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Tuesday, November 30, 2010
After a Heisman Trophy-winning career at Auburn, RB Bo Jackson followed a different path than usual in proceeding into the pro ranks. He was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986, but opted to sign with major league baseball’s Kansas City Royals instead. After playing minor league baseball and getting a brief call-up by the Royals in ’86, he played for KC in 1987. He also was eligible for the NFL draft again, having never signed with the Bucs, and the Los Angeles Raiders took him in the seventh round.
Unlike the Buccaneers, who insisted on his making a choice between football and baseball, the Raiders offered a unique arrangement in which Jackson could play football once his baseball season was concluded. The 6’1”, 225-pound outfielder/running back agreed, and seven games into the 1987 NFL season, Jackson debuted with the Raiders.
Los Angeles had won its first three games and then lost three by the time Jackson joined the team (due to a players’ strike, three of the contests were played with replacement players – those wearing Raiders uniforms went 1-2). The club had plenty of problems, but it already had an outstanding running back in Marcus Allen. The rookie split time in his first few games, and after four games he had gained 254 yards on 41 carries for a healthy 6.2-yard average gain and two touchdowns. On November 30, 1987, Jackson’s 25th birthday, he broke out in a big way.
The Raiders had continued to lose, although the last two had been by close scores, and were now at seven straight defeats by the time they took on the Seattle Seahawks at the Kingdome in the Week 11 Monday night contest. The Seahawks were 7-3 under Head Coach Chuck Knox and still had a solid core on offense with QB Dave Krieg, WR Steve Largent, and RB Curt Warner behind an aging but effective line. However, the defense was vulnerable against the run, and that would prove to be a significant factor against the Raiders.
Things didn’t start auspiciously for Jackson when he lost a yard on his first carry and then fumbled the ball away on his second. Following the fumble, the Seahawks drove 64 yards on nine plays that concluded with Kreig throwing to WR Daryl Turner for a 19-yard touchdown.
The Raiders came back in short order as QB Marc Wilson completed passes of 21 yards to TE Todd Christensen, 17 yards to WR Dokie Williams, and 46 yards and a TD to WR James Lofton. Jackson didn’t play much of a role in this drive, carrying once for four yards, but after LA took over again near the end of the opening period following a Seattle punt, he took off for a 15-yard gain to start the possession. The Raiders drove to another touchdown early in the second quarter, with Jackson catching a 14-yard pass from Wilson in the corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
On the third play following another punt by the Seahawks, Jackson took a handoff at his own nine yard line and sprinted 91 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown – the longest run in Raiders history. That was it for the rookie in the first half, as Marcus Allen handled the running in the last two series of the half. Los Angeles added two field goals by Chris Bahr, of 23 and 47 yards, to take a stunning 27-7 lead at halftime (Seattle’s Norm Johnson missed a 54-yard attempt on the final play of the half). Bo Jackson had gained 122 yards on seven carries and a score and had the one catch for the 14-yard TD.
The Raiders took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by two Jackson carries – the first, a 42-yard run to the Seattle 22 and then, taking a pitchout at the two yard line, a touchdown in which he ran over the Seahawks’ highly-touted rookie linebacker, Brian Bosworth.
LA scored once more, on a possession that started with safety Vann McElroy intercepting a Krieg pass, as Bahr booted a 23-yard field goal to extend the lead to 37-7. Seattle finally scored again, on a three-yard touchdown pass from Krieg to TE Mike Tice near the end of the third quarter, but the outcome had long been decided. The final score was 37-14 in favor of the Raiders.
The statistics reflected LA’s domination of the Seahawks as the Raiders accumulated 507 total yards to 167 for Seattle. Of the Los Angeles total, 356 came on the ground, and Bo Jackson accounted for 221 yards on 18 carries with two TDs – while his 12.3-yard average gain was impressive enough, he had actually rolled up 202 on his first 11 attempts, before the Raiders turned conservative in the fourth quarter while running out the clock, an 18.4-yard average. The yardage total was a single-game franchise record that was eventually exceeded by Napoleon Kaufman in 1997.
Marcus Allen also carried the ball 18 times, for 76 yards - in addition, he threw a key block from the fullback position that launched Jackson on his 91-yard run. Marc Wilson completed 11 of 18 passes for 159 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Dokie Williams was the leading receiver with 4 catches for 47 yards (James Lofton’s 46-yard TD reception was his only catch of the night).
The Seahawks were far less successful running the ball, gaining just 37 yards on 16 carries. Curt Warner led the way with 26 yards on 11 attempts. Dave Krieg went to the air 31 times and completed 17 for 170 yards with two touchdowns and two intercepted. WR Paul Skansi caught 4 passes for 54 yards.
“He’s awesome…he’s just awesome,” said veteran Raiders LB Rod Martin of Jackson afterward. “I mean, with the talent he has, I don’t know why he’d be looking for a curveball to hit.”
Bo Jackson would keep making it look easy, and would impress both football and baseball observers with his talent before a devastating hip injury curtailed both careers. In 1987, over the course of seven games he ended up running for 554 yards on just 81 carries for a 6.8-yard average and four touchdowns; Jackson added a career-high 16 catches for 136 yards and two scores.
As for the Raiders, it was a highlight in an otherwise gloomy year. In the 15-game season (the players’ strike resulted in the loss of one week of play), they finished with a 5-10 record, their worst since 1962, for fourth place in the AFC West. Seattle went 9-6 to place second in the division and secure a wild card spot in the postseason. The Seahawks lost to Houston in the first round.
Monday, November 29, 2010
A Thanksgiving tradition began on November 29, 1934 when the Detroit Lions hosted the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit’s Titan Stadium. The Lions, transplanted from Portsmouth, Ohio, where they played as the Spartans from 1930-33, were 10-1 entering the contest, having run off a record seven straight shutouts to start the season. They had lost to Green Bay for the first time the previous Sunday, by a score of 3-0, and had given up a total of 30 points in all.
Star tailback Dutch Clark had come out of a year’s retirement to lead a talented backfield for Head Coach George “Potsy” Clark’s club that included FB Ace Gutowsky, wingback Ernie Caddel, and tailback Glenn Presnell. End Buster Mitchell and guard Ox Emerson were All-Pro-calibre players.
The Bears were the defending NFL champions and came into the contest undefeated at 11-0. Under the direction of George Halas, the owner and head coach, Chicago typically dominated opponents and had only allowed two teams to score in double figures all season.
There was a sellout crowd of 25,000 fans in attendance for the Western Division showdown, and the game was broadcast nationally on radio (new Lions owner George Richards was a radio executive). Detroit got the first break of the day, with a defensive play that set up the first touchdown. With the Bears at their own 36, Mitchell intercepted a deflected pass by QB Carl Brumbaugh and returned it to the Chicago four yard line. Gutowsky ran for a touchdown from there and Clark drop-kicked the extra point.
The Bears tied the game thanks to HB Gene Ronzani scoring on a 14-yard pass into the end zone from QB Keith Molesworth early in the second quarter, with Jack Manders (pictured at top) adding the extra point on a placekick. The play was set up on a long completion by the same combination of Molesworth to Ronzani that put Chicago in scoring position.
The Lions regained the lead when Presnell kicked a 42-yard field goal. Gutowsky (pictured at left) powered over again for another touchdown shortly thereafter, capping a drive that began at the Detroit 35, but Clark’s extra point attempt was blocked. The Lions were up by 16-7 at the half. In the third quarter, Manders kicked field goals of 21 and 42 yards, cutting Detroit’s lead to 16-13.
The key play of the game occurred in the fourth quarter when G Joe Zeller intercepted a Gutowsky pass at his own 46 and returned it to the Detroit four yard line, where Gutowsky himself finally pulled him down. Two plunges into the line gained two yards, but then FB Bronko Nagurski, faking another run, instead reared up and floated a pass to end Bill Hewitt in the end zone for what proved to be the winning touchdown. Nagurski’s PAT attempt was blocked.
The Lions drove from their own 20 to the Chicago 14 yard line but gave up the ball on downs with less than a minute to play, clinching the 19-16 win for the Bears.
Detroit outrushed the Bears with 201 yards to 116 and led in first downs, 14 to 6, but Chicago’s passing attack and the kicking of Manders made the difference.
The win clinched the Western Division title for the Bears, and they emphasized the point by beating the Lions again in the season finale the following week in Chicago. Thus, they ended the season with a perfect 13-0 record, but were upset by the Giants in the NFL Championship game. Detroit finished second at 10-3.
Bill Hewitt’s game-winning touchdown reception was one of a league-leading five TD catches, out of a total of 11 receptions (Hewitt pictured below, #56 without helmet).
Jack Manders led the NFL with 10 field goals (by comparison, the five runners-up, which included Glenn Presnell and Dutch Clark, had four apiece), 28 extra points, and 76 points (Clark was the runner-up in both categories with 13 PATs and 73 points), showing why he earned the nickname “Automatic Jack”.
The Thanksgiving Day game was considered a success and, except for a brief hiatus during World War II, the Lions have continued to host a game every Thanksgiving.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
The Dallas Cowboys were in the midst of a transition season as they hosted the arch-rival Washington Redskins in a Thanksgiving Day game on November 28, 1974 at Texas Stadium. Having started off at 1-4, they won four straight games prior to losing at Washington eleven days earlier. While they beat the Oilers the previous Sunday, Dallas was 6-5 and languishing behind both the Redskins and Cardinals in the NFC East. Head Coach Tom Landry’s club had a great deal of youth on offense, and young defensive ends Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Harvey Martin were still transitioning into the reforming defense.
