November 26, 2014

1967: Kelly & Browns Overcome Late Charge by Jurgensen & Redskins

The Cleveland Browns were 6-4 and, in this first season in which the NFL conferences were broken down into divisions, at the top of the Century Divison of the Eastern Conference as they hosted the Washington Redskins on November 26, 1967. Head Coach Blanton Collier’s Browns had an outstanding running tandem in HB Leroy Kelly (pictured at right) and FB Ernie Green. Despite assorted injuries, Frank Ryan was still an effective quarterback and had excellent receivers in split end Paul Warfield and flanker Gary Collins.

The Redskins were coached by an ex-quarterback, Otto Graham, and boasted an outstanding aerial game that generated lots of points. QB Sonny Jurgensen was an accomplished passer and had a receiving corps of split end Charley Taylor, flanker Bobby Mitchell, and TE Jerry Smith that was top rate. However, the running game was far less impressive and the defense could give up points as readily as the offense could score. Washington had a mediocre 4-4-2 record but was coming off of two straight wins.

There were 72,798 fans in attendance at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. The Browns had the first possession and moved methodically and mostly on the ground with Leroy Kelly and Ernie Green carrying the load. Finally, Kelly took a flip from Frank Ryan and sped 42 yards for a touchdown to conclude the 10-play series. The venerable Lou Groza, in his 21st year at age 43, added the extra point.

Washington responded by advancing into Cleveland territory as Sonny Jurgensen completed four passes, but another was deflected by DE Paul Wiggin and LB Johnny Brewer (pictured at left) intercepted and returned it 70 yards for a TD. Groza’s PAT put the Browns ahead by 14-0.

The Redskins advanced quickly to midfield on their next possession. HB Gerry Allen ran around end for a 30-yard gain, and he and FB A.D. Whitfield combined for another 11 yards. Jurgensen threw to Charley Taylor for eight yards to reach the Cleveland 31, but the drive stalled there and, trying to convert a fourth-and-two situation, Jurgensen was sacked by Brewer.

The Browns punted to finish out the opening period and Washington started off the second quarter by going 59 yards in five plays. Jurgensen connected with Jerry Smith for 14 yards on a third-and-seven play and then threw to Taylor for a 23-yard touchdown. Gene Mingo converted and the home team’s lead was cut to 14-7.

Ryan threw to Paul Warfield for 23 yards as the Browns reached their 45 on the next series, but on the next play Green fumbled the handoff and CB Rickie Harris recovered for the Redskins. Jurgensen completed two passes to Whitfield, the second for 24 yards to the Cleveland 20, but three incompletions were followed by a 27-yard Mingo field goal. However, the Browns quickly expanded their margin again when DB Carl Ward returned the ensuing kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. Groza’s point after made the tally 21-10.

Jurgensen again passed the Redskins into Cleveland territory, thanks to two completions to Bobby Mitchell, but after Allen was thrown for a loss on a running play, Taylor dropped a pass and, on third-and-12, Jurgensen was sacked to force the visitors to punt. It took the Browns just four plays to score again, with Ryan passing to Warfield (pictured below) down the left sideline for a 48-yard TD. Groza again converted and Cleveland was up by 28-10.

With less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Jurgensen came out passing on Washington’s next series. Five of them hit the mark, with the last to Taylor for a 15-yard touchdown. Mingo’s successful extra point again made it an 11-point contest. There was time enough for the Browns to make one last try to add points before halftime, and Kelly gained 30 yards on a sweep to near midfield. However, Groza’s field goal attempt from 42 yards was short and the score remained 28-17 at the intermission.

The Redskins had a short series and punted to start off the third quarter. Cleveland advanced 68 yards in six plays, the big one a swing pass by Ryan to Kelly that gained 48 yards to the Washington 21. A pass into the end zone drew a penalty for face-guarding and Green ran for the final yard and a TD. Groza’s extra point made the home team’s lead 35-17.

In response, the Redskins drove 75 yards. The hardly-nimble Jurgensen scrambled for 21 yards to convert a third-and-nine situation and he had back-to-back pass completions to Whitfield for 21 and 11 yards to reach the Cleveland 20. Now it was the turn of the Browns to make a penalty on a pass into the end zone, in this instance a pass interference call on DB Ben Davis, and Allen ran for a one-yard TD. Mingo converted and once more the margin was 11 points at 35-24.

