December 27, 2015

1970: Big Plays Lift Raiders Over Dolphins in AFC Divisional Playoff Game

The AFC Divisional playoff game on December 27, 1970 featured the Oakland Raiders, winners of the AFC West with an 8-4-2 record, hosting the Miami Dolphins, who had gone 10-4 to place second in the AFC East and qualified as a Wild Card entry. In this first year of the enlarged and reorganized NFL, Wild Card teams were being introduced to the postseason (at this point one per conference).

Oakland, coached for the second year by John Madden, had been one of the American Football League’s strongest teams during the past three years, and remained successful in its first NFL season. QB Daryle Lamonica (pictured above) was an accomplished long passer, although he occasionally ran into difficulties that had 43-year-old backup QB George Blanda relieving him with surprising success. The receiving corps was capable with wide receivers Fred Biletnikoff and Warren Wells plus rookie TE Raymond Chester, and the ground game was effective with HB Charlie Smith and FB Hewritt Dixon. The defense was beginning to show its age in spots, but was still formidable. Blanda provided reliable placekicking.

The Dolphins were in their first year under Head Coach Don Shula and in the postseason for the first time. There were several newcomers on the roster, most notably WR Paul Warfield, obtained in a trade with Cleveland. QB Bob Griese was developing into a star and the AFC-leading ground game, led by FB Larry Csonka, was highly productive. The defense contained four rookie starters plus FS Jake Scott, who had a year’s experience in the CFL, and was anchored by veteran MLB Nick Buoniconti. Miami defeated the Raiders during the regular season and the team’s immediate success under Coach Shula was a major surprise.     

There were 54,401 fans in attendance on a damp day at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and the field was muddy. The Dolphins had the first possession and punted. Oakland moved well with Hewritt Dixon and Charlie Smith running the ball and Daryle Lamonica completed a pass to Fred Biletnikoff for 12 yards on a third-and-two play. But the drive stalled at the Miami 16 and the Raiders came up empty when George Blanda’s 23-yard field goal attempt hit the goal post and bounced away.

Miami put together a promising drive in response. Larry Csonka had a pair of five-yard runs and halfbacks Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick handled most of the running load while Bob Griese completed three passes, including to WR Howard Twilley for 14 yards and Kiick for 15 to convert third downs. But they too failed to get on the board when Garo Yepremian was wide on a 24-yard try for a field goal.

The teams traded punts as the game headed into the second quarter. Miami got a break when DE Bill Stanfill recovered a Smith fumble at the Oakland 19. Two plays later, Griese passed to Paul Warfield for a 16-yard touchdown, Yepremian added the extra point, and the Dolphins led by 7-0.

The teams exchanged punts until, taking over with 4:35 remaining in the first half, the Raiders drove 62 yards to a score. Lamonica completed a third-and-six pass to Raymond Chester for 21 yards to the Miami 37 and converted another third down with a throw to Biletnikoff for 11 yards. Another completion to Biletnikoff in the end zone was good for a 22-yard TD and Blanda converted to tie the score.

The Raiders took the kickoff to start the third quarter and advanced deep into Miami territory. FB Marv Hubbard ran six times for 22 yards and Lamonica completed third down passes to Smith for nine yards and Chester for 26. But facing second-and-goal at the two, Smith fumbled again and Jake Scott recovered for the Dolphins at their 10 yard line.

Griese immediately passed to Warfield for 24 yards and, after two short running plays, he connected with Kiick for nine yards on a third-and-six play. But Griese was then sacked for a 12-yard loss by DT Tom Keating and DE Tony Cline and, two plays later, Griese’s third-and-19 pass was intercepted by CB Willie Brown and returned 50 yards for a touchdown. Blanda added the point after to give Oakland a 14-7 lead.

The Dolphins had the ball as the contest moved into the fourth quarter. A 12-yard run by Morris got the ball to the Oakland 40 and Griese passed to Warfield for 16 yards. The series stalled at the Oakland 17 and Yepremian missed to the left on a 24-yard field goal attempt.

Oakland struck quickly. Hubbard ran for four yards and HB Pete Banaszak fumbled on the next play, which was recovered by OT Harry Schuh but had the Raiders facing third-and-12. Lamonica, anticipating a blitz, threw long for WR Rod Sherman who pulled the ball in at the Miami 45 and went the distance for an 82-yard touchdown (pictured below). Blanda’s extra point put the home team up by 21-7.

The Dolphins came back with a long drive of 69 yards in eight plays. A personal foul on the Raiders erased a sack and Griese completed a throw to WR Willie Richardson for 23 yards. Kiick ran for 13 yards on the next play and Griese again connected with Richardson, this time in the right corner of the end zone for a seven-yard TD. Yepremian’s conversion again made it a seven-point game.

However, time was running out on the Dolphins. They were unable to recover an onside kick that went out of bounds and, following a short Oakland possession, they got the ball back at their 13 with 2:28 left on the clock. Morris ran for four yards, two passes fell incomplete, one of which was intended for Warfield and knocked away by LB Gus Otto, and on fourth down a toss to Kiick came up a yard short. The Raiders were able to run out the clock and won by a final score of 21-14.  

Oakland had the edge in total yards (307 to 242) although the Dolphins had more first downs (16 to 12) and ran more plays (63 to 52). The Raiders also turned the ball over twice, to one suffered by Miami, and committed the only four penalties. Both placekickers had difficulty on the muddy field as Miami’s Yepremian missed both of his field goal attempts and Blanda missed one.

Daryle Lamonica completed 8 of 16 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Fred Biletnikoff had three catches for 46 yards and a TD and Rod Sherman, with his one long scoring reception, led the Raiders with 82 receiving yards. Marv Hubbard topped the rushers with 58 yards on 18 carries.

For the Dolphins, Bob Griese was successful on 13 of 27 throws for 155 yards and two TDs with one interception that was returned for a score. Jim Kiick gained 64 yards on 14 rushing attempts and also caught four passes for 34 yards. Paul Warfield (pictured at left) gained 62 yards on his four receptions that included a touchdown. Larry Csonka was held to 23 yards on 10 carries and Mercury Morris contributed 29 yards on 8 attempts.

Oakland advanced to the AFC Championship game and lost to the Baltimore Colts. The Raiders missed the playoffs in 1971 but bounced back to top the AFC West in each of the next five years. The Dolphins built upon their 1970 success to win the next three AFC Championships, including consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1972, a year in which they went undefeated, and ’73.