Head Coach George Allen’s Redskins had won four straight contests and were 8-3 as they sought to keep pace with St. Louis. Whether 40-year-old Sonny Jurgensen or Billy Kilmer, 35 years old and in his 12th season, were at quarterback, Washington scored points. The veteran team was also sound on defense, Allen’s specialty.
The first half was low-scoring. Efren Herrera kicked a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter to put the first points on the board, concluding a drive kept alive by a fake punt in which punter Duane Carrell passed to DB Benny Barnes for a 37-yard gain. But the Redskins had replied with three Mark Moseley field goals, of 45, 34, and 39 yards, to hold a 9-3 lead at halftime.
It seemed as though the Redskins had taken control of the game in the third quarter. Following a fumble on the opening play of the second half by RB Walt Garrison, former Cowboys RB Duane Thomas caught a swing pass from Kilmer and went nine yards for a touchdown. The score was now 16-3, and when Dallas QB Roger Staubach was hit hard by LB Dave Robinson and forced from the game with just under ten minutes remaining in the period, it seemed as though all hope was lost for the Cowboys.
Replacing Staubach at quarterback was Clint Longley (pictured at top), a rookie out of Abilene Christian who had never appeared in a regular season game as a pro. He had actually been chosen by Cincinnati in the 1974 supplemental draft, but was dealt to the Cowboys just prior to the start of training camp. Longley earned the nickname “The Mad Bomber” when he threw an errant pass that hit Coach Landry’s tower during a workout.
Prior to the contest, Washington DT Diron Talbert had told reporters that he hoped Staubach would try running with the ball against the Redskins because if they could knock him out of the game, they would be facing the untested rookie at quarterback. Those words would come back to haunt him.
Longley promptly moved the offense downfield, and capped the drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to TE Billy Joe Dupree that narrowed Washington’s lead to 16-10. On the next possession, the Cowboys again drove deep into Redskins territory. When Garrison plowed over for a touchdown from a yard out and Herrera booted the extra point, Dallas was in the lead at 17-16. The previously-subdued Texas Stadium crowd had come alive.
However, Washington was far from finished. Early in the fourth quarter the Redskins regained the lead, again thanks to Thomas, who ran 19 yards for a touchdown and 23-17 tally. It looked as though they would further pad their margin after DE Ron McDole recovered a fumble by Dallas RB Charley Young. Washington moved into field goal range with five minutes remaining on the clock, but “Too Tall” Jones blocked Moseley’s 24-yard attempt.
It seemed as though the break was for nothing when RB Preston Pearson fumbled the ball back to the Redskins. However, Washington’s offense, playing conservatively, ran three plays and punted. Now with 1:45 remaining and no timeouts, Longley and the Cowboys had one more shot.
Washington’s defense seemed on the verge of squelching the threat, but on a fourth-and-six play, Longley passed to WR Bob Hayes for exactly six yards and a first down at the 50 yard line. After tossing an incompletion, Longley then sent WR Drew Pearson long, hit him in stride at the four yard line, and the wide receiver continued on into the end zone. Herrera was successful on the PAT, and the Cowboys had a one-point lead with 28 seconds to play.
There would be no last-second heroics for the Redskins, however, as Dallas recovered a Kilmer fumble on the first play to preserve the 24-23 win.
The Cowboys ended up outgaining Washington, 373 yards to 207, and led in first downs by 23 to 11. But they were nearly undone by giving up five turnovers, as opposed to one by the Redskins.
The flu-ridden Roger Staubach had completed only three of 11 passes for 32 yards with an interception before being forced out of the game – he had even been outpassed by the punter Carrell, with his one completion for 37 yards. But Clint Longley was good on 11 of 20 passes for 203 yards with the two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Drew Pearson (pictured at bottom), who caught the winning TD, had a big day with 5 catches for 108 yards. Billy Joe Dupree added three receptions for 65 yards and a TD. With top runner Calvin Hill out due to injury, RB Robert Newhouse led the Cowboys with 66 yards on 16 attempts.
For Washington, Billy Kilmer went to the air 17 times, completing 8 for 112 yards and a touchdown. Duane Thomas (pictured at left) had 18 rushing attempts for 55 yards and a TD and had the most pass receptions for the club with three, for 24 yards and a score. RB Moses Denson was right behind in the rushing column with 50 yards on 15 carries. WR Roy Jefferson had the most receiving yards, with 49 on his two catches.
“Football is an incredible game,” said Tom Landry afterward. “This is what makes it so unbelievable. Anything can happen in football.”
“I don't have very much to say,” said a disappointed George Allen. “It was probably the toughest loss we ever had.”
The win didn’t salvage the season for the Cowboys – they ended up outside the postseason for the first time since 1965 with an 8-6 record that put them in third place in the NFC East. Washington ended up tied with the Cardinals with a 10-4 mark, but due to St. Louis having swept the season series, the Cards won the division title and the Redskins entered the playoffs as a wild card. They lost to the Rams in the Divisional playoff game.
The astonishing performance off the bench didn’t portend better things for Longley, either. Staubach was back in action the next week and beyond and the young backup was sparsely used through the 1975 season. Following the demise of the World Football League, QB Danny White was acquired and, with his WFL experience and ability to double as the team’s punter, Longley’s roster spot was insecure for ’76. Bad blood had developed between he and Staubach, and when Longley sucker-punched the star quarterback in the locker room during training camp, his career in Dallas swiftly ended. He was dealt to San Diego, where he backed up Dan Fouts and threw a total of 24 passes in his last NFL season.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The Chicago Bears were 6-3 and had won six straight games as they took on their cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cardinals, at Comiskey Park on November 27, 1955. George Halas, the owner and in his third stint as head coach, had announced that this would be his last season on the sideline and the club was focused on winning one last title for “the Papa Bear.” They were in first place in the Western Conference, a half game in front of the Rams, a club they had beaten twice.
The Cardinals were 3-5-1 and had lost their last two games coming into the annual intercity contest with the Bears. Under first-year Head Coach Ray Richards, the club had some outstanding talent in HB Ollie Matson (pictured above) and defensive halfback Dick “Night Train” Lane, but was by no means considered a match for its rival. They were 16.5-point underdogs coming into the game.
There were 47,314 fans in attendance in a heavy snowstorm, and even though it was the Cardinals’ home field, many of those were Bears fans, judging from the cheers for the Bears’ players during the pregame introductions. The turf was soft and muddy due to the weather conditions and the lights were turned on during the first quarter.
The tone for the game was set early as the Cardinals took the opening kickoff and drove 73 yards in 13 plays for the first score. QB Lamar McHan threw a pass intended for end Gern Nagler that was deflected but grabbed by end Don Stonesifer, who completed the play for a 28-yard touchdown.
The Bears took possession and were forced to punt. Matson received the kick at his own 23 yard line and returned it 77 yards for another Cardinals TD. Before the opening period was over, rookie HB Dave Mann scored on a 19-yard run to open up a 21-0 margin for the Cards.
The lead was extended to 27-0 in the second quarter after FB John Olszewski ran for a 41-yard touchdown. While PK Pat Summerall missed the extra point, it hardly mattered. The Bears finally got on the board when QB George Blanda ran for a one-yard TD, but were in a deep hole at 27-7 as the first half ended.
Any hopes that the Bears might climb out of that hole ended when they fumbled the ball away in their first two possessions of the second half. Summerall kicked field goals of 12 and 40 yards, and Mann contributed a long touchdown dash of 61 yards to add to the rout at 40-7 after three periods.
Matson and Stonesifer finished off the scoring in the fourth quarter, with the Hall of Fame halfback plunging in for a TD from a yard out and the end catching a seven-yard pass from McHan. The Bears scored an inconsequential touchdown in the last minutes as third string QB Bob Williams connected with end John Hoffman on a 23-yard pass play. The final score of the stunning upset was 53-14.
The Cardinals gained 301 yards on the ground, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt, and 175 passing for an overall total of 474, to 211 yards for the Bears. Dave Mann (pictured at left) led the club in rushing with 108 yards and two TDs. The Cards also led in first downs, 20 to 12, while the Bears turned the ball over five times (four interceptions, one fumble) to just two suffered by the Cardinals.
The Cardinals also led with 9 penalties, to four by the Bears. While tempers flared occasionally, a fight broke out near the end that caused two Bears and a Cardinal to be ejected.
The Bears, who were the top rushing team in the NFL, gained only 25 yards on the ground, with 186 through the air. QB Ed Brown, normally a reliable thrower, missed on all seven of his pass attempts. It was the worst beating the Cardinals had inflicted on the Bears since 1929, when Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns.
“When you’re a Cardinal, part of the job is beating the Bears,” said veteran Charley Trippi, a Hall of Fame halfback in his prime who was finishing his career as a punter. “We beat them at their own game, with good blocking and good tackling.”
The loss proved devastating to the Bears’ postseason hopes – they dropped behind the Rams, and while they won their last two games to end up with an 8-4 record, LA did likewise to win the Western Conference title at 8-3-1. The Cardinals went 4-7-1 and tied the Eagles for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Ollie Matson led the NFL in punt return average (18.8 yards on 13 returns) and, with the touchdown against the Bears, was the only player in the league to return two for scores during the season. His 1325 all-purpose yards (475 rushing, 237 receiving, 245 returning punts, 368 returning kickoffs) ranked second.
