourth quarter, Atlanta took control with the help of two interceptions and a short Dallas punt that put 17 points on the board.

First, LB Dewey McClain intercepted a Staubach pass to set up a 21-yard field goal by Nick Mike-Mayer. The next Dallas series ended with a poor 15-yard punt by Danny White and Atlanta capitalized when HB Mike Esposito scored on a 35-yard run.

With the score tied, SS Ray Brown (pictured at left) then intercepted a pass and the Falcons scored on a Scott Hunter quarterback keeper from a yard out. Dallas still had opportunities, but came up empty on a drive to the Atlanta 28 and, with 1:12 left on the clock, LB Tommy Nobis intercepted a Staubach pass at the Atlanta nine to seal the 17-10 upset.

The Cowboys outgained Atlanta (307 yards to 230) and had more first downs (15 to 13). However, Dallas also turned the ball over four times – twice leading to Atlanta scores – while the Falcons turned the ball over on two occasions. The Falcons also sacked Staubach four times, three of them by DE Claude Humphrey (pictured at top) - an unofficial total, as individual sacks were not yet a recognized statistic. Dallas committed a total of eight penalties, at a cost of 70 yards, to four flags thrown on Atlanta.

Scott Hunter was successful on just 8 of 20 pass attempts for 99 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Mike Esposito paced the running game with 82 yards and a TD on 13 carries and also was one of two Falcons to catch a team-leading three passes, along with WR Alfred Jenkins. Jenkins gained 60 yards to Esposito’s 19.

For the Cowboys, Roger Staubach had a rough day as he completed 13 of 28 passes for 157 yards with no TDs and had three intercepted. Scott Laidlaw rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts and HB Preston Pearson contributed 61 yards on 16 carries. Laidlaw and Pearson each caught four passes to lead the club, with Pearson gaining 47 yards and Laidlaw 39. Tellingly, only three of Staubach’s passes were completed to wide receivers, for a total of 39 yards.

“We moved the ball well when we weren’t making mistakes,” summed up Tom Landry. “But we had too many holding penalties, interceptions, and dropped passes.”

The loss for the Cowboys set up a Thanksgiving battle just three days later with the Cardinals for the NFC East lead. They won and went on to finish atop the division with an 11-3 record before losing to the Rams in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Atlanta lost its remaining three contests to end up fourth in the NFC West at 4-10. The result was an organizational refurbishing that brought former NFL quarterback Eddie LeBaron in as general manager and Leeman Bennett as head coach.

November 20, 2012

1994: Andre Reed Catches 15 Passes as Bills Hold Off Packers

The Buffalo Bills, under Head Coach Marv Levy, had won four straight AFC titles from 1990 through ’93 but after getting off to a 5-3 start in 1994 had lost two straight contests and were just 5-5 as they hosted the Green Bay Packers on November 20. Age and the resulting wear-and-tear were beginning to catch up to 34-year-old QB Jim Kelly and seventh-year RB Thurman Thomas, although the other vital cog in the offense, WR Andre Reed (pictured above), was coming back successfully from an off-year in 1993. The defense, although it still contained outstanding performers in DE Bruce Smith, LB Cornelius Bennett, and FS Henry Jones, was no longer as formidable as it had once been – and Smith was out for the game with the Packers due to a shoulder injury.

Green Bay, with Mike Holmgren at the helm for the third year, was a team moving in the opposite direction. Coming off their first postseason appearance in eleven years, the Packers had an up-and-coming quarterback in Brett Favre, an excellent wide receiver in Sterling Sharpe, and a defensive line anchored by the All-Pro DE Reggie White. Moreover, the Packers were on a roll, having won their previous three games, and came into the contest at Buffalo with a 6-4 record.

There was a crowd of 79,029 at Rich Stadium. The Bills had first possession and drove 78 yards in nine plays, the big one a 26-yard Kelly completion to WR Billy Brooks to the Green Bay 12 yard line and capped by a five-yard scoring carry by Thurman Thomas.

Following a punt by the Packers, Buffalo put together another long 15-play drive that covered 80 yards. Kelly completed eight passes along the way, including the final one to Andre Reed for 15 yards and another TD. The Bills were up by 14-0 after a quarter of play.

The Packers still couldn’t get into Buffalo territory on offense and had to punt. Once more the Bills had a long series of 14 plays for 66 yards, helped along by a defensive pass interference penalty that nullified an incompletion in a third-and-six situation. The methodical drive reached the Green Bay five, but this time the Bills were unable to penetrate the end zone as Kelly was sacked by DE Sean Jones for a 14-yard loss. They settled for a 38-yard field goal by Steve Christie to extend the lead to 17-0.