The Browns had to punt on the next series after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved them out of field goal range and Washington punted in turn. Cleveland was on the move as the game moved into the fourth quarter, helped along by the running of Kelly and Green and a 20-yard gain on a pass from Ryan to Gary Collins. Kelly ran for a 21-yard touchdown and Groza’s PAT staked the Browns to a big 42-24 margin.

The Redskins struck back quickly. On the fourth play of the ensuing series, Jurgensen went long for Mitchell and the result was a 48-yard TD. Mingo’s kick made the score 42-31. The teams then traded punts before Washington put together another scoring drive. Jurgensen completed four straight passes, two of them to Taylor (pictured below), and one to Whitfield for 12 yards to the Cleveland one, from where Allen went over for the touchdown. Mingo’s extra point attempt was partially blocked and hit the crossbar, thus keeping it a five-point margin.

There were less than three minutes remaining in the game and Kelly ran for 18 yards on Cleveland’s next play from scrimmage, but the Browns could get no more first downs and punted. With the clock down to 1:33, Jurgensen went to the air, completing passes to Jerry Smith for 17 and 21 yards and to Taylor for 19 to the Cleveland 25. But that was as close as the Redskins were able to get. The next three passes were incomplete, with one of them barely deflected by CB Erich Barnes in the end zone, and DE Bill Glass flattened Jurgensen on fourth down to effectively end the contest. Cleveland held on to win by a final score of 42-37.  

Washington had the edge in total yards (481 to 424) and first downs (33 to 19). Most of those yards came through the air as the Redskins generated 373 net passing yards, although Cleveland accumulated 203 yards on the ground. The Browns also recorded five sacks, to two by Washington, and each team turned the ball over one time apiece. Cleveland was penalized 10 times, at a cost of 148 yards, to six flags for 49 yards thrown on the Redskins. Ultimately, the interception and kickoff returns for touchdowns were the keys for the Browns.

Leroy Kelly rushed for 163 yards on 20 carries that included two touchdowns and also gained another 44 yards on two pass receptions. Frank Ryan didn’t go to the air often, completing 11 of 17 passes, but they were good for 233 yards and a TD while none were intercepted. Paul Warfield caught three passes for 96 yards and a score and Gary Collins contributed three receptions also, for 58 yards.

For the Redskins, Sonny Jurgensen had a huge performance in defeat, going to the air 50 times and completing 32 for 418 yards with three touchdowns against one interception. Three receivers went over a hundred yards, with Charley Taylor leading as he caught 11 passes for 123 yards and two TDs. Bobby Mitchell gained 106 yards on his 6 receptions that included a score and A.D. Whitfield accumulated 102 yards on 8 catches out of the backfield. Whitfield also rushed for 28 yards on 14 carries while Gerry Allen led the club with 59 yards on 14 attempts that included two short touchdowns.

The win kept the Browns a game ahead of the Giants in the Century Division and they stayed on top with a final record of 9-5. However, they were pulverized by the Cowboys in the Eastern Conference playoff. Washington ended up at 5-6-3 for third place in the Capitol Division.

Leroy Kelly passed the thousand-yard threshold for the second straight year with his fine performance against the Redskins and went on to lead the NFL in rushing with 1205 yards on 235 carries (5.1 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection and also was named to the Pro Bowl.

Sonny Jurgensen (pictured at right) set new NFL records with 508 pass attempts, 288 completions, and 3747 yards (Joe Namath threw for 4007 yards in the AFL). He also led the league in TD passes (31) and passing overall (87.3 rating) and was chosen to the Pro Bowl. The 418-yard performance against Cleveland ended up being the third-highest of his Hall of Fame career.

Charley Taylor was a consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl choice as he led the NFL with 70 pass receptions, which were good for 990 yards and nine TDs. Indeed, he, Jerry Smith, and Bobby Mitchell placed first, second, and fourth, respectively, among the league’s pass receiving leaders.