Dave Mann ran for 336 yards on 85 carries and caught 16 passes. He also ran back kickoffs as he totaled 609 all-purpose yards and handled much of the team’s punting (in addition to Trippi).
Don Stonesifer (pictured below) led the Cardinals in pass receiving with 28 catches for 330 yards and five touchdowns.
As for George Halas, while he did indeed step down as head coach (while continuing to run the club from the front office), it did not prove to be a permanent retirement. He returned to the sideline in 1958 and won another championship in ’63 before finally retiring for good after the 1967 season.
Friday, November 26, 2010
The Dallas Texans were in the midst of a disappointing season in the American Football League’s second year as they hosted the Oakland Raiders at the Cotton Bowl on November 26, 1961. The club had gone 8-6 in the inaugural ’60 season and had plenty of talent and an able head coach in Hank Stram. The Texans had hoped to challenge the Chargers for supremacy in the Western Division, but after a promising 3-1 start, they had lost six straight games coming into the contest against Oakland.
QB Cotton Davidson lacked accuracy and consistency, and the loss of FB Jack Spikes in the sixth game had hurt the inside running game. It was one of several injuries that had exposed issues with the club’s depth. Still, the team had HB Abner Haynes, an exciting multi-purpose talent who could run, catch, and return kicks equally well. Haynes had been suffering from a shoulder injury at the beginning of the season, but was now healthy – as Oakland would find out.
The Raiders were a 2-8 basket case. After losing their first two games by a combined score of 99-0, Eddie Erdelatz was fired as head coach and replaced by assistant Marty Feldman. It didn’t help much, but Oakland had given the Texans a tough contest in their earlier meeting (Feldman’s first game). The offense, led by capable QB Tom Flores, lacked enough punch and the defense had too many holes. It didn’t help that the situation with the front office was chaotic and the club played its home games across the bay from Oakland in San Francisco. The first meeting had been a back-and-forth struggle, but not this one.
There were 14,500 fans present at the Cotton Bowl as the Texans scored on their first possession. Davidson threw a pass to HB Johnny Robinson for a 30-yard touchdown and quick 7-0 lead. They never looked back.
Later in the first quarter, Haynes caught a pass from Davidson and went 66 yards for his first touchdown. In the second quarter, following a 65-yard run by FB Bo Dickinson, Haynes ran for a five-yard TD and Dallas was up by 21-0.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s offense reached the Dallas seven in the first quarter and came up empty, and a drive to the 11 in the second quarter also ended up without a score. George Fleming finally kicked a 45-yard field goal just before halftime, making it 21-3, but missed on three other attempts.
In the third quarter, Haynes accounted for all but seven of 61 yards in a drive that ended with the fleet halfback scoring from the one. He scored twice more in the same period, first on a 33-yard run over right tackle (followed by a successful two-point conversion) and then a 26-yard carry to the left side.
With the game well in hand at 43-3, Haynes sat out most of the fourth quarter, but did have a 25-yard run to finish off his day. Most of his successful runs came on pitchouts, giving him room to fake out defenders on the flanks.
Flores was relieved in the third quarter. Backup QB Nick Papac finally got the Raiders into the end zone in the fourth quarter with a quarterback sneak and they successfully converted for two points, providing the final score of 43-11.
The Texans piled up 495 yards, to 254 for the Raiders, with 284 on the ground and 228 through the air (147 by Davidson and 81 by backup Randy Duncan). Bo Dickinson, thanks to the long run in the second quarter, gained 79 yards on six carries and split end Chris Burford had a good performance with four catches for 68 yards. But the star of the game was Abner Haynes, who rushed for 158 yards on 14 carries with four touchdowns and caught two passes for 84 yards and a TD, thus accounting for 242 yards from scrimmage.
The touchdown and rushing yardage totals set new records for the young AFL. Haynes broke his old mark of 157, set against the New York Titans in ’60. He had also shared the old record for touchdowns in a game with three.
The 6’0”, 185-pound Haynes had been an unknown coming out of North Texas State in 1960, passing up offers from the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers to sign with the new team in his native state of Texas. He made a huge impact in the AFL’s first season, leading the league in rushing with 875 yards on 156 carries (5.6 avg.) and punt returning with a 15.4 average on 14 returns. He also caught 55 passes for 576 yards and scored a total of 12 touchdowns while piling up 2100 all-purpose yards. For his efforts, he was named AFL Player of the Year by the Associated Press and UPI.
Haynes, considered the new league’s first home-grown star, had a distinctive running style, with deceiving speed and shiftiness – and a habit of carrying the football in his hand like a loaf of bread (he led the league with 11 fumbles).
The Texans ended the season on a high note, winning their last two games, for a 6-8 record that placed them second in the Western Division – well behind the Chargers. Oakland had the league’s worst record at 2-12.
Abner Haynes, despite missing three games, still finished third among the AFL’s rushers with 841 yards; his nine TDs on the ground tied for first (with San Diego’s Paul Lowe). He caught 34 passes for 558 yards and three more scores and ranked fourth with a 10.3 punt returning average. Haynes returned a kickoff for a TD, one of 13 on the year. His 1399 yards from scrimmage ranked third in the AFL and 1865 all-purpose yards ranked second.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Ten games into the 1990 NFL season, both the defending-champion San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants were sporting perfect 10-0 records. With the teams scheduled to meet in San Francisco the next week, speculation was rampant that it could be a showdown of unbeaten teams for supremacy in the NFC. But first they each had to face fierce division rivals on November 25.
In the case of the Giants, coached by Bill Parcells, it meant traveling to Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium to take on Buddy Ryan’s Eagles. The Giants had been successful with a conservative offense that rarely turned the ball over, in combination with a solid defense. The Eagles played in the style of the brash Ryan, aggressive on defense while dependent upon the flashy skills of QB Randall Cunningham (pictured above) on offense. They had gotten off to a slow start in ’90, going 1-3 to begin the season (including an opening-game loss to New York at Giants Stadium), but had won their last four games prior to hosting the Giants and were 6-4 overall.
The first half was closely fought. New York scored initially on a 15-yard pass from QB Phil Simms to WR Mark Ingram and the Eagles responded as Cunningham connected with WR Fred Barnett for a 49-yard TD. In the second quarter, Cunningham capped a drive of over nine minutes by leaping into the end zone for a touchdown from a yard out. TE Mark Bavaro caught a four-yard scoring pass from Simms, but the extra point was missed and the Eagles led by the slender margin of 14-13 at halftime.
Roger Ruzek kicked a 39-yard field goal to extend Philadelphia’s lead to 17-13 in the third quarter, but in a span of 22 seconds in the fourth quarter the Eagles essentially put the game away. First, Cunningham passed to WR Calvin Williams for a six-yard touchdown. Then, LB Seth Joyner deflected a Simms pass that was intercepted by MLB Byron Evans, who ran untouched for a 23-yard TD. That provided the final score of 31-13 as the Eagles toppled the Giants.
The Eagles controlled the ball for over 38 minutes and rolled up the most yards against the Giants thus far with 405. The Giants, who typically ran the ball 60 percent of the time, were forced to throw 40 passes. Phil Simms, who had only been intercepted twice in the previous ten games, was picked off twice by the Eagles and completed only 17 of his passes.
Randall Cunningham passed for 229 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions, and ran for 66 yards on 9 carries with a TD. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. RB Keith Byars caught 8 passes for 128 yards.
It was the first regular season loss for the Giants in 14 games dating back to December 1989, and the Eagles had beaten them then. It also delayed the Giants from clinching the NFC East title.
Meanwhile, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the 49ers ran into trouble against the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams, under Head Coach John Robinson, were having a poor season and came into the game at 3-7 and hardly seemed a match for the two-time defending league champions that had won a record-tying 18 straight games. Under Head Coach George Seifert, the 49ers were known for their passing offense, led by QB Joe Montana and WR Jerry Rice.
However, in the wind and rain at Candlestick Park, the Rams forced four turnovers in the first half and took a 21-7 lead. RB Cleveland Gary accounted for the first two TDs of the game, first on a 22-yard option pass from FB Buford McGee and then on a 10-yard run in the second quarter. The 49ers scored on a five-yard pass from Montana to WR John Taylor, but McGee ran for a six-yard touchdown to provide the 14-point margin at the half.
It appeared that the 49ers might pull off a successful comeback in the third quarter. Montana threw a screen pass to RB Harry Sydney that was good for a 23-yard touchdown. Mike Cofer booted a 42-yard field goal before the period was over that pulled the Niners to within 21-17.
But on San Francisco’s next possession, Montana was intercepted by Rams SS Vince Newsome and LA went 90 yards in 17 plays to score a game-clinching touchdown as Gary ran in from a yard out. The final score was 28-17.
The Rams outgained the 49ers, 350 yards to 291, and turned the ball over twice, as compared to a total of six times by the Niners. Joe Montana threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted three times. Jerry Rice caught 7 passes for 72 yards, but gave up one of the fumbles.
Meanwhile, WR Willie “Flipper” Anderson caught 8 passes for 149 yards and Cleveland Gary (pictured at left) ran for 68 yards on 24 carries and caught three passes for 27 yards while scoring three touchdowns. QB Jim Everett was successful on 16 of 27 passes for 224 yards with one picked off.