The teams traded punts as the Packers finally held the Buffalo offense to a three-and-out series, but a pass by Brett Favre was intercepted by CB Mickey Washington who returned it 36 yards to the Green Bay 13. Two plays later Kelly passed to Reed for a 10-yard touchdown and the Bills were seemingly in complete command at 24-0.

With time running out in the second quarter, the Packers responded with a scoring drive of 60 yards in five plays. All were pass completions by Favre, including a 29-yard TD throw to Sterling Sharpe. However, Chris Jacke’s extra point attempt was blocked and the score remained 24-6. It wasn’t the end of the first half scoring as the Bills, taking over with 58 seconds on the clock, went 42 yards in five plays, the most notable a Kelly completion to WR Russell Copeland for 35 yards. Christie kicked a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the half and it was 27-6 at the intermission.

The Packers narrowed the margin with their first series in the third quarter. Favre completed eight passes as Green Bay went 70 yards in 11 plays, the last one for a five-yard touchdown to RB Edgar Bennett. This time the extra point attempt was successful and the tally now stood at 27-13.

The Bills made it to midfield on their ensuing possession and punted. Helped by Favre passes and an 18-yard run by Bennett, the Packers went 77 yards in eight plays and once again it was Favre passing to Sharpe, this time for a 26-yard TD. With the extra point it was 27-20 and the visitors were back in the game entering the fourth quarter.

It seemed as though the momentum was surely in Green Bay’s favor when a Kelly pass was intercepted by CB Terrell Buckley, who returned it 26 yards to give the Packers good starting field position at the Buffalo 49. However, they were unable to advance as Favre threw three straight incomplete passes and they were forced to punt.

The Bills responded with another long, methodical drive. Kelly converted two third downs with passes to Reed and, while Thomas was unable to gain anything on the ground, Buffalo reached the Green Bay seven. But Christie’s 25-yard field goal try hit the right upright and was no good, keeping the Packers just seven points behind with over six minutes still on the clock.

Once again Buffalo’s defense held and the Packers punted from their 30. Trying to run the clock out, the Bills converted a third-and-nine play on their next series on another Kelly throw to Reed that covered 15 yards. After reaching the 50, Buffalo finally punted and pinned the Packers down at their 10 yard line with 2:25 remaining thanks to an outstanding play by special teams star Steve Tasker to drop WR Robert Brooks in his tracks before he could make any sort of return.

There was no stunning comeback for Green Bay on this day. With the crowd roaring, Favre tossed an incompletion, was sacked for a nine-yard loss back to the one and, fading back on a third-and-19 play, a holding penalty not only nullified a great catch by WR Anthony Morgan for an apparent 27-yard gain but, because it occurred in the end zone, gave Buffalo two points and forced the Packers to have to kick the ball away. That was all the Bills needed as they ran out the clock for a 29-20 win.

The Bills dominated in total yards (455 to 266), first downs (27 to 18), and time of possession (38:23 to 21:37). Each team turned the ball over once.

Andre Reed set a club record with 15 catches for 191 yards that included two touchdowns. Jim Kelly (pictured at right) completed 32 of 44 passes for 365 yards with two TDs and an interception. Thurman Thomas had a rough outing, gaining 80 yards on 31 carries (2.6 avg.) while scoring once – he also added 25 yards on four pass receptions.

For Green Bay, Brett Favre was successful on 22 of 40 throws for 214 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Sterling Sharpe had 5 catches for 86 yards that included two TDs. Robert Brooks gained 40 yards on his 5 pass receptions and Edgar Bennett also caught 5 passes, for 22 yards and a TD, while leading the club in rushing with 45 yards on 8 carries.

“They (the Bills) just got after us,” said Mike Holmgren. “They just dominated the first half. We just couldn’t do anything about what they were doing early on.”

The victory over the Packers did not signal resurgence by the Bills – they won only one more game and finished a disappointing fourth in the AFC East at 7-9, which was the club’s first losing record since 1987. Green Bay lost its next two contests but recovered to end up at 9-7 for the third straight year, good enough for second place in the NFC Central and a Wild Card berth in the playoffs. The Packers edged Detroit in the first round before losing to Dallas at the Divisional level.

Andre Reed caught a career-high 90 passes for 1303 yards (14.5 avg.) and eight touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the seventh consecutive year.

