October 24, 2014

Rookie of the Year: DeMeco Ryans, 2006

Linebacker, Houston Texans

Age: 22
College: Alabama
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 229

Ryans was a consensus first-team All-American in 2005 and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He was chosen by the Texans in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft. An outside linebacker in college, he was moved to middle linebacker by Houston where he became an immediate contributor and outshone first overall pick DE Mario Williams. What Ryans lacked in size and speed he made up with excellent instincts and technique.

2006 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Sacks – 3.5
Most sacks, game – 1 at Dallas 10/15, at NY Giants 11/5, at Oakland 12/3
Interceptions – 1
Int. return yards – 16
Int. TDs – 0
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 1
Tackles – 126
Assists – 30

Awards & Honors:
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA

Texans went 6-10 to finish fourth in the AFC South.

Ryans followed up with a Pro Bowl season in 2007 and established himself as a top player at his position and a leader on the Houston defense. He was a Pro Bowl selection again in 2009 but went down with an Achilles tendon injury six games into the 2010 season and the defense suffered in his absence. Ryans returned to play in every game in 2011 but was less successful playing in a 3-4 defense and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. He continued to be a solid starter in Philadelphia, and while less effective in pass coverage than earlier in his career, Ryans brought savvy and leadership. Through 2013, he had accumulated 13.5 sacks, five interceptions, 667 tackles and 209 assists.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year).

October 23, 2014

1977: Raiders Score 2 TDs in 4th Quarter to Overcome Todd & Jets

The Oakland Raiders, defending NFL Champions, were heavy favorites as they faced the New York Jets on October 23, 1977. Head Coach John Madden’s team was 4-1 and coming off a loss the previous week to the upstart Denver Broncos. QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler (pictured at right) gave up seven interceptions against the Broncos, but was still a highly capable passer while FB Mark van Eeghen led the ground attack, and the line was very much a strong point. The aggressive defense was showing some age in spots but remained a tough unit.

New York, meanwhile, was 2-3 under new Head Coach Walt Michaels and in the process of rebuilding. Gone was star QB Joe Namath, and in his place was another quarterback out of Alabama, Richard Todd. The team’s 1976 first draft choice was showing potential, but had tossed only three touchdown passes thus far. Another player displaying potential was swift rookie WR Wesley Walker, who could make big plays but also had many drops in the early going.

There were 56,734 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at Shea Stadium. The Raiders took the opening kickoff and drove 72 yards in 12 plays. Mark van Eeghen ran the ball seven times for 48 yards, with a 19-yard carry setting up his three-yard touchdown run. Errol Mann kicked the extra point to give the visitors the early 7-0 lead.

The Jets responded with a six-play, 73-yard possession. Richard Todd completed three passes to TE Jerome Barkum, the second for 39 yards to the Oakland 22 and the last for an 18-yard TD. Pat Leahy converted to tie the score.

Oakland came back with a long scoring drive of 76 yards in 13 plays. Ken Stabler completed a pass to TE Dave Casper for 13 yards in a third-and-12 situation and connected with Casper again for a 19-yard touchdown. Mann’s kick gave the Raiders a 14-7 lead.

The Jets then struck quickly in return. On the second play after the kickoff, and following a holding penalty that backed them up to their 13 yard line, Todd fired long down the right sideline for Wesley Walker (pictured at left), who beat CB Skip Thomas to make the catch and went the distance for an 87-yard TD. However, Leahy missed the extra point and Oakland was still ahead by 14-13 at the end of the eventful opening period.

Following a quarter of unstoppable offense, the teams traded punts to start the second quarter. Midway through the period, the Jets again moved rapidly to put points on the board. On first down, Todd again went long for Walker and it was complete for a 52-yard gain to the Oakland 22. FB Clark Gaines picked up eight yards on a draw play and then Todd passed to WR Rich Caster coming across the middle for a 14-yard TD. This time Leahy made good on the PAT and New York held a 20-14 lead.

On the next series, the Jets got the ball back when Stabler, pressured by DE Lawrence Pillers, threw a pass that was intercepted by LB John Ebersole. But two plays later, Todd was picked off by CB Neal Colzie. The visitors went three-and-out on the resulting possession and punted, and, taking over with 1:41 left in the first half, the Jets advanced 58 yards in eight plays to extend their lead. Todd completed four straight passes at one point, the first to Walker for 21 yards, and he finished off the drive with a throw to Gaines in the middle of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. Leahy converted and New York had a 27-14 halftime margin.

The third quarter started with turnovers as Todd fumbled the ball away while attempting to pass, Casper coughed up the football after making a catch, and Colzie intercepted a throw from Todd. The last gave the Raiders the ball at their own five yard line, and unable to move on offense, they punted and the Jets had good starting field position at the Oakland 43. Two carries by HB Kevin Long and a screen pass to Gaines advanced the ball to the 20, but the drive stalled and Leahy was wide on a 32-yard field goal attempt.