The 49ers won the showdown against the Giants the next week, stripped of the glamour of being a battle of unbeatens, by a low score of 7-3. San Francisco lost once more in the regular season to finish atop the NFC West at 14-2. New York ended up winning the NFC East at 13-3. The two teams met in the NFC Championship game, where the Giants prevailed and went on to win the Super Bowl over Buffalo.
The Eagles lost their next two games after upsetting the Giants, and ended up in second place in the NFC East at 10-6. They qualified for the playoffs as a wild card team, but lost to the Redskins in the first round, costing Ryan his job. For the Rams, the upset of the 49ers was the high point of an otherwise dismal year. They defeated the Browns the next week, but lost their last four games to finish at 5-11 for third place in the NFC West.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The Los Angeles Rams were coming off of a division title-winning season in 1973, their first under Head Coach Chuck Knox, and were leading the NFC West again with a 7-3 record as they faced the Minnesota Vikings on November 24, 1974 at the Memorial Coliseum. The team featured a conservative offense with an effective ground game that was led by RB Lawrence McCutcheon and a solid defense.
What was surprising was the change at quarterback six games into the season. 34-year-old veteran John Hadl, who had been obtained from the Chargers prior to the ’73 season and proceeded to put together a Pro Bowl performance, started the year but, in an astonishing move, was traded to Green Bay for five draft picks in October. His replacement was James Harris (pictured above), a castoff from the Buffalo Bills.
The 6’4”, 210-pound Harris had started a total of three games in three years with the Bills before being waived in 1972. Signed by the Rams for ’73, he sat on the bench backing up Hadl, but now he was being handed the starting job for a contending team in midseason. If the inexperience factor was not enough, the fact that the Grambling product was at that point the only African-American starting quarterback in the NFL added to the pressure. Thus far, he had risen to the challenge, as the club had gone 4-1 with him leading the offense.
The Vikings, under eighth-year Head Coach Bud Grant, were the defending NFC champions. They were still known for their defense, although age was beginning to creep into the picture. The offense featured QB Fran Tarkenton, a 14th-year veteran, and versatile RB Chuck Foreman. Minnesota was also 7-3 and leading the NFC Central division. Moreover, the Rams had lost to the Vikings in each of their last five meetings.
There was a huge crowd of 90,266 fans at the cavernous Memorial Coliseum, the most to watch a Rams game since 1959. It was an unseasonably hot day in which the temperature rose to 90 degrees at field level.
There was no scoring in the first quarter, but Fred Cox put the Vikings on the board in the second quarter with a 36-yard field goal. Minnesota followed with a 96-yard drive in five plays that was highlighted by Tarkenton passes of 48 yards to WR Jim Lash and 45 yards to WR John Gilliam. Foreman ran for a one-yard touchdown that made the score 10-0.
The Rams came back as Harris led them on a 63-yard, 10-play drive for their first score. Harris capped the drive himself as he dove for a TD from a yard out, but David Ray’s extra point attempt hit the right upright and was unsuccessful – even though the Vikings had only 10 players on the field – and Minnesota maintained a four-point advantage at 10-6.
The Vikings came back on their next possession that started with just 48 seconds left in the half, moving 65 yards in seven plays, five of which were passes. Foreman’s second TD occurred on the last of those throws from Tarkenton, from 12 yards out. Minnesota held a 17-6 lead at the half.
LA had been dogged by mistakes and penalties in the first half. In particular, a 60-yard punt return for an apparent TD by RB Cullen Bryant was called back due to a clip. The large and restless crowd had been doing its share of booing.
In the first possession of the third quarter, Harris injured his ankle on a 10-yard scramble and was forced to miss a series. In relief, rookie Ron Jaworski completed his first regular season NFL pass, of 19 yards to WR Lance Rentzel, although a second, to TE Bob Klein down to the Minnesota one yard line, was called back due to clipping. 15 more yards were tacked on when Coach Knox was penalized for arguing the call.
With his ankle re-taped, Harris came back into the game. Another scoring opportunity was missed when rookie RB John Cappelletti fumbled after catching a Harris pass at the Vikings’ 20, with Minnesota recovering. In the meantime, the Vikings offense had turned conservative and no points were scored in the period.
However, the Rams offense came alive in the fourth quarter. The Vikings had been pinned down deep in their own territory following an excellent punt by LA’s Mike Burke that went out at the Minnesota six (Burke had a great day, and greatly helped in the battle for field position, as he dropped five punts inside the 20 and four of those inside the 10). Following a sack of Tarkenton by DT Larry Brooks, the Rams were able to get good field position on the ensuing punt (and despite a penalty on the return) at the Vikings’ 43.
Harris threw to WR Jack Snow for a 24-yard gain, and followed up with passes to Cappelletti for five yards and McCutcheon for 13 down to the one yard line. From there, Harris again gained the last yard, diving into the end zone for a touchdown. Getting the PAT this time, the Rams were now behind by 17-13.
The Vikings got the ball back with eight minutes remaining and again faced inspired play by the Los Angeles defense. The defensive line of ends Fred Dryer and Jack Youngblood and tackles Merlin Olsen and Larry Brooks was especially effective in throttling the Vikings. They were forced to punt again, with the Rams taking over at their 31 yard line with just under four minutes on the clock.
Harris was once again able to find holes in Minnesota’s five-deep coverage. He first threw to WR Harold Jackson, who made a diving catch at the sideline for a 15-yard gain. Then he hit Cappelletti for eight yards and Klein for 17 down to the Vikings’ 23. Following the two-minute warning, Harris tossed to Cappelletti once again for six yards and then to McCutcheon, who gained nine yards to the eight yard line. With 1:14 remaining to play, Harris lobbed a pass into the end zone over substitute CB Jackie Wallace that Snow pulled in for the go-ahead touchdown.
Minnesota had time for one last shot, but Tarkenton was intercepted by LB Ken Geddes to nail down the 20-17 win for the Rams.
Los Angeles outgained the Vikings, with 380 yards to 301, and had the edge in first downs with 25 to 18. Each team turned the ball over once, although the six LA penalties had been costly.
James Harris completed his last ten passes and was successful on 24 of 37 overall for 249 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Lawrence McCutcheon gained 64 yards rushing on 15 carries and added 7 pass receptions for 58 yards. Jack Snow (pictured at left) also caught 7 passes, including the game-winning TD, and gained 91 receiving yards.
For the Vikings, Fran Tarkenton connected on 19 of 35 passes for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Chuck Foreman was the leading receiver, with 9 catches for 88 yards and a TD, as well as leading ground gainer with 49 yards on 12 attempts, including a score.
Chuck Knox called the second half comeback “the best half of our season. We made it hard on ourselves, but I'm real proud of the way our guys hung in there.”
“I give more of the credit to the offensive line,” said Harris. “Minnesota had us pretty well covered and I had to look for secondary receivers. They gave me time to do that.”
“The play was a quick go,” said Snow of the winning TD. “Wallace came up to bump me at the start. I made a little quick move and got past him. James laid it right out there. No man could drop a pass so perfectly placed. There was no way I was going to flub it. This moment has been a long time coming.”
The Rams were able to clinch the NFC West following the next night’s win by the Steelers over New Orleans. They ended up at 10-4 and beat the Redskins in the Divisional round of the playoffs before meeting up once again with Minnesota in the NFC Championship game and losing this time, 14-10. The Vikings had gone on to win the NFC Central for the sixth time in seven years, also with a 10-4 tally, and handily defeated the Cardinals to get to the conference championship game. They lost to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
James Harris surprised the skeptics, ranking second in the NFC in passing (85.1 rating). His overall numbers were modest, due to the nature of the offense and his not starting for the whole season, as he passed for 1544 yards with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. But he topped NFC passers in yards per attempt (7.8) and yards per completion (14.6) and the club went 7-2 in his starts. Harris was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named MVP of the game.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Baltimore Ravens were 5-5 and had lost their previous two games as they prepared to host the Seattle Seahawks at M & T Bank Stadium on November 23, 2003. Moreover, while Head Coach Brian Billick’s rebuilding team still had an outstanding defense, the offense was being directed for just the second time by QB Anthony Wright (pictured at right), in place of the injured Kyle Boller. Wright had been with the Cowboys for two seasons and had already gained a reputation as a career backup, at best, with limited skills. While RB Jamal Lewis was a capable runner, the passing game was suspect.
Seattle was leading the NFC West with a 7-3 record under Head Coach Mike Holmgren, who was steadily improving the club. The offense, with Matt Hasselbeck in his first full season as the starting quarterback and star RB Shaun Alexander, was becoming more explosive. But while they were a perfect 6-0 at home, the Seahawks were a disconcerting 1-3 on the road.
It appeared that the game would be a low-scoring affair after a scoreless first quarter. Josh Brown put Seattle on the board first with a 45-yard field goal three minutes into the second quarter, and the Ravens matched it late in the period with a 21-yard Matt Stover kick. But in the final minute of the half, the Seahawks scored twice. First, they capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with Hasselbeck tossing a two-yard touchdown pass to WR Darrell Jackson. Then, as the Ravens were attempting to run out the clock, the Seahawks recovered a fumble by RB Chester Taylor at the Baltimore 10 yard line and Hasselbeck threw a quick 10-yard TD pass to WR Bobby Engram with a second left on the clock. In short order, Seattle had built a 17-3 halftime lead.
The Ravens came right back in their first possession of the third quarter, with a six-play drive highlighted by pass from Wright to WR Travis Taylor that covered 43 yards. Wright then tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to WR Marcus Robinson that cut Seattle’s margin to 17-10.