Jim Kelly, who missed two games, completed a NFL career-high 63.6 percent of his passes for 3114 yards with 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Brett Favre ranked second in the league in passing (90.7 rating) while achieving new highs for yards (3882) and TD passes (33) – numbers that would quickly be surpassed in the MVP seasons that followed.

November 18, 2012

2007: Odd Field Goal Ties Game, Sends Browns to Overtime Win Over Ravens

The Cleveland Browns were seeking to build upon a 5-4 record as they faced the division-rival Baltimore Ravens at M & T Bank Stadium on November 18, 2007. Head Coach Romeo Crennel’s team had won three straight contests before losing at Pittsburgh the previous week. Tall (6’6”) and strong-armed QB Derek Anderson was proving to be a pleasant surprise and ex-Ravens RB Jamal Lewis was beginning to come on as a dependable runner. However, the defense was prone to giving up far too many yards.

The Ravens, coached by Brian Billick, were long known for tough defense but were having trouble on offense. Coming off a 13-3 record in 2006, Baltimore started off the ’07 season at 4-2 but had lost three consecutive games and desperately needed a win. Hobbled 34-year-old veteran QB Steve McNair was benched in favor of fifth-year QB Kyle Boller.

Things started off slowly in the first quarter with neither team moving the ball effectively. Cleveland got a break when Ravens RB Cory Ross fumbled a punt that DB Mike Adams recovered at the Baltimore 28. But after advancing nine yards, Phil Dawson’s 35-yard field goal attempt was wide.

Later in the period QB Kyle Boller fumbled while being sacked and LB Willie McGinest recovered for the Browns at the Baltimore 23. This time the Browns capitalized, with Dawson (pictured above) successful on a 28-yard field goal try.

The Browns added to their lead on the first possession of the second quarter. An 80-yard drive in eight plays was highlighted by Derek Anderson (pictured below) completing a pass to TE Kellen Winslow for 18 yards to the Baltimore one yard line, from where Jamal Lewis scored a touchdown.

Down 10-0, the Ravens could still get nothing going offensively on their next series, but on the second play following their punt LB Ray Lewis intercepted an Anderson pass and returned it 35 yards for a TD. With the successful extra point, Cleveland’s lead was cut to 10-7.

The Browns responded with a 13-play, 42-yard possession that included a 21-yard carry by Jamal Lewis. Dawson again successfully kicked a field goal, this time from 39 yards, and it was a 13-7 tally at the half.

The Ravens had been dismal on offense in the first half, but they drove to a score in their first series of the third quarter. Boller had completions of 16 and 21 yards to WR Derrick Mason and RB Willis McGahee had a 24-yard run that set up his two-yard scoring carry to complete the 75-yard drive in eight plays. With Matt Stover’s successful extra point, it was a 14-13 tally in favor of Baltimore.

Following a short Cleveland series, the Ravens had to punt in turn from deep inside their own territory. Sam Koch’s short kick was returned 26 yards by WR Josh Cribbs to the Baltimore 11 and from there the Browns scored in three plays to regain the lead with Anderson getting the last yard for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

The Ravens moved into Cleveland territory on their next series as Boller completed a pass to WR Devard Darling for 26 yards and McGahee had an 18-yard run up the middle to the 20. But Boller, firing for the end zone on his next throw, was intercepted by DB Brodney Pool who returned it 100 yards for a Browns TD. With the successful PAT, Cleveland was up by 13 points at 27-14.

The Ravens responded with a 14-play, 62-yard drive that stretched into the fourth quarter and was helped along by defensive penalties. Matt Stover successfully booted a 34-yard field goal to make it a ten-point game with plenty of time left on the clock.

On their next possession, the Ravens again moved methodically down the field in nine plays that covered 43 yards and ended with another Stover field goal, this time from 41 yards. A short Cleveland series ended with a punt that had the Ravens taking over at their 17 yard line with 5:12 remaining in regulation. Boller immediately threw to Darling for a 42-yard gain and, three plays later, to Darling again for a 27-yard TD. Stover’s extra point was successful and the game was tied up at 27-27.

Upon getting the ball back, Baltimore again drove to a score. Boller completed four passes and ran four yards for a first down in a third-and-two situation. With 31 seconds left on the clock, Stover kicked a 47-yard field goal and it seemed as though the Ravens, up by 30-27 after scoring 16 unanswered points, had the game won.