In a series that extended into the fourth quarter, the Raiders drove 80 yards in 11 plays. Stabler completed five passes, including one to Casper that gained 18 yards in a second-and-11 situation, and the drive was capped by a throw to WR Fred Biletnikoff for a seven-yard touchdown. Mann added the extra point and New York’s lead was cut to six.

The Jets had to punt after a short series but retained possession due to a penalty on the Raiders. Todd threw to Caster for a 58-yard gain to the Oakland 10, but the Raiders held and Leahy missed another field goal try, this time from 26 yards.

On the ensuing series, Stabler threw to WR Mike Siani for gains of 29 and eight yards to reach the New York 43, and following a short carry by van Eeghen, “The Snake” connected with Casper for 15 yards. Two more runs by van Eeghen picked up eight yards before Stabler found Siani in the left corner of the end zone for a 24-yard TD. Mann’s conversion put the Raiders in front by a point.

Pinned deep in their territory following the kickoff, the Jets couldn’t get beyond their 14 and had to punt. Oakland took possession at the New York 44 with 6:11 left and never relinquished it. van Eeghen and HB Clarence Davis chipped away and reached the 11, from where Mann attempted a 27-yard field goal that missed to the right. However, the Jets were penalized for running into the kicker and that clinched it. The Raiders won by a final score of 28-27.

The game was reminiscent of the old shootouts so common when the teams were in the AFL. The Jets had the edge in total yards (442 to 423), although Oakland was more balanced with 213 net passing yards and 210 on the ground, while the Raiders had the lead in first downs (29 to 17). New York turned the ball over three times, to two by Oakland, but ultimately the game came down to Pat Leahy’s missed extra point and two errant field goals.

Mark van Eeghen (pictured at right) had a big rushing performance, gaining 143 yards on 36 carries that included a touchdown. Ken Stabler completed 19 of 26 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, two of them in the fourth quarter, and gave up one interception. Dave Casper had 7 catches for 92 yards and a TD and Mike Siani contributed 86 yards on his five receptions that also included a score.

For the Jets, Richard Todd had a big performance as he hit on 17 of 29 throws for 396 yards and four touchdowns while being picked off twice. Wesley Walker caught four of those passes for 178 yards and a TD, Jerome Barkum added another 94 yards on four receptions that included a score, and Rich Caster pulled in three catches for 82 yards and another TD. Clark Gaines had 5 pass receptions for 38 yards and a TD and also led the club with 9 carries for 35 yards on the ground.

“We all knew what we had to do,” said Ken Stabler regarding the Oakland comeback. “We were 13 points down but we knew we had plenty of time. We kept our poise.”

The Raiders went on to win their next three games on the way to an 11-3 record, although for the first time in six years they failed to finish first in the AFC West. They were second to the Broncos, but qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card and reached the conference title game before falling to Denver. New York continued to struggle and won only one more contest the rest of the way to end up fourth in the AFC East at 3-11.

Ken Stabler passed for 2176 yards and his 20 touchdowns ranked second in the NFL, although he also gave up 20 interceptions. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time. Mark van Eeghen led the AFC with a career-high 1273 yards on 324 carries (3.9 avg.).

Richard Todd (pictured at left), who missed three games due to injury, had a respectable season with 1863 passing yards and 11 touchdowns while being intercepted 17 times. Wesley Walker had 35 catches for 740 yards and three TDs, and his 21.1 yards per reception led the NFL.  

October 22, 2014

1961: Mitchell & Plum Spur Browns Over Steelers

The Cleveland Browns were 3-2, having lost the previous week against Green Bay, as they took on the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 22, 1961. Head Coach Paul Brown’s team had an outstanding rushing tandem with FB Jim Brown and HB Bobby Mitchell operating behind a solid line, but the pass receivers were less impressive and now QB Milt Plum was out with a dislocated right thumb suffered against the Packers. Len Dawson, still yet to emerge in his fifth year after having been drafted by the Steelers in the first round out of Purdue in 1957, was starting in his place.

Pittsburgh, under Head Coach Buddy Parker, was 1-4 and had showed a tendency for losing close contests. QB Bobby Layne was out with a shoulder injury and Rudy Bukich, a 29-year-old career backup, was filling in. Split end Buddy Dial was a fine deep threat FB John Henry Johnson led the ground game, but age, combined with a big turnover in personnel, was a problem for the Steelers on both sides of the ball.

There were 29,266 fans in attendance at Forbes Field. The Steelers had first possession and punted, but got the ball back when CB Johnny Sample intercepted Len Dawson’s third pass. Rudy Bukich threw to Buddy Dial for 19 yards but, after advancing to the Cleveland 36, the home team came up empty when Lou Michaels was short and low on a 44-yard field goal attempt.

On Cleveland’s next series, Bobby Mitchell ran to his right and down the sideline for a 48-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 16. Two carries by HB Tom Watkins picked up six yards, but Dawson was then sacked by DT Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb and Lou Groza kicked a 24-yard field goal to make it 3-0.