The reduced margin didn’t last long as, on the third play of the next possession, Hasselbeck connected with WR Koren Robinson for a 38-yard touchdown. Seattle added to its lead following a 24-yard punt by Baltimore’s Dave Zastudil that provided good field position and set up a 46-yard field goal by Brown to make the tally 27-10.
Once again the Ravens narrowed the margin as Wright completed a five-play drive with a 50-yard TD pass to Marcus Robinson. And once again the Seahawks came right back with a score as Hasselbeck immediately completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Jackson. There was still time left in the eventful third quarter, and Wright found Marcus Robinson for a third touchdown pass that covered 25 yards. The period ended with Seattle up by 10 at 34-24.
Early in the fourth quarter, it seemed as though the Seahawks had finally put the game away when Hasselbeck tossed his fifth touchdown pass, of five yards to Engram, for a renewed 17-point lead of 41-24. But with 6:41 remaining on the clock, Baltimore safety Ed Reed blocked a Jeff Feagles punt and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens got the ball back when LB Ray Lewis recovered a fumble at his own 29 and Wright led the team on a 71-yard drive through a soft Seattle defense that ended with a nine-yard scoring pass to Marcus Robinson.
The Seahawks still led by 41-38 with 1:12 remaining, and it appeared that they would prevail when they recovered an attempted onside kickoff by the Ravens. But in a pivotal play at the Baltimore 33 with 39 seconds left, Hasselbeck’s quarterback sneak was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-one, and the Ravens got the ball back. A 44-yard pass interference penalty on Seattle CB Marcus Trufant set up the game-tying 40-yard field goal by Stover, and the teams headed into overtime.
The Seahawks had the initial possession in the extra period but were forced to punt. The Ravens responded with a 55-yard drive, with the key play being a 19-yard pass from Wright to Marcus Robinson in a third-and-15 situation. Stover booted a 42-yard field goal, and Baltimore came away with an improbable 44-41 win.
Reflecting the closeness of the final score, each team gained 426 yards of total offense. The Ravens had the edge in rushing yards (150 to 133) while Seattle had the most net passing yards (293 to 276). Both teams sacked the opposing quarterback six times apiece. The Seahawks gave up three turnovers, as opposed to two by Baltimore, while the Ravens were penalized 14 times for 112 yards, compared to Seattle being flagged six times for 89 yards.
Anthony Wright had a career game, completing 20 of 37 passes for 319 yards with four touchdowns – all to Marcus Robinson – and none intercepted. Robinson, for his part, caught 7 passes for 131 yards and the four TDs. Jamal Lewis gained 117 rushing yards on 26 carries.
In defeat, Matt Hasselbeck (pictured at left) was successful on 23 of 41 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Darrell Jackson was the top receiver with 7 catches for 146 yards and two of the TDs. Shaun Alexander ran for 72 yards on 22 attempts.
Said Wright afterward, “It was looking very, very dim. But we just let it all hang out. Everything came together. It's unbelievable, for us to be down as much as were and to come back.” He was then off to the hospital where his wife was expecting delivery of a baby girl.
“We let them back in the football game,” said a disappointed Mike Holmgren. “It was just a bizarre, bizarre ending.”
Referring to the failed quarterback sneak that could have sealed the game in regulation, Matt Hasselbeck said, “We just needed one more play. One more play and we could have won the game. We should have won the game, and we just didn't make it.”
The Ravens built upon the stunning comeback victory to win five of their last six games and finish first in the AFC North with a 10-6 record. They lost to Tennessee in the Wild Card playoff game. The loss to Baltimore knocked Seattle out of first place, but the Seahawks also completed the regular season at 10-6 to end up second in the NFC West. Qualifying for the postseason as a wild card, they too lost in the first round, in overtime to the Green Bay Packers, Holmgren’s previous coaching stop.
Anthony Wright’s performance was easily the greatest of his career. He ended up throwing for 1199 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in ’03, and was 5-2 as the starting quarterback. He never again came close to passing for 300 yards in a game, or tossing more than two TD passes in a contest, and missed the 2004 season altogether due to injury.
Jamal Lewis topped the NFL with 2066 yards rushing on 387 carries (5.3 avg.) with 14 touchdowns and remained the key player on offense.
Marcus Robinson’s four touchdown receptions represented two thirds of his total output of six for the year. He caught 31 passes for 451 yards (14.5 avg.) all told.
Matt Hasselbeck, who had a big passing day in defeat, ranked fourth in the NFL in passing yards (3841) and tied for third in TD passes (26). His 7.5 yards per attempt ranked fourth (tied with Peyton Manning of the Colts) and 12.3 yards per completion placed second. He was selected for the Pro Bowl.
Monday, November 22, 2010
After ten weeks of the 1962 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers were undefeated at 10-0 and apparently cruising toward a second consecutive league title. The Detroit Lions were 8-2 with four games left to play and had lost a hard-fought 9-7 game at Green Bay in Week 4. The clubs were scheduled to meet at Tiger Stadium on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, and the Lions were determined to exact their revenge.
Head Coach Vince Lombardi’s Packers were the highest-scoring team in the league, as well as the best all-around. The offensive line, which contained two future Hall of Famers in center Jim Ringo and tackle Forrest Gregg and an outstanding tandem of guards in All-Pro Jerry Kramer and Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston, allowed the team to roll up yardage on the ground. FB Jim Taylor already had 1121 yards rushing. QB Bart Starr could pass effectively (he came into the game ranked second in the NFL) and had outstanding receivers in flanker Boyd Dowler, split end Max McGee, and TE Ron Kramer (also an outstanding blocker).
Detroit, coached by George Wilson, had long been established as a premier defensive club. Tackles Alex Karras and Roger Brown, MLB Joe Schmidt, CB Dick “Night Train” Lane, and safety Yale Lary were all among the best at their positions (Lary was also an outstanding punter). The Packers had been fortunate to beat them in the first meeting, and therein lay the seeds of discontent among Detroit’s offensive and defensive units.
Pro Bowl QB Milt Plum had been obtained by the Lions from the Browns in the previous offseason, and there was speculation that the upgrade at quarterback might boost Detroit past the Packers in the Western Conference. However, the offense continued to lag, and it was an interception thrown by Plum that had set up Green Bay’s winning field goal in the first meeting.
It didn’t take long for the attacking Detroit defense to stop the Packers in their tracks. Before an enthusiastic sellout home crowd of 57,598, they dumped Starr for a 15-yard loss the first time he dropped back to pass on Green Bay’s third play. Later in the first quarter, Dowler shanked a punt that traveled only 15 yards and gave the Lions the ball on the Green Bay 41. On a third-and-two play, Plum froze the defense by faking a handoff to FB Nick Pietrosante and then fired a pass to split end Gail Cogdill who ran past two defenders for a 33-yard touchdown.
Detroit put the Packers away in the second quarter. Green Bay HB Tom Moore, substituting for the injured Paul Hornung, fumbled and LB Carl Brettschneider recovered at his own 47 yard line. Shortly thereafter, Plum hit Cogdill again for a 27-yard TD and 14-0 lead.
On Green Bay’s next possession, Roger Brown (pictured at left) hit Starr while setting up to pass and forced a fumble that DE Sam Williams picked up and ran into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown. When the Packers got the ball back, again pinned deep in their own territory, Starr faded back into his end zone and was sacked for a safety by Brown, who had run over both Thurston and Taylor in his pursuit of the quarterback. The Lions had scored 16 points in under three minutes of action.
Green Bay got a break late in the second quarter when McGee was roughed while punting from his end zone and the offense put together a sustained drive of 56 yards that included five completed passes by Starr. But Jerry Kramer’s field goal attempt missed after being partially blocked and the Lions carried the 23-0 lead into halftime.
Detroit didn’t let up in the third quarter, as Lane intercepted Starr’s first pass of the second half to set up a 47-yard field goal by Plum. That was the end of the scoring for the Lions. The Packers managed two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter – one by the defense – and the final score was 26-14.
Detroit’s domination of the game that came to be referred to as “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre” was more complete than the score indicated. While both teams turned the ball over five times, the Lions outgained the Packers, 304 yards to 122. The usually unstoppable Green Bay running attack was held to just 73 yards on 27 attempts. Bart Starr was sacked 10 times for a net loss of 93 yards, giving Green Bay just 49 net passing yards (Plum was not sacked at all).
While the defense dominated, Detroit’s offense played just well enough. Milt Plum completed 8 of 16 passes for 137 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. FB Ken Webb, who took over for the injured Nick Pietrosante, gained 62 yards on 11 carries while HB Tom Watkins ran the ball 17 times for 55 yards. Gail Cogdill (pictured below) caught three passes for 79 yards and the two big TDs.
As for the Packers, when Bart Starr was able to throw, he completed 11 of 19 for 142 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. Jim Taylor gained just 47 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown – most of it came later in the game, as he was held to -3 yards in the first half. Ron Kramer caught four passes for 62 yards, and Boyd Dowler also had four receptions, for 41 yards.
“It's a known fact that the Detroit defense is good,” summed up Vince Lombardi. “They
completely overpowered us in the first half…My club wasn't flat. We were ready. They just overwhelmed us.”