The Browns got a 39-yard kickoff return from Cribbs and followed up with two passes by Anderson that gained 24 yards. With the remaining time now down to three seconds, Dawson came in to attempt a 51-yard field goal. Dawson’s kick struck the left upright and seemed to strike the crossbar before bouncing back onto the field. The initial call by the officials was that it was no good, and the Ravens began to celebrate and head for the locker room, along with disappointed Cleveland players.

However, some players insisted that the ball had passed through the uprights and hit the center support before bouncing back. Referee Pete Morelli attempted to review the play but was told by the replay official that field goals were not reviewable. Conferencing with the other officials, one of the back judges felt strongly that the ball had passed through the goal posts and Morelli agreed to reverse the initial call and declare it a successful kick (subsequent review of the film proved the reversal to be correct). With the score now tied, the teams were ordered back onto the field and the game went into overtime.

The Browns got the ball first for the extra period and never gave it up. Anderson completed four passes, the most crucial to Winslow for 18 yards to the Baltimore 30. Cleveland picked up an extra 14 yards in four running plays and Dawson came in and successfully kicked a 33-yard field goal of which there was no doubt (pictured below). The Browns came away winners by a final score of 33-30.

Cleveland had the edge in total yards (380 to 368) although the Ravens had more first downs (23 to 22). Baltimore turned the ball over four times, to two by the Browns, and Boller was sacked six times. However, the Browns hurt themselves by being penalized 12 times at a cost of 104 yards (as opposed to two flags for 15 yards on the Ravens).

Derek Anderson completed 24 of 38 passes for 274 yards with no touchdowns and one intercepted. Jamal Lewis was effective, rushing for 92 yards on 22 carries that included a TD. Braylon Edwards caught 8 passes for 85 yards and WR Joe Jurevicius accumulated 82 yards on his four receptions. Josh Cribbs had a big day returning kicks, averaging 35.0 yards on seven kickoff returns and 15.3 returning four punts.

For the Ravens, Kyle Boller overcame a slow start to complete 22 of 41 throws for 279 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Willis McGahee gained 102 yards and scored a touchdown on 21 rushing attempts. Devard Darling gained 107 yards on four pass receptions that included a touchdown while Derrick Mason had 6 catches for 83 yards and TE Quinn Sypniewski also pulled in 6 passes, gaining 53 yards.

Phil Dawson, in talking about the uncertainty over the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, said “I could tell by the way it glanced off the upright, it looked like it went forward. But we had people down near the goal post who were screaming at the top of their lungs that it had hit whatever that bar you call it.”

“This team, for whatever reason, thrives on adversity,” added Dawson. “The tougher the situation, the better we do. We all had a feeling when we got the call and went into overtime, what a shame it would have been not to capitalize on it.”

Cleveland went on to finish out the season at 4-2 for an overall record of 10-6, good enough for second place in the AFC North while just missing out on a playoff spot. It was the club’s first winning record in five years. The defeat seemed back-breaking for the Ravens, who failed to win again until the season finale. The resulting 5-11 record was the worst since 1996 and marked the end of Brian Billick’s tenure as head coach. Fortunes would subsequently reverse for both clubs.

In his ninth year with the Browns, Phil Dawson was successful on 26 of 30 field goal attempts (86.7 %) – with likely no others as memorable as the barely-successful game-tying kick at Baltimore.

November 17, 2012

1975: Ken Anderson Passes for 447 Yards as Bengals Beat Bills

The Monday night matchup on November 17, 1975 featured the Cincinnati Bengals, with their proficient passing offense led by QB Ken Anderson (pictured at right), against the Buffalo Bills and their outstanding ground attack keyed by RB O.J. Simpson.

Under the guidance of 67-year-old coaching legend Paul Brown, the Bengals were 7-1 and fighting it out with Pittsburgh for supremacy in the AFC Central. Meanwhile, Buffalo, coached by Lou Saban, was 5-3. The Bills had won their first four games but lost three of the previous four coming into the contest at Cincinnati.

There was a capacity crowd on hand at Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals scored the first time they had the ball, driving 90 yards. Anderson completed a five-yard touchdown pass to HB Lenvil Elliott to cap the series, although the extra point attempt failed. The Bills responded with a 28-yard John Leypoldt field goal to make the score 6-3 after one quarter.

In the second quarter, HB Stan Fritts extended Cincinnati’s lead with a one-yard TD carry, this time followed by a successful PAT. Simpson, who had 154 yards in the first half that included runs of 59 and 44 yards, kept the Bills in the game. He contributed a two-yard scoring carry to narrow the tally to 13-10. But Anderson, consistently finding the weaknesses in Buffalo’s pass defense, threw to WR Charlie Joiner for a 20-yard touchdown and the Bengals carried a 20-10 lead into halftime.