The Steelers punted following a short series and, in a drive that extended into the second quarter, the Browns advanced deep into Pittsburgh territory. Jim Brown ran four consecutive times for 22 yards to start things off and Mitchell converted a fourth-and-one play with a two-yard carry. However, after Brown took a pitchout and ran 20 yards to the Pittsburgh one yard line, the great fullback fumbled while attempting to hurdle the line and safety Jackie Simpson caught the ball in the air in the end zone and returned it to the nine.

The Steelers again had to punt and the Browns, taking possession at their 49, went 51 yards in seven plays, this time not coming up empty. Brown and Mitchell ran effectively and Dawson completed a pass to Mitchell for nine yards. Mitchell gained the last six yards for a touchdown and, with Groza’s extra point, the visitors were in front by 10-0. That remained the score at halftime as the teams traded punts for the remainder of the half.

The frustrated home fans booed the Steelers as they returned to the field for the second half. The Browns edged into Pittsburgh territory on the first series of the third quarter, but a Dawson pass was picked off by CB Bill Butler and he returned it to the Cleveland 42. Now the Steelers moved effectively with John Henry Johnson and HB Tom Tracy running well. Bukich threw to Dial for a 12-yard touchdown and, adding Michaels’ PAT, which hit the crossbar but made it over, the Cleveland lead was cut to 10-7.

A short possession by the Browns was followed by a punt and, after no gain on a first down running play, Bukich connected with Dial on three straight passes for 17, 33, and 10 yards to reach the Cleveland 13. HB Dick Hoak ran twice for eight yards and, on third-and-two, Dial came through with a leaping catch that picked up three yards. On the next play, Tracy ran for a two-yard TD between the goal posts and, with Michaels successfully converting, the Steelers were ahead by 14-10.

Milt Plum was at quarterback for the next Cleveland series, and he threw to ends Leon Clarke for 23 yards and Rich Kreitling for 10 to get to the Pittsburgh 35. The drive stalled at the 29 and Groza kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it a one-point contest.

On the last play of the period, safety Bobby Franklin intercepted a Bukich pass and the Browns, taking over at the Pittsburgh 25, drove to a score in five plays. Plum had a pass to Mitchell for 11 yards along the way and it was Mitchell running the last nine yards for a touchdown. Groza added the extra point and Cleveland was back in the lead by 20-14.

The Steelers had to punt on their next series, but got the ball back at the Cleveland 24 when Mitchell fumbled a pitchout and DT Joe Krupa recovered. Tracy was stopped for a four-yard loss on the next play, but Bukich connected with Dial for 24 yards and Tracy gained the last yard for a TD. Michaels converted to put the home team back on top by 21-20.

The Browns came back with a six-play, 72-yard drive. Plum completed a pass to TE Gern Nagler for 18 yards and another to Mitchell, also for 18, and after Mitchell ran for 14 yards, he sped around end for an 18-yard touchdown. Groza kicked the point after and the see-saw battle had Cleveland back in front by 27-21.

On Pittsburgh’s first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Bukich tossed a screen pass to Johnson who fumbled after running into his own man and DE Paul Wiggin recovered for the Browns at the 10. The Steelers were able to keep the visitors out of the end zone, but Groza kicked a 12-yard field goal to make the score 30-21 with less than three minutes remaining to play.

Pittsburgh, starting at its own six after the kickoff, responded with a big play two snaps later as Bukich connected with Dial for an 88-yard touchdown. Michaels kicked the PAT to make it a two-point game, but by the time the Steelers got the ball back again, the clock was down to 45 seconds and the game ended for them on their 32 yard line. Cleveland came away with a 30-28 win.

The Browns had the edge in total yards (378 to 309) and first downs (21 to 17), with 229 of their total coming on the ground. They also turned the ball over four times, to three suffered by Pittsburgh, but recorded six sacks, to one by the Steelers.

Both Bobby Mitchell and Jim Brown went over a hundred yards rushing, with Mitchell compiling 119 yards on 14 carries that included three touchdowns and Brown gaining 114 yards on 29 attempts. Mitchell also caught four passes for 47 more yards to lead the Browns. Len Dawson completed 6 of 12 passes for 68 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions before being relieved by Milt Plum, who was 6-of-8 for 88 yards and, while also throwing for no TDs, gave up no interceptions. Lou Groza was successful on all three of his field goal attempts.

For the Steelers, Buddy Dial (pictured at right) had a huge performance in defeat with 9 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Rudy Bukich was successful on 15 of 24 throws for 275 yards and two TDs with one interception. John Henry Johnson rushed for 35 yards on 8 carries and Tom Tracy was right behind with 34 yards on 12 attempts that included two for touchdowns.

The Browns won again the next week as they sought to keep up with the Giants and Eagles in the Eastern Conference, but they ultimately finished at 8-5-1 to settle for third place. Pittsburgh came back with a three-game winning streak, including one over the Browns in the rematch in Cleveland, and finished strong for a 6-8 record that ranked fifth in the conference.