Green Bay didn’t lose another game (they came back the next week to thrash the hapless Rams by a score of 41-10) and finished the season at 13-1 atop the Western Conference. They defeated the Giants once again to repeat as NFL champions. The Lions lost the season finale to end up at 11-3 and in second place; their reward was a trip to Miami for the meaningless Playoff Bowl for the third straight year.
The Detroit defense was ranked number one overall in the NFL, giving up a total of 3217 yards (30 yards less than the Packers), and were also best against the run (1231 yards). The 177 points allowed was second best to Green Bay’s 148. Roger Brown, Joe Schmidt, “Night Train” Lane, and Yale Lary were all consensus first team All-Pro selections and were selected to the Pro Bowl along with Alex Karras.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
It had been over two months since NFL teams had last taken the field as the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the San Francisco 49ers at Busch Stadium on November 21, 1982. The players had gone on strike – the first to occur during the season – following the second week of action. The work-stoppage was over, 57 days later, and now Week 3 was occurring late in November.
Head Coach Bill Walsh’s 49ers were coming off a championship season in 1981, but had lost their first two games in ’82 prior to the strike. The Cardinals were 1-1 under Head Coach Jim Hanifan and coming off of a 7-9 year in ’81. The teams had just four days of practice prior to the contest.
There were 38,064 fans in attendance – and, as was the case in many NFL venues on this day, many no-shows (13,328). The 49ers took the early lead as Ray Wersching booted a 36-yard field goal in the first quarter and RB Jeff Moore scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
With 30 seconds remaining in the first half, the Cardinals got on the board as WR Roy Green made a diving catch of a 17-yard pass from QB Neil Lomax for a touchdown. The 49ers got the ball back but fumbled, and LB Charlie Baker recovered for St. Louis. But an opportunity to tie the score at the half was lost when Neil O’Donoghue missed a 44-yard field goal attempt on the last play (he also missed from 47 yards in the first quarter). San Francisco remained in the lead at 10-7.
The Cardinals took advantage of two turnovers in the third quarter to go in front. First, DE Curtis Greer recovered a fumble that set up O’Donoghue’s tying field goal from 30 yards out. Then CB Jeff Griffin intercepted a Joe Montana pass and O’Donoghue kicked a 32-yard field goal to make the score 13-10 in favor of St. Louis. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the failure to get a touchdown on one or both possessions allowed the 49ers ample room to recover.
The turning point in the game came when San Francisco got the ball back, still in the third quarter. Facing a third-and-18 situation in his own territory, Montana connected with WR Renaldo Nehemiah on a 55-yard pass play. Two plays later, Montana threw a six-yard TD pass to TE Russ Francis that put the Niners back in the lead at 17-13.
The Cardinals had a chance to make a big play of their own, but Lomax overthrew Green on what could have been a 45-yard TD pass. Now in the fourth quarter, the 49ers regained possession and went 91 yards in 10 plays with Montana hitting WR Dwight Clark for a 33-yard touchdown.
San Francisco had another big play that set up a third passing touchdown. Montana passed to rookie RB Vince Williams, who proceeded to gain 55 yards to set up a 17-yard TD pass to RB Earl Cooper. In a stretch of 13 minutes, the Niners had scored three touchdowns to take control, at 31-13, of what had been a close game.
38-year-old veteran QB Jim Hart replaced the second-year Lomax with nine minutes remaining and led the Cardinals to a score on a three-yard carry by RB Ottis Anderson. But it was too-little, too-late as the 49ers won by a final score of 31-20.
San Francisco outgained the Cardinals by 448 yards to 254 and had 22 first downs to 15 for St. Louis. The 49ers were damaged by their three turnovers, as opposed to none by the Cardinals, but the failure of the home team to better capitalize on their opportunities set the stage for the Niners to take control.
Joe Montana completed 26 of 39 passes for a then-team record 408 yards with three touchdowns against one interception. The fourth-year veteran out of Notre Dame spread the ball around well as eight different receivers caught at least two passes apiece. In the second half alone, he completed 15 of 20 for 238 yards and all of the TDs.
Dwight Clark (pictured at left) led the club with 6 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown while Renaldo Nehemiah gained 93 yards on three receptions and Jeff Moore contributed four catches for 87 yards to go along with his 9 rushing attempts for 19 yards. Indeed, the 49ers gained just 77 yards on 26 running plays, and Earl Cooper led the way with 30 yards on 7 carries.
For the Cardinals, Neil Lomax was successful on just 9 of 23 passes for 82 yards and a TD. Jim Hart was more proficient, completing 8 of 11 throws for 72 yards. Ottis Anderson led the club with 65 yards on 15 rushes, including a TD, and also caught 6 passes for 51 yards. WR Pat Tilley slightly led in pass receiving yards with 53 on four receptions.
“It's a good way to come back,” Montana said afterward. “My timing wasn't there early and I made a lot of mistakes. But I thought we played well. I wasn't surprised; we looked like we were in good shape in practice.”
There was concern that the players might go back on strike if they voted to reject the preliminary settlement that had allowed play to resume. The Cardinals’ player representative, guard Terry Stieve, said, “Here in St. Louis, we'll ratify it and I have a gut feeling it will be ratified by the players throughout the league. The fans are the forgotten group in this thing, so it's time both sides realize the importance of the fans. I don't blame them for feeling cheated in this deal.”
The games did continue through what became a nine-game regular season. Division play was done away with and the top eight teams in each conference qualified for a playoff tournament. The 49ers didn’t make it that far - plagued by injuries and (according to Coach Walsh) diminished intensity, they ended up with a 3-6 record and a woeful eleventh place in the 14-team NFC. St. Louis made out better, going 5-4 and making it to the postseason as the sixth seeded team in the conference. They were handily beaten by Green Bay in the first round.
Joe Montana topped NFL quarterbacks with 346 attempts and 17 touchdown passes (tied with Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and Dan Fouts of the Chargers) and ranked second in completions (213) and yards (2613). While he was at it, he set a record by stringing together five straight 300-yard passing performances (since exceeded).
Dwight Clark led the league with 60 pass receptions and was second with 913 receiving yards. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl.
The losing record by the 49ers would be their last until 1999 – a string of 16 consecutive seasons in which they would never finish with fewer than 10 wins. The club won four NFL championships during that run.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on November 20, 2005 featured two teams with 6-3 records that were jockeying for position in the hot NFC South race.
The visiting Buccaneers, under the guidance of Head Coach Jon Gruden, had gone undefeated in their first four games and then endured a 1-3 slump before narrowly defeating the Redskins the week before. Rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams (pictured above) had been a big part of the fast start, rushing for 434 yards in his first three games, but he had run into injury problems, and QB Brian Griese was lost for the season in Week 6.
Atlanta, coached by Jim Mora, Jr., featured run-oriented QB Michael Vick; 30-year-old RB Warrick Dunn, still highly effective running the ball; and TE Alge Crumpler on offense. The defense was vulnerable, particularly against the run.
Tampa Bay took the early lead as Matt Bryant kicked a 31-yard field goal to cap the first possession of the game (Williams burst up the middle for 30 yards on the initial play from scrimmage). Shortly thereafter, with Vick on the sideline after being hit hard on a sack at his own one-yard line, DT Anthony McFarland fell on a fumble by backup QB Matt Schaub in the end zone for a touchdown and the Buccaneers led by 10-0 after one quarter.
Bryant kicked another field goal, of 45 yards, to extend the lead to 13-0 in the second quarter, but the Falcons came back with a 10-play drive, highlighted by a 35-yard pass completion from Vick to WR Roddy White, that concluded with a 31-yard field goal by Todd Peterson.
Atlanta’s next possession, following a 49-yard Josh Bidwell punt, covered 83 yards in 10 plays. Vick hit White for a 54-yard gain just prior to the two-minute warning and, on a third-and-seven play at the Tampa Bay 15, Vick connected with Crumpler for 14 yards to the one. From there, RB T.J. Duckett ran for a touchdown and the Bucs’ lead was cut to 13-10 at the half.
On the first possession of the third quarter, the Falcons put together another sustained 10-play drive with Vick throwing for back-to-back 20 yard gains to WR Brian Finneran and Crumpler. With third-and-goal at the Tampa Bay four yard line, Vick tossed a touchdown pass to Crumpler and Atlanta took the lead at 17-13.
The Bucs came right back, however, with a drive highlighted by a 27-yard pass completion from QB Chris Simms to WR Michael Clayton and a 16-yard run by Williams. FB Mike Alstott put Tampa Bay back in front with a one-yard run for a TD.
Atlanta’s Peterson kicked a 20-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 20-20. On Tampa Bay’s second play following the field goal, Simms was intercepted by Falcons LB Keith Brooking near midfield. Atlanta capitalized, converting two third-and-nine plays and scoring on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Vick to WR Michael Jenkins to re-take the lead at 27-20.
With time winding down, the Buccaneers drove from their own 29 yard line following the kickoff. Simms was successful on three of four passes, including an eight-yard pass to Williams on third-and-six to the Atlanta nine, and Williams ran five times for 32 yards, including the nine-yard touchdown run that, combined with Bryant’s extra point, tied the score at 27-27 with just under two minutes left to play.
Atlanta had another shot, but the biggest defensive play of the game occurred when blitzing LB Derrick Brooks forced Vick to fumble and LB Shelton Quarles recovered for the Bucs at the Atlanta 34. Four plays later Bryant kicked a 45-yard field goal. While the Falcons made a last-ditch effort in the final seconds, Michael Koenen’s 55-yard field goal attempt on the final play was wide to the right and Tampa Bay came away with the hard-fought 30-27 win.