Simpson again scored a touchdown for Buffalo in the third quarter, this time from a yard out, to again make it a three-point contest. Dave Green was successful on a 28-yard field goal attempt later in the period, but the Bengals lost star WR Isaac Curtis with a twisted ankle midway through the third quarter.

Another one-yard scoring carry by Fritts extended Cincinnati’s lead in the fourth quarter, but Buffalo fought back and closed the margin to six points with eight minutes remaining in the contest when QB Joe Ferguson connected with WR J.D. Hill for a ten-yard TD. The Bengals came back with a 79-yard drive that concluded with a Green field goal of 18 yards and, with 1:57 remaining to play, and that sealed it. Cincinnati came away the winner by a final tally of 33-24.

The Bengals generated significantly more total yards (553 to 335) and first downs (34 to 20) – this despite Buffalo compiling 242 rushing yards. The Bengals never punted although Dave Green kicked two field goals in three attempts. There were just three turnovers, with the Bills accounting for two of them.

Ken Anderson completed 30 of 46 passes for a career-high 447 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, breaking his own club record of 352 passing yards against the Oilers in 1974 with his precision throwing. Isaac Curtis had 7 catches for 139 yards before having to leave the contest and WR Chip Myers added 7 receptions for 108 yards. FB Boobie Clark paced the ground game with 60 yards on 16 carries and also pulled in 6 passes for 64 yards.

For the Bills, O.J. Simpson (pictured below) had an outstanding performance with 197 yards on just 17 rushes that included two short TDs. Most of his productivity came in the first half. FB Jim Braxton added 40 yards on 10 attempts. Joe Ferguson was successful on 9 of 18 throws for 106 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. J.D. Hill was the top receiver with three catches for 33 yards and a score.

 “We knew what we had to do,” said Ken Anderson. “We had to put some points up on the board against them, because there was no way we could control them all night.”

Anderson was superb,” summed up Paul Brown. “The game went the way we were afraid it would go – we couldn’t stop them and they couldn’t stop us. In the past, it’s been the defense that has done the job for us. This time, it was the offense.”

The win put the Bengals in a first-place tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC Central, but they lost at Cleveland the next week and once more in the Week 13 showdown against the Steelers to end up second at 11-3. In the Divisional playoff round, Cincinnati was eliminated by the Oakland Raiders. Buffalo, continuing to suffer from defensive lapses, finished third in the AFC East with an 8-6 record.

Ken Anderson led the NFL in passing for the second straight year (93.9 rating) and also topped the league in yards (3169) and yards per attempt (8.4). The 26-year-old in his fifth year ranked second in attempts (377), completions (228), and completion percentage (60.5) and was selected for the Pro Bowl.

O.J. Simpson was ahead of his record-breaking 1973 pace following the game against the Bengals but came up short, although by a league-leading 1817 yards on 329 carries (5.5 avg.). Altogether, he scored 23 touchdowns, at the time a single-season NFL record.

November 15, 2012

1970: Paul Brown’s Bengals Defeat Browns

Paul Brown (pictured above) had returned to pro football as a head coach (and GM and part owner) with the expansion Cincinnati Bengals of the AFL in 1968. He had been away from the game after being summarily fired by Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell following the ’62 season, ending a brilliant head coaching stint with the Browns going back to 1946 in the All-America Football Conference that included four AAFC titles and three NFL Championships. The parting had been a bitter one for Brown.

The AFL/NFL merger that culminated in 1970 made possible regular season meetings between the Bengals and Browns, particularly since both teams were now members of the new AFC Central Division. Cincinnati won a preseason contest between the clubs, but in their first meeting that counted in the standings the Browns had prevailed at Cleveland in Week 4. Now, on November 15, the clubs faced off once again in Cincinnati.

It had been a tough season thus far for the third-year Bengals. They were at 2-6 coming into the rematch with the Browns, having won their opening game before losing six straight contests and then thrashing the Bills the previous week. With the loss of their 1969 phenom, QB Greg Cook, to what would prove to be a career-ending shoulder injury, the Bengals were using the weak-armed but intelligent Virgil Carter under center. With the help of offensive assistant Bill Walsh’s redesigned offense that emphasized short passes, and with good mobility, Carter was improving and there was plenty of other promising young talent on the roster.