Bobby Mitchell was called up to active military duty but was still able to get passes to play on the weekends and rushed for 548 yards on 101 carries (5.4 avg.) and had 32 pass receptions for another 368 yards (11.5 avg.), scoring a total of 10 touchdowns. Jim Brown, as he had in each of the previous four seasons since entering the NFL, led the league in rushing with 1408 yards on a then-record 305 carries (4.6 avg.) and received his annual first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl honors. Milt Plum topped the NFL in passing efficiency for the second straight year, completing 58.6 percent of his throws for 18 TDs against 10 interceptions.

As had been the case throughout his career to date, Len Dawson saw scant action over the course of the season, throwing 15 passes -  his highest total thus far. He moved over to the Dallas Texans of the AFL in 1962 and his fortunes changed dramatically for the better.

In his third year, Buddy Dial gained selection to the Pro Bowl after catching 53 passes for 1047 yards (19.8 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. His 235-yard pass receiving performance against the Browns remained the franchise record until 2002. Rudy Bukich ultimately moved back to the bench with the return of Bobby Layne, but won four of his seven starts and had a solid completion percentage of 57.1 on his 156 passes. 11 were good for TDs, but he also gave up 16 interceptions.

October 21, 2014

1973: Vikings Sink Feisty Eagles as Gilliam Stars

The Minnesota Vikings were undefeated at 5-0 as they hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on October 21, 1973. Head Coach Bud Grant’s team had not allowed more than 16 points in any game thus far, but while best known for strong defense, the Vikings were a formidable team on offense as well. 33-year-old QB Fran Tarkenton was an outstanding and mobile passer, rookie FB Chuck Foreman was potent as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield, and WR John Gilliam (pictured at right) provided speed on the outside. The line was solid.

Philadelphia, under first-year Head Coach Mike McCormack, was 1-4-1 and a seventeen-point underdog. Coming off of a dreadful last-place finish the year before, the Eagles were rebuilding with an offense led by QB Roman Gabriel, a 12th-year veteran who had been obtained at heavy price from the Rams during the offseason. 6’8” WR Harold Carmichael was having a breakout season and rookie TE Charle Young further bolstered the passing game. The problem was with a thin defense in need of fortification on the line and at linebacker.

It was a clear day at Metropolitan Stadium with 47,478 fans in attendance. The Eagles got the first break when Chuck Foreman fumbled at the end of a 16-yard run and DE Will Wynn recovered at the Minnesota 41. However, they weren’t able to gain much ground and Tom Dempsey’s field goal attempt from 44 yards was wide to the right.

The Vikings responded with an 80-yard drive in six plays. Fran Tarkenton ran twice for 19 yards and John Gilliam ran for 44 yards and a touchdown on a well-executed double-reverse. Fred Cox added the extra point for the early 7-0 lead.

The teams traded punts, each stopping just short of midfield. A Philadelphia series was then blunted when Harold Carmichael’s gain on a pass into the flat was nullified by a hurdling penalty as the rangy wide receiver leaped over CB Nate Wright. Following a punt, Minnesota moved methodically into Eagles territory on a series that extended into the second quarter. Tarkenton completed four short passes, with a 10-yard completion to WR Carroll Dale gaining the necessary yardage to convert a third down, and also scrambled for a 12-yard gain in a second-and-nine situation. But after reaching the Philadelphia 24, Cox’s field goal try from 31 yards was blocked by CB Joe Lavender.

Another short series led to a punt by the Eagles, and the Vikings didn’t come up empty this time, advancing 65 yards in seven plays. In a third-and-seven situation, Tarkenton threw twice to Gilliam for 14 and 42 yards to the Philadelphia six. Three plays later, HB Oscar Reed leaped into the end zone from a yard out and, with Cox’s conversion, Minnesota was up by 14-0.

Regaining possession with four minutes remaining in the first half, the Eagles put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive. HB Po James (pictured below) started off with a 17-yard carry up the middle and Gabriel completed five passes along the way. In a fourth-and-one situation at the Philadelphia 46, HB Tom Sullivan ran for four yards. A holding penalty nullified an apparent long scoring toss to Carmichael, but following a nine-yard gain by James on a draw play, Gabriel threw to Charle Young for 20 yards, to James for 12, and to Carmichael for 11. James ran the last 12 yards for a TD and, and with Dempsey adding the PAT, the home team’s lead was halved to 14-7. There was still 1:03 left in the period as the Vikings regained possession, but Cox was short on a field goal attempt from 53 yards and time ran out on the Eagles at their 31.

Philadelphia had first possession in the third quarter but had to punt, and the short kick by Tom McNeill gave the Vikings the ball at their own 43. They went 57 yards in eight plays, the last a Tarkenton pass to a wide-open Gilliam for a 24-yard touchdown. Cox kicked the extra point to make it a 21-7 game.

The Eagles responded with a 14-play, 76-yard scoring drive of their own. Gabriel, with his first of six completions during the series, threw to Young for a 24-yard gain.  Four of his passes, in fact, were to the rookie tight end, the last for 12 yards to the Minnesota three, and two plays later FB Lee Bouggess ran for a two-yard TD. Dempsey’s conversion again made it a seven-point margin.