Atlanta led in total yards (443 to 258) and first downs (26 to 15). The Falcons converted 11 of 17 third downs along the way. However, their two turnovers resulted in 10 points for Tampa Bay, while the lone turnover by the Bucs led to seven.
Cadillac Williams ran for 116 yards on 19 carries with a TD, and also had the key eight-yard reception as one of his three catches for 13 yards. Chris Simms, improving as Griese’s replacement, completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Michael Clayton was the most productive receiver for the Bucs with 48 yards on his three catches.
Michael Vick (pictured at bottom) completed 21 of 38 passes for 306 yards with two TDs and none intercepted. It was the second 300-yard passing performance of his career, and a change from his usual pattern as his rushing total was light, with 17 yards on four carries. Roddy White caught four passes for 108 yards while Michael Jenkins had 5 receptions for 69 yards and a TD and Alge Crumpler contributed 5 catches for 49 yards and a score. Warrick Dunn led the club with 82 yards on 18 carries.
The win put Tampa Bay in a tie for first in the division with Carolina, while the Falcons fell a game back. The Buccaneers, with the league’s best defense to complement the conservative offense, won four of their last six games for an 11-5 record that still matched the Panthers, but they won the NFC South title thanks to a better division record than Carolina’s. The Bucs lost to Washington in the Wild Card playoff round. Atlanta lost its last three games to drop out of the running and ended up third in the division at 8-8.
Cadillac Williams ended up with 1178 yards on 290 carries (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. He was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.
Michael Vick’s passing statistics were fairly average, as he threw for 2412 yards with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but he led the NFL in average gain-per-carry rushing (5.9) for the second straight season with 597 yards on 102 attempts and was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time. However, his frustration with the offensive system and overall failure to progress as a passer (despite the performance against Tampa Bay) were considered significant factors in the team’s letdown at the end of the season.
Friday, November 19, 2010
The Houston Oilers, defending champions of the American Football League, had gotten off to a rough start in 1961. They were 1-3-1 after five games, and George Blanda (pictured above), the 33-year-old quarterback who had revived his pro football career in ’60 while leading the club to the title, was benched for two games.
However, owner Bud Adams fired Head Coach Lou Rymkus at that point and replaced him with Wally Lemm. There was an immediate turnaround, and by the time the Oilers hosted the New York Titans at Jeppesen Stadium on November 19, they had reeled off four straight wins. Blanda was back at the helm. In the preceding four contests, he had passed for 1076 yards (including 464 in a game at Buffalo alone) with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
The Titans, coached by legendary QB Sammy Baugh, were 5-4 coming into the game. While the offense was capable of providing some excitement, in particular due to the presence of split end Art Powell and flanker Don Maynard, the defense was porous, especially the defensive backfield. Having started off 3-1, New York was in danger of falling out of contention in the Eastern Division.
There were 33,428 fans in attendance at the small venue as Houston took command quickly and decisively. Blanda tossed his first touchdown pass, of 28 yards to flanker Charley Hennigan, at the conclusion of an 80-yard drive early in the first quarter. With 4:40 remaining in the opening period, Blanda tossed a six-yard TD pass to HB Billy Cannon to conclude a six-play possession that covered 31 yards. Before the first quarter was over, the Oilers scored again as Blanda threw another pass to Cannon that covered 78 yards for a third touchdown.
The Titans offense didn’t threaten until midway through the second quarter. Flanker Don Maynard put New York on the board, making an outstanding catch on a four-yard pass from QB Al Dorow, but DE Don Floyd blocked the extra point attempt.
Blanda poured it on as he connected with split end Bill Groman for a 66-yard TD and with Cannon once more for a six-yard score. The tally at the end of the first half was 35-6 and the veteran quarterback had set a new AFL record with five touchdown passes.
Three minutes into the third quarter, Blanda threw for his sixth touchdown, connecting with Groman on a 46-yard play. He tossed his seventh, tying the NFL record held at that point by Sid Luckman of the Bears and Philadelphia’s Adrian Burk, in the fourth quarter on a play that covered 11 yards to Groman.
Dorow, who was constantly harassed by the aggressive Houston defense, tossed a second TD pass, of 11 yards to TE Thurlow Cooper, to salvage a slight bit of pride for the Titans. Houston won by a final score of 49-13.
The Oilers rolled up 555 yards, to 347 for New York, and the Titans further hurt their cause by turning the ball over four times, as opposed to just once by Houston. There was plenty of aggressive play on both sides, and several fights broke out, including one that cleared both benches. Altogether, 18 penalties were called, resulting in 193 yards (11 for 128 yards on Houston, 7 for 65 yards on the Titans). Three players were ejected.
In throwing for seven touchdowns, George Blanda completed 20 of 32 passes for 418 yards and was picked off once. Three Houston receivers gained over 100 yards – Bill Groman led the group with 5 catches for 152 yards and three TDs, followed by Charley Hennigan, who caught 8 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, and Billy Cannon added 122 yards on 7 receptions with three scores. Cannon added another 41 yards on 14 rushes, behind FB Charley Tolar, who gained 58 yards on 11 carries, and FB Dave Smith with 49 yards on six attempts.
For the visitors, Al Dorow went to the air 47 times and had 21 completions for 278 yards with two TDs and three interceptions. HB Dick Christy led the club with 7 catches for 103 yards out of the backfield. FB Bill Mathis ran for 68 yards on 14 carries.
It was another big performance by the defending champions as they surged back into the Eastern Division race. Ultimately, the Oilers went undefeated the rest of the way, winning the division with a 10-3-1 record and again beating the Chargers for the AFL title. The Titans ended up in third place at 7-7.
The offense in particular achieved many superlatives. George Blanda threw 36 touchdown passes, exceeding the existing NFL record of 32, and also led the AFL in passing yards (3330), yards per attempt (9.2, almost two yards per pass better than the runners-up), yards per completion (17.8), and percentage of TD passes (9.9). Considering he had actually missed two full games due to being benched, it was an amazing overall performance. Blanda was selected as AFL Player of the Year by the Associated Press and UPI.
Bill Groman, with his three touchdown catches against New York, caught a TD pass in his 8th consecutive game. While he was shut out the next week, he ended up with 17 touchdown receptions to not only lead the league but tie the existing NFL record. Groman caught 50 passes for 1175 yards.
Charley Hennigan set a single-season record with 1746 receiving yards that not only was never beaten in the AFL, but wasn’t exceeded in the NFL until 1995. He ranked second in both receptions (82) and receiving touchdowns (12).
Billy Cannon led the AFL in rushing with 948 yards on 200 carries and was also the league’s all-purpose yardage leader with 2043. The 1959 Heisman Trophy-winner out of LSU scored a total of 15 touchdowns (6 rushing, 9 receiving). As his performance against the Titans demonstrated, Cannon was a potent pass receiving threat out of the backfield and caught 43 passes for 586 yards.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Pittsburgh Steelers had won the Super Bowl following the 1978 season and looked to be well on their way to repeating as they took on the Chargers at San Diego Stadium on November 18, 1979. Under the guidance of Head Coach Chuck Noll, who had built the club into a winner with three championships since arriving ten years before, they were 9-2. Moreover, they had won their last four games, the previous two by a combined score of 68-10.
The Chargers had been far less successful during the past decade – after regularly contending in the 1960s in the AFL, they had not been in the postseason in 14 years. However, they were in their first full season under Head Coach Don Coryell and, featuring a high-powered passing offense, were 8-3. Eighth-year QB Dan Fouts was flourishing and had an outstanding group of receivers to throw to – most notably, wide receivers John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner. However, they also had an aggressive and solid defense, as the Steelers would find out.
There were 51,910 loud and enthusiastic fans in attendance as the defense set up San Diego’s first touchdown of the game. LB Ray Preston intercepted a pass by Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw that gave the Chargers possession at the Pittsburgh 37 yard line. Two plays later, Fouts completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jefferson. The score stood at 7-0 after one quarter.
In the second quarter, the Chargers put together a 72-yard drive with Fouts completing a six-yard TD pass to TE Bob Klein to cap it and extend the lead to 14-0. Later in the period, Preston picked off another Bradshaw pass and returned it 35 yards to the three yard line. RB Bo Matthews plunged into the end zone from two yards out and San Diego took a 21-0 lead into halftime.
As for the Steelers, Bradshaw had failed to complete a pass to a wide receiver in the first half. San Diego’s linebackers left the pass-rushing to the linemen and played back, thus forcing Bradshaw to throw short passes to his running backs. Standout wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were both double-covered throughout the game.
Pittsburgh’s only score came at 6:30 in the third quarter on a two-yard carry by RB Rocky Bleier. But Chargers LB Woodrow Lowe (pictured at top) intercepted a deflected Bradshaw pass later in the period that he returned 77 yards for a touchdown and 28-7 score.
CB Mike Williams intercepted another pass by Bradshaw that set up the last San Diego touchdown in the fourth quarter. RB Hank Bauer, the team’s short-yardage specialist (he carried just 22 times for 28 yards all season, but scored eight touchdowns), plowed over from two yards out, and that provided the final tally of 35-7. It was the worst loss for the Steelers in nine years.
San Diego’s offense had a relatively ordinary day, but the defense was superb. The Chargers outgained the Steelers, 218 yards to 191, but the clubs were even in first downs with 14 apiece. Pittsburgh turned the ball over eight times, to four by San Diego, and Bradshaw was sacked four times. Every Charger received a game ball, and Woodrow Lowe and Ray Preston each got two.