Cleveland, still coached by Brown’s successor Blanton Collier, had gotten off to a 4-2 start but lost its last two games to drop to an even 4-4. First-round rookie QB Mike Phipps out of Purdue was starting his first pro game against Cincinnati, in place of gimpy-kneed veteran Bill Nelsen, and Collier would be calling the plays from the sideline – a practice pioneered by Paul Brown.

There was a big crowd of 60,007 in attendance at Riverfront Stadium. The Browns went 77 yards in six plays following the opening kickoff, with the big play a 33-yard Phipps completion to TE Milt Morin. HB Leroy Kelly swept around left end for a nine-yard touchdown.

Near the end of the first quarter, an attempted screen pass by Carter to FB Jess Phillips bounced off of the running back’s hand and was ruled a lateral by the officials. Cleveland DT Jerry Sherk picked up the live ball and carried it 15 yards to the Cincinnati 20. A furious Paul Brown complained about the call, but to no avail. Seven plays later, Don Cockroft kicked a 15-yard field goal and the Browns held a 10-0 lead.

The turnover on the questionable call seemed to fire up the Bengals, however, and they went 80 yards in eight plays on the ensuing possession. Carter passed to Phillips for a 13-yard touchdown of which there was no doubt. Late in the second quarter Carter took off after rolling out for a 73-yard gain but fumbled at the Cleveland 10 when hit by CB Erich Barnes, who recovered to end the scoring opportunity. The tally remained 10-7 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Bengals put together an eight-play, 85-yard drive. HB Paul Robinson finished it off with a one-yard touchdown carry. Meanwhile, the Bengals defense rose to the occasion and thoroughly bottled up the Cleveland offense during the second half.

The Browns were hurt in the fourth quarter when a Phipps pass was intercepted. However, they got a break in the closing minutes when CB Lemar Parrish, while calling for a fair catch, muffed a punt and WR Dave Jones recovered for Cleveland. Four plays later, rather than keeping the ball on the ground and relying on the strong running game, Phipps passed in a fourth-and-three situation at the Cincinnati 30 with less then four minutes remaining in the game. The throw was intended for Morin, but safety Al Coleman batted the ball away at the last second. As an unfortunate side note, Coleman suffered a major knee injury on the play when he fell while tangled with Morin and Parrish.

That was the last shot for the Browns as Cincinnati’s offense controlled the ball for the rest of the game. The Bengals came away with a 14-10 win. When the final gun went off, the usually calm Paul Brown leaped up and tossed his hat into the air, running across the field ahead of his players.

Cincinnati outgained the Browns (333 yards to 296) although Cleveland had the edge in first downs (15 to 14). In particular, the Bengals outrushed the Browns by 210 yards to 153. However, Cincinnati turned the ball over three times, to one by Cleveland, although the Browns hurt themselves with eight penalties, as opposed to three flags thrown on the home team.

QB Virgil Carter (pictured at left) completed 10 of 17 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and was also the game’s leading rusher with 110 yards on nine carries - the running plays were part of the game plan and came in some typical passing situations. Paul Robinson added 63 yards and a TD on 14 rushing attempts. WR Chip Myers was the team’s top receiver with three catches for 67 yards. MLB Bill Bergey had a noteworthy performance for the Bengals, accounting for 11 tackles, five assists, and a deflected pass.

As for the Browns, Mike Phipps was successful on 11 of 25 throws for 170 yards with no TDs and one interception. Leroy Kelly led the running attack with 60 yards on 21 carries that included a touchdown. Milt Morin caught three passes for 78 yards.

“This is my best victory. This one made it all worthwhile,” said Paul Brown, who shed tears while congratulating his players afterward.

“I like a November football team – one that stays in there,” added Brown. “They (the Bengals) may not be 100 percent in a lot of ways, but they sure battle, and that’s for me.”

“Errors and penalties hurt us,” summed up Coach Collier for the Browns.

Despite their losing record, the Bengals were in the thick of the race in the new AFC Central and would make the most of it the rest of the way. They didn’t lose again during the remainder of the regular season, a total of seven straight wins, and topped the division with an 8-6 record – a big achievement for a third-year expansion team in the pre-free agency era.

For the Browns, it was the third straight loss – the first time they had lost that many in a row in 11 years. They ended up placing second to Cincinnati at 7-7 and Blanton Collier retired afterward.

Virgil Carter was solid if not spectacular, passing for 1647 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. He rushed for 246 yards on 34 carries for an average gain of 7.2 yards.

The new Ohio rivalry was sealed by the fans. Between the preseason encounter (57,112) and two regular season games (83,520 in Cleveland plus 60,007 for the contest at Riverfront Stadium), attendance totaled 200,639.