In a series that moved into the fourth quarter, the Vikings came back with a 69-yard drive that took 13 plays. Tarkenton (pictured at left) had completions to TE Stu Voigt for 15 and 13 yards and Foreman outraced Lavender and FS Bill Bradley to the goal line for a five-yard touchdown. Cox again made it a 14-point game with the extra point.

The teams exchanged punts before the Eagles put together a nine-play, 78-yard series. Gabriel threw to WR Don Zimmerman for 14 yards and to Carmichael for 19 in a third-and-10 situation and James had runs of 22 and seven yards. From the Minnesota 17, Young took a handoff on an end-around play and plowed over three defenders on the way to a TD. Dempsey initially failed to convert, but an offside penalty on the Vikings gave him a second chance that he made good on.

The determined Eagles had again closed to seven points and there were four minutes remaining to play, but they never got the ball again as Minnesota was able to run out the clock, helped by Tarkenton’s 16-yard scramble that converted a third-and-nine situation. The final score was 28-21.

The Vikings led in total yards (409 to 315) and first downs (25 to 19), with Minnesota’s total showing offensive balance – 217 on the ground and 192 net yards through the air. The Vikings suffered the game’s only turnover and managed to record two sacks, to one by Philadelphia.

John Gilliam caught 6 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown and added another TD on his 44-yard run. Fran Tarkenton completed 16 of 21 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and also ran for 49 yards on 9 carries. Chuck Foreman topped the Vikings with 68 rushing yards on 21 attempts that included a TD.

For the Eagles, Roman Gabriel was successful on 23 of 32 throws for 201 yards and no TDs but also no interceptions. Po James ran for 78 yards on 11 carries that included a score and also had 6 catches for 25 yards. Charle Young (pictured at right) caught 6 passes also, for 86 yards, and had the 17-yard touchdown carry and Harold Carmichael contributed 6 receptions for 52 yards.

The Vikings reached 9-0 before finally dropping a game and ended up on top of the NFC Central with a 12-2 record. They won the NFC Championship but were handily beaten by Miami in the Super Bowl. Philadelphia won its next two games and continued to provide exciting offense and mediocre defense on the way to a 5-8-1 tally and third place finish in the NFC East.

John Gilliam went on to a Pro Bowl season as he caught 42 passes for 907 yards (21.6 avg.) and scored eight touchdowns. Fran Tarkenton remained efficient throwing the ball, completing 61.7 percent of his passes and compiling a career-high 93.2 rating while giving up only seven interceptions.

Roman Gabriel led the league in pass attempts (460), completions (270), yards (3219), and TD passes (23, tied with Roger Staubach of the Cowboys) and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Harold Carmichael topped the NFL in both pass receptions (67) and yards (1116) and Charle Young received Rookie of the Year recognition for his 55 catches and 854 yards. Both receivers were Pro Bowl choices and received All-NFL recognition, with Young a consensus first-team honoree.

October 20, 2014

Highlighted Year: Bryan Barker, 1997

Punter, Jacksonville Jaguars

Age: 33
8th season in pro football, 3rd with Jaguars
College: Santa Clara
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 186

A four-year varsity punter in college, where he had an 81-yard punt in a game against Humboldt State as a junior, Barker failed to receive any NFL offers and played semi-pro football until being invited to Denver’s training camp in 1988 and Seattle’s in ’89, but was cut prior to the season in each instance. He finally caught on with the Chiefs in 1990 and spent four seasons with them, averaging 41.4 yards on 272 punts. He spent one year with Philadelphia before joining the expansion Jaguars in 1995. Barker averaged 43.8 yards on 82 punts in ’95 and 43.7 yards on 69 kicks in 1996. While not known for having a strong leg, he was a good directional punter.

1997 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Punts – 66
Most punts, game – 7 at Pittsburgh 10/26, vs. Kansas City 11/9
Yards – 2964
Average – 44.9 [7]
Best average, game – 53.8 (on 5 punts) at Dallas 10/19
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 64 yards

Attempts – 1
Yards – 0
Average gain – 0.0
TDs – 0

Attempts – 1
Completions – 1
Yards – 22
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 0

Postseason: 1G (AFC Wild Card playoff at Denver)
Punts –4
Yards – 118
Average – 29.5
Blocked – 0
Longest punt – 35 yards

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA
1st team All-NFC: Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Jaguars went 11-5 to finish second in the AFC Central and qualify for the postseason as a Wild Card entry. Lost AFC Wild Card playoff to Denver Broncos (42-17).

Barker spent three more seasons with Jacksonville before moving on to Washington as a free agent, where he was reunited with Marty Schottenheimer, his head coach with the Chiefs, in 2001. Following three years with the Redskins, and with his skills in decline, he spent a season with Green Bay in 2004 and appeared in nine games with the Rams in ’05. After drawing no interest in 2006, Barker officially retired. Overall, over the course of 16 years, he played in 236 games and punted 1132 times for a 42.1 average. Only two were blocked, and none in his last 878 punts, a streak which ranks second all-time in the NFL. His 326 punts inside the 20 ranked third all-time at his retirement and included a record-tying 8 in one game against the Ravens in 1999. Barker’s greatest success was with the Jaguars, with a 43.5-yard average on 456 kicks and a career-long 83-yard punt, also in 1999.