Dan Fouts completed just 11 of 24 passes for 137 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. John Jefferson (pictured at right) was the leading receiver with 5 catches for 106 yards and a TD. The Chargers running attack was ordinary (at best) throughout the year and RB Mike Thomas was the leading rusher in this game with 53 yards on 13 carries (the team ended up ranking 27th in the league in rushing).
Terry Bradshaw, who was relieved by backup QB Mike Kruczek in the fourth quarter, was successful on 18 of 36 pass attempts for 153 yards with no TDs and five interceptions (two each by Preston and Lowe). RB Franco Harris, who led the club with just 44 yards on 20 attempts, was also the leading receiver with 7 catches, for 50 yards. John Stallworth gained 55 yards on four receptions while Lynn Swann was held to two catches for 28 yards.
“We have to credit San Diego with beating us,” said Chuck Noll, a former Chargers assistant coach in the 1960s. “They had a lot to say about what went on. They made it happen. Bradshaw was 100 percent, but the only receivers that were open were linebackers.”
“I got real acquainted with the defense today,” Bradshaw added. “They played awesome. They put on the best rush I've ever seen all year, by far. We ran into a team ready to play a lot more than we were. We were bad, and when we're bad, we're really bad.”
San Diego lost just once more to finish the regular season on top of the AFC West with a 12-4 record. However, they were upset by the Houston Oilers in the Divisional playoff. The Steelers also ended up with a 12-4 tally but were far more successful in the postseason, beating the Rams to win a second straight Super Bowl (their fourth in six years).
While the Chargers were best known for their league-leading passing offense that ended up tied with New England for second in the NFL with 411 points scored (the Steelers were first with 416), they also surrendered the fewest points of any AFC club (246) and were second in the conference in passes intercepted (28).
Dan Fouts didn’t have a strong performance against Pittsburgh, but he went on to set a new passing yardage record with 4082. Terry Bradshaw wasn’t far behind with a career-high 3724 yards (the Hall of Fame quarterback also had another career-high figure by throwing 25 interceptions).
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The main headline in the Chicago Tribune on November 17, 1963 read “Nation Awaits Bears-Packers Today”, and there was no question that the contest at Chicago’s Wrigley Field between the host Bears and visiting Green Bay Packers was significant.
Head Coach Vince Lombardi’s Packers had won the Western Conference the previous three seasons and went on to win the NFL Championship in 1961 and ’62. Seasoned and solid on both offense and defense, they were 8-1 heading into the showdown at Wrigley Field, having lost the opening game to the Bears in Green Bay by a 10-3 score. The offense, however, had sustained two key losses – one prior to the start of the season when star HB Paul Hornung was suspended by Commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling, and the second in the sixth game when QB Bart Starr suffered a broken hand. 32-year-old veteran QB Zeke Bratkowski had been obtained from the Rams, but it was John Roach, in his third season as the backup, running the offense for the fourth straight game at Chicago.
The Bears, coached by the “Papa Bear”, 68-year-old George Halas, were also 8-1, having been upset by the 49ers in Week 6. The offense, led by QB Bill Wade, was conservative and unexciting, but the defense, coached by George Allen, was excellent against both the run and pass. The line was anchored by All-Pro DE Doug Atkins; the linebacking corps of Joe Fortunato, Bill George, and Larry Morris was considered the best in pro football; and the defensive backfield featured All-Pro safeties Roosevelt Taylor and Richie Petitbon (Morris pictured above tackling Roach).
There was a capacity crowd of 49,166 in attendance on a pleasant day. The Halas game plan was to control the ball and smother Green Bay’s offense, and that is what happened. The tempo was set in the first quarter.
The Packers received the opening kickoff and gained a first down on two five-yard runs by FB Jim Taylor, but were shut down thereafter. Jerry Norton’s punt traveled only 27 yards, giving the Bears good field position at their 40 yard line. They drove to the Green Bay 22, with FB Joe Marconi starting off with a nine-yard run and TE Mike Ditka catching a 16-yard pass from Wade, and Roger LeClerc kicked a 29-yard field goal.
The next Green Bay possession resulted in a 38-yard punt which, combined with a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul on OT Forrest Gregg, put the Bears on the Green Bay 47. The resulting possession ended with a 46-yard field goal by LeClerc to extend the lead to 6-0.
Packers CB Herb Adderley returned the ensuing kickoff from three yards deep in his end zone to the 35, but fumbled when hit by Chicago end Bo Farrington and LeClerc recovered. Wade passed to split end Angelo Coia for 14 yards and then fleet HB Willie Galimore (pictured at right) raced 27 yards for a touchdown. The score stood at 13-0 at the end of the first quarter, and for all intents and purposes the outcome was decided.
The Bears had another chance to score in the second quarter after Joe Fortunato recovered a fumble by Roach at the Green Bay 33, but LeClerc missed a 19-yard field goal attempt after Chicago drove to the 12.
In the first possession of the third quarter, the Bears went 68 yards, highlighted by a screen pass from Wade to Marconi that gained 28 yards to the Green Bay 43. The drive was finally stopped at the 12 and LeClerc kicked another field goal to extend the margin to 16-0.
The teams traded punts, and then Roosevelt Taylor (pictured at left) pulled a Roach pass out of the hands of flanker Boyd Dowler at the Green Bay 43 and returned it to the 35. However, the Packers defense stiffened and LeClerc missed another field goal attempt.
Bratkowski entered the game at quarterback for the Packers, but on the first play of the fourth quarter he was intercepted by CB Dave Whitsell, leading to a successful LeClerc field goal of 35 yards. With the clock running down to nine minutes, Bratkowski went to the air again but missed WR Bob Jeter twice on long passes, and the Bears took over on downs after four incompletions.
LeClerc missed a 49-yard field goal attempt, but after HB Tom Moore ran for 18 yards, Bratkowski was intercepted by CB Bennie McRae, who returned it 46 yards to the Green Bay 5. Wade faked a pass and then ran five yards for a touchdown on second down.
The Packers finally scored with just over four minutes left to play on an 11-yard run by Moore following a 64-yard pass play from Bratkowski to split end Max McGee, but other than salvaging some pride, it was meaningless (it was also the first touchdown the Packers had scored in two games against Chicago that season).
Following Green Bay’s touchdown, the Bears ran the clock down. Fittingly enough, the last play was Taylor intercepting a Bratkowski pass and Chicago came away with a convincing 26-7 win that put them alone in first place.
The Bears threw just 14 passes but ran the ball 57 times for an impressive 248 yards while holding the vaunted Packers running attack to 71. It was a great job of ball control to complement the domination by the defense, which constantly broke through to disrupt running plays, shutting down the famed Green Bay power sweep on several occasions before it could get under way. Perhaps most significantly, the Packers turned the ball over seven times while Chicago suffered no turnovers at all.
Bill Wade (pictured above right) directed the offense well and, in keeping with the game plan, didn’t throw often – he was good on 6 of 14 passes for 92 yards, and while he threw no touchdown passes, he also gave up no interceptions. He also ran the ball four times for 28 yards and a touchdown. Willie Galimore was the top rusher with 79 yards on 14 carries, including the one score. It was a group effort by the stable of running backs – Joe Marconi added 52 yards on 14 attempts, FB Rick Casares 44 yards on 11 rushes, and HB Ron Bull had 30 yards on four carries. Mike Ditka and Angelo Coia caught two passes apiece, with Ditka gaining the most yards (32 to Coia’s 26, while Marconi had 28 on his lone reception). Roger LeClerc (pictured below left) was another key to the club’s success, making good on four of seven field goal attempts.
Green Bay’s quarterbacks were a combined 11 for 30 and suffered five interceptions. John Roach was successful on 8 of 20 passes for 92 yards with two intercepted. Zeke Bratkowski was able to complete only 3 of 10 passes for 86 yards with three picked off (Bart Starr was active for the game but his only action was as holder on the lone placekick). Tom Moore was the leading rusher with 50 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Jim Taylor, after gaining the quick 10 yards to start the game, was held to only 13 yards the rest of the way and ended up with 23 on seven attempts. Thanks to the long reception late in the game, Max McGee was the leading receiver with three catches for 93 yards.
“They just beat the hell out of us, both ways, offensively and defensively,” said Coach Lombardi afterward.
Phil Handler, the Bears’ offensive line coach, was given the game ball in recognition of the inspired line play that allowed the Bears to run effectively and control the ball.
While the Bears tied their next two games, they didn’t suffer any losses the rest of the way and finished in first place with an 11-1-2 record. Green Bay also didn’t lose again, including one tie, to come in second at 11-2-1. The season series sweep by Chicago made all the difference – it was the first time since Lombardi’s first year in 1959 that a team had beaten the Packers twice in the same season. The Bears went on to defeat the New York Giants to win the NFL Championship – it was the sixth league title for Halas, who led the team to its first 42 years earlier.
The Bears finished at the top in total defense, including the rare distinction of being best against both the run and the pass. They allowed a league-low 144 points, intercepted an NFL-best 36 passes, and also were at the top with 57 sacks. The offense, by contrast, ranked 10th overall of the 14 NFL teams – but with only 25 turnovers (which, since the defense had 54 takeaways, gave Chicago a +29 differential), they minimized the mistakes and controlled the football enough to reach the top.