Highlighted Years features players who were first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

October 19, 2014

1975: Turner’s Game-Ending Field Goal Lifts Broncos Over Browns

The Denver Broncos were struggling at 2-2, having lost two straight after opening the season with two victories, as they hosted the winless Cleveland Browns on October 19, 1975. Under Head Coach John Ralston, the Broncos were coming off the first two winning records in franchise history in 1973 and ’74, but HB Otis Armstrong, the league’s rushing leader the previous year, was sidelined with a rib injury and veteran QB Charley Johnson, a month shy of his 37th birthday, was beginning to show his age.

The Browns, under first-year Head Coach Forrest Gregg, were having trouble on both sides of the ball in achieving a 0-4 record, having difficulty scoring points on offense while the defense had given up over 40 in each of the previous three contests. QB Mike Phipps had yet to live up to his first-round draft billing in 1970 and was feeling heat from backup Brian Sipe, but there was talent to throw to in WR Reggie Rucker and TE Oscar Roan, and HB Greg Pruitt, once a spot player, was proving to be valuable in carrying a heavier workload.

One thing both teams had going for them was placekickers. Denver’s 34-year-old Jim Turner (pictured above), who was in his twelfth year and had originally found notoriety with the Jets,  was a perfect seven-for-seven in field goal attempts thus far and Don Cockroft of the Browns, an eight-year veteran who also handled the punting, had made good on 12 straight field goal tries going back to 1974.

It was a bright, clear day with 52,590 fans in attendance at Mile High Stadium. The Browns had the first possession and moved well down the field. Greg Pruitt ran four times for 23 yards and caught a pass for another 15. The drive stalled at the Denver seven and Don Cockroft kicked a 24-yard field goal.

Following a short series that ended with a punt, the Broncos got the ball back at the Cleveland 25 thanks to a fumble. Charley Johnson threw to WR Haven Moses for 17 yards, but after two carries by FB Jon Keyworth advanced the ball to the Cleveland three, an illegal procedure penalty moved Denver back and they, too, settled for a field goal of 25 yards by Jim Turner.

The teams traded turnovers, with CB Earlie Thomas intercepting a Mike Phipps pass for the Broncos that he returned to the Cleveland five, but HB Oliver Ross fumbled at the two to end the scoring opportunity. The Browns, with Brian Sipe now at quarterback, advanced to their 20 during the remainder of the opening period and were forced to punt. Two plays later, in the early moments of the second quarter, Johnson was stripped while attempting to lateral and DT Walter Johnson recovered for Cleveland at his 47. Helped along by a roughing-the-passer penalty in a third-and-11 situation, the Browns reached the Denver 32 and Cockroft kicked another field goal, from 49 yards, to go back in front by 6-3.

The Broncos approached midfield on their next possession as Charley Johnson completed a pass to WR Bill Van Heusen for 12 yards and ran the ball himself for a 13-yard gain in a second-and-14 situation. The drive stalled at the Denver 46, but Van Heusen, back to punt, faked and threw to Ross for a gain of 30 yards, although he again fumbled and LB Dave Graf recovered for the Browns.

Cleveland went three-and-out and punted, and the Broncos again moved effectively. Johnson threw to WR Jack Dolbin for a 22-yard gain that converted a third-and-20 situation and had completions to Keyworth for 16 and 13 yards to reach the Cleveland 31. The drive again was halted and Turner kicked a 48-yard field goal to knot the score at 6-6 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.

Now the Browns moved well on offense. Sipe completed passes for 10 and 13 yards to Oscar Roan that converted third downs and, with the clock down to eight seconds, Cockroft kicked a 43-yard field goal to put the visitors in front once more by 9-6 at halftime.

Neither team was able to move effectively to start the third quarter until the Browns, getting good field position at the Denver 44 following a 16-yard punt return by DB Pete Athas, advanced 40 yards. Pruitt gained a yard up the middle to convert a fourth down play and he and FB Billy Pritchett carried the load before the drive halted at the four. Cockroft booted a 20-yard field goal and Cleveland was in front by six.

A fumble by HB Floyd Little gave the Browns the ball at the Denver 26 and an opportunity to build upon their lead, but they came up empty when Cockroft was wide to the left on a 27-yard field goal attempt, his first miss after hitting on 16 straight. Early in the fourth quarter, another Cleveland possession concluded with Cockroft successfully kicking a 42-yard field goal, and the visitors were ahead by 15-6.

WR Rick Upchurch returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Denver 43 and the Broncos proceeded to drive 57 yards in nine plays. Steve Ramsey (pictured at right) was now at quarterback, but it was Keyworth running the ball and a pass interference penalty gaining 20 yards that moved Denver along to the Cleveland 25. Following another short gain of one yard by Keyworth, Ramsey threw to the fullback for 10 yards and then to TE Riley Odoms for 13. Keyworth fittingly completed the series by plowing a yard into the end zone and, with Turner’s conversion, the Cleveland lead was cut to 15-13.

The Browns got a good kickoff return of their own as WR Billy LeFear ran 38 yards to the 50 and Sipe immediately followed with a pass to Reggie Rucker for 20 yards. But after getting to the Denver ten, Cockroft nicked the right upright with a field goal attempt that bounced away unsuccessfully.

Ramsey quickly passed the Broncos down the field, hitting on passes of 11 yards to Odoms and 25 to Upchurch, and Keyworth ran around end for a 34-yard gain to the Cleveland 11. But three plays later Ross fumbled once more and the Browns recovered in the end zone to blunt the threat.

A short Cleveland series ended with a punt and Denver took over possession with 1:43 remaining to play. Two passes to Little and a throw to Dolbin got the ball into Cleveland territory at the 46, but two more throws were incomplete. Facing fourth-and-four, Ramsey kept the ball and ran around end for 10 yards for a first down and, on the game’s final play, Turner kicked a dramatic 53-yard field goal, which was the longest of his career. The Broncos came away winners by a final score of 16-15.

Denver led in total yards (325 to 271) and first downs (18 to 17). However, the Broncos also turned the ball over six times, to two by Cleveland. Ultimately, the game came down to Don Cockroft (pictured below), who hit on a team-record five field goals (since broken by Phil Dawson), missing two of his attempts, while Jim Turner was successful on all three of his for the Broncos, with the eight three-pointers in all tying the then-NFL record (the record moved up to nine in 1996).

Charley Johnson completed 9 of 22 passes for 110 yards with one interception before he gave way to Steve Ramsey, who was successful on 10 of 12 throws for 94 yards with no TDs or interceptions. Jon Keyworth ran for 62 yards on 11 carries that included the game’s only touchdown and caught 6 passes for 45 yards. Rick Upchurch averaged 32.8 yards on six kickoff returns to go along with 21 yards on two catches and seven yards on one running play.

For the Browns, Mike Phipps was two-of-eight for 28 yards and gave up an interception and Brian Sipe was 12-of-25 for 111 yards and had none picked off. Greg Pruitt gained 64 yards on 19 carries in addition to catching three passes for 20 yards. Oscar Roan was the top receiver with 5 receptions for 52 yards.

The stirring win for the Broncos, which nevertheless highlighted their problems on offense, was followed by three straight losses as they went on to a disappointing 6-8 record, which placed them second in the AFC West. Cleveland reached 0-9 before winning three of its last five games to finish with a 3-11 tally that ranked at the bottom of the highly-competitive AFC Central.

Jim Turner went on to achieve a career high for field goal percentage at 75.0 (21 of 28) and, adding in 23 PATs, he scored 86 points. Don Cockroft finished 17-for-23 in field goal kicking (73.9 %) and also averaged 40.5 yards on his 82 punts.

October 18, 2014

1964: Old Pro Matson Runs for 100 Yards as Eagles Beat Giants

The Philadelphia Eagles were 2-3 and missing star HB Timmy Brown as they traveled to New York to face the Giants on October 18, 1964. A refurbished team under Head Coach/GM Joe Kuharich, the Eagles had started the year by thrashing the Giants 38-7, and they had great success blitzing on defense, with FS Don Burroughs having a particularly notable outing. Brown, who led the NFL in all-purpose yards the two previous years, was out with a thigh injury, and in his place would be a past all-purpose star, 34-year-old Ollie Matson (pictured above).

Matson had played under Kuharich in college with the legendary Univ. of San Francisco team that went undefeated in 1951 before moving on to the Cardinals, where he was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection five times and was selected to six Pro Bowls. With both size (6’2”, 220) and speed, he was a record-setting kick returner in addition to being an excellent runner from scrimmage. However, after being traded to the Rams in a celebrated deal for nine players (including two draft picks), Matson began to fade from view, being used as a flanker and defensive back as well as halfback and fullback with a losing club. After a year in Detroit in which he ran the ball just 13 times, caught two passes, and returned three kickoffs, he was packaged to the Eagles along with DT Floyd Peters in a trade for OT J.D. Smith. There were questions as to whether he still could contribute, and now with Brown sidelined he would get his chance.

In addition to Brown’s injury, another key player on the offense, TE Pete Retzlaff, was hobbled by a rib injury and kicker Sam Baker, also newly-acquired by the Eagles for 1964, was suffering from a sprained ankle. Backup QB King Hill took over the punting and LB Dave Lloyd handled kickoffs, but the 35-year-old Baker was still available for extra points and field goals.

As for the Giants, coached by Allie Sherman and winners of the Eastern Conference title in each of the three previous seasons, things had not gotten better since the opening loss at Philadelphia. They were 1-3-1, coming off a tie at Dallas the previous week, and the once-mighty offense was notably lacking. Age had taken its toll as QB Y.A. Tittle, just days short of his 38th birthday, was struggling, in addition to other veteran stalwarts such as FB Alex Webster and flanker Frank Gifford.  The defense was missing MLB Sam Huff and DT Dick Modzelewski, who were traded away during the offseason.

There were 62,978 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium and they saw things start off quickly for the Eagles when Giants HB Dick James fumbled after catching a pass on the first play from scrimmage and LB Mike Morgan recovered at the New York four yard line. Ollie Matson breezed off tackle for a touchdown and, with Sam Baker’s extra point, Philadelphia was ahead by 7-0 just 35 seconds into the contest.

The Giants went three-and-out on the ensuing series and punted, with Don Chandler’s short kick giving the Eagles good field position at the New York 45. Following an incomplete pass on first down, Matson ran twice for seven yards and Baker kicked a 45-yard field goal to put the visitors ahead by 10-0.

New York responded with a scoring drive, advancing 67 yards in ten plays. Y.A. Tittle completed four passes and James plunged the last yard for a TD. Don Chandler added the point after to narrow Philadelphia’s lead to 10-7.

The Eagles punted following a short series but got the ball right back when CB Nate Ramsey intercepted Tittle’s pass on first down at the New York 40. Philadelphia kept the ball on the ground with Matson and FB Earl Gros pounding away, and when the drive finally stalled at the three, Baker kicked another field goal, this time of 10 yards.

With time running down in the opening period, the Giants had to punt, and on the first play of the second quarter Matson broke away for a 54-yard touchdown as Gros threw a devastating block to help clear the way. Baker’s conversion had the Eagles in front by 20-7.

Another punt by the Giants was followed by a series in which the visitors advanced into New York territory, but Gros fumbled the ball away at the 26 and DE Andy Robustelli recovered and returned it to the 45. With rookie Gary Wood (pictured at right) now in at quarterback for New York, the Giants drove to a score. Wood showed off his scrambling ability by picking up ten yards on a third-and-six play to the Philadelphia 41 and converted another third down with a nine-yard carry. However, he was also sacked by the blitzing Ramsey and the Giants settled for a 42-yard Chandler field goal to make it a ten-point game.

There were still over three minutes remaining in the first half and FB Israel “Izzy” Lang returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the New York 45. The Eagles got another Baker field goal, from 46 yards, and went into halftime with a 23-10 lead.

The third quarter was scoreless, with the closest either team came to putting points on the board a 43-yard Chandler field goal attempt that was wide to the left. Tittle returned to the game in the fourth quarter and helped pull the home team closer after a punt was fumbled by Lang, giving New York possession at the Philadelphia 34. A pass interference call in the end zone on a third-and-12 toss put the Giants at the one, from where Alex Webster ran in for the score. Chandler added the extra point to make it a six-point game.

The Giants went three-and-out after regaining possession following an Eagles punt, and when Philadelphia punted again, James apparently lost track of King Hill’s kick in the glare of the sun and the visitors were able to down it at the one. In the last two minutes, New York was unable to get out of its end of the field and the Eagles came away with a 23-17 win and season sweep of the Giants – the first since 1960, when Philadelphia won the NFL Championship.

New York had the edge in total yards (194 to 167) and first downs (18 to 8), with the Eagles far more successful on the ground (149 yards) than through the air (a net total of just 18 yards). However, Philadelphia’s heavy blitzing recorded seven sacks, to none by the Giants, and New York turned the ball over four times, as opposed to two turnovers by the Eagles.

Ollie Matson gained an even 100 yards on 19 carries that included two touchdowns. QB Norm Snead completed only 5 of 13 passes for 18 yards and TE Ralph Smith, in place of Pete Retzlaff, topped the Eagles with a mere two catches for 12 yards. Sam Baker (pictured below) was successful on all three of his field goal attempts, and it was thus the highly-experienced tandem of Matson and Baker, with a total of 20 NFL seasons between them prior to ’64, that accounted for all of Philadelphia’s points.

For the Giants, Y.A. Tittle made good on 14 of 27 throws for 147 yards and had one intercepted and Gary Wood contributed three completions in seven attempts for 29 yards, also tossing an interception, while gaining 24 yards on four runs. FB Ernie Wheelwright ran for 42 yards on 12 attempts to lead the team’s runners. Flanker Joe Morrison caught 6 passes for 45 yards and split end Del Shofner accumulated 62 yards on his four receptions.

The Eagles won again the next week but only twice more the rest of the way, finishing in a tie for third in the Eastern Conference with a 6-8 record. To be sure, it marked improvement after back-to-back last place finishes. New York’s collapse continued with the once-mighty Giants falling all the way to the bottom at 2-10-2.

Ollie Matson continued to play well in place of Timmy Brown and after, rushing for 404 yards on 96 carries (4.2 avg.) and catching 17 passes for another 242 yards (14.2 avg.), scoring a total of five touchdowns. He also saw action on kick returns and gained 760 all-purpose yards, his best output since he was with the Rams in 1961. Matson lasted two more seasons as a valuable reserve in Philadelphia to cap his Hall of Fame career.