November 20, 2014

1994: Rice Has 16 Catches, 3 TDs as 49ers Overcome Rams


The San Francisco 49ers were cruising along at 8-2 as they hosted the rival Los Angeles Rams on November 20, 1994. Head Coach George Seifert’s team had an outstanding offense built around the nucleus of QB Steve Young, WR Jerry Rice (pictured at right), and RB Ricky Watters, and there were plenty of other fine players around them. The defense benefited from the addition of CB Deion Sanders and was anchored by young DTs Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young.  

The Rams, coached by Chuck Knox, were struggling at 4-6 and had been beaten handily by the 49ers at home earlier in the season. QB Chris Miller was talented but injury prone and RB Jerome Bettis was having difficulty duplicating his first-year exploits, although rookie WR Isaac Bruce was showing promise.

There were 62,774 fans in attendance for the Sunday night game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers took the opening kickoff and drove 72 yards in eight plays. Steve Young completed five passes, three of them to Jerry Rice and the last to WR John Taylor for a seven-yard touchdown. Doug Brien added the extra point.

The Rams responded with a seven-play drive of their own that covered 48 yards. Chris Miller was sacked by DT Bryant Young for a loss of eight yards on first down and had to leave the game, but backup QB Tommy Maddox completed passes to RB David Lang for ten yards and WR Todd Kinchen for 39 to the San Francisco 21. Los Angeles reached the 14 before the drive stalled and Tony Zendejas kicked a 31-yard field goal.

San Francisco put together another methodical drive of 67 yards in 13 plays. Young completed five more passes, two of them to Ricky Watters and two to Rice, the second for a seven-yard TD. Brien converted and the Niners took a 14-3 lead into the second quarter.

LA benefited from a roughing-the-passer penalty on Miller, who was back in the game, and two completions to Isaac Bruce picked up 18 yards to the San Francisco 10. Once again the Rams were unable to reach the end zone, but Zendejas added another field goal from 27 yards to narrow the home team’s lead to 14-6.

The scoring parade finally ended as the teams exchanged punts. Starting from their own eight, the 49ers advanced 92 yards in 12 plays. Watters gained 22 yards on two carries to start, RB Dexter Carter ran twice more for 17 yards, and Young completed five passes and scrambled once for a first down. Rice again had two catches, and again the second was good for a touchdown, this time from six yards out. Brien added the PAT and the Niners took a 21-6 lead into halftime.

The Rams took the second half kickoff and drove 70 yards in six plays, the biggest of which was an end-around in which Kinchen raced 44 yards for a TD. The try to pass for two points failed and the score stayed at 21-12.

Once again the 49ers moved effectively down the field. Young had completions to Rice for 29 yards and Watters for 14, but this time they ended up with a field goal by Brien from 28 yards, still keeping them comfortably in the lead by 24-12.

LA faced a third-and-12 situation on its next series but Miller completed a pass to Kinchen for the needed yards and, three plays later, the Rams pulled off another big play when Miller threw long down the left sideline for WR Willie “Flipper” Anderson, who beat Deion Sanders and went the distance for a 50-yard touchdown. Zendejas added the extra point and the visitors were now just five points behind at 24-19.



On San Francisco’s second play after the ensuing kickoff, Young (pictured at left) went deep for Watters to pick up 35 yards and, adding on an unnecessary roughness penalty, the Niners advanced all the way to the LA 26. But the 49ers were able to gain only three more yards and Brien’s 41-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right.

The Rams were on the move as the game headed into the fourth quarter. Miller completed passes to Anderson for 14 yards and Jerome Bettis for 20 to reach the San Francisco 36. Two runs by Bettis, plus a facemask penalty, picked up another 14 yards before Miller fired a pass toward the goal line that WR Jessie Hester caught for a 22-yard TD. Bettis successfully ran for a two-point conversion and the upset-minded Rams were ahead by 27-24.

The 49ers again reached Los Angeles territory, but a penalty for an illegal forward pass by Young, who was a yard past the line of scrimmage on what would have been a long completion to TE Brent Jones, forced them to punt. The Rams went three-and-out and had to punt in turn and the 49ers, starting from their 43, advanced back into LA territory. But after a six-yard run by Watters gave the Niners a first down at the 25, Rice fumbled when hit by LB Shane Conlan after catching a pass and DE Gerald Robinson recovered for the Rams.

LA again couldn’t move on offense and punted following a short series, and San Francisco responded with a 10-play, 67-yard drive. Young threw to Jones for 19 yards and to Rice for 14 yards in a third-and-six situation. The drive was capped by another Young pass to Rice that resulted in an 18-yard touchdown. Brien’s extra point put the 49ers back on top by four.

The Rams regained possession with 1:56 remaining in regulation. Miller passed them to the San Francisco 38, but a holding penalty backed them up, Deion Sanders deflected a throw into the end zone that was intended for Anderson, and Lang dropped a fourth-down pass to seal the 31-27 win for the 49ers.

San Francisco had significant edges in total yards (459 to 358) and first downs (32 to 17). They also recorded the game’s only two sacks, but also the only turnover and led in penalties (7 for 60 yards to five for 50).

Jerry Rice set a then- club record with 16 catches, good for 165 yards and three TDs, and made up for his fourth quarter fumble with the game-winning reception. Steve Young completed 30 of 44 passes for 325 yards and four touchdowns with none intercepted and also ran for 23 yards on 10 carries. Ricky Watters gained 81 yards on 20 rushing attempts and added 74 more yards on five pass receptions. John Taylor also had five catches, for 49 yards and a score.



For the Rams, Chris Miller (pictured above) was successful on 16 of 33 throws for 228 yards and two touchdowns, also with no interceptions. Willie Anderson caught five passes for 99 yards and a TD while Todd Kinchen contributed 51 yards on two receptions and had the one 44-yard scoring run, which made him the team’s leading rusher. Jerome Bettis was held to 29 yards on 15 attempts.

San Francisco kept on winning, finishing atop the NFC West with a league-best 13-3 record and going on to thrash San Diego in the Super Bowl. The Rams didn’t win again the rest of the way, ending up at the bottom of the division with a 4-12 tally. It was the franchise’s last season in Los Angeles as it departed for St. Louis the following year.

Jerry Rice led the NFL with 1499 yards on 112 catches that included 13 touchdowns. It marked his ninth consecutive season with over a thousand receiving yards and he was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection for the eighth time and a Pro Bowl selectee for the ninth straight year. Steve Young led the league in passing with a 112.8 rating and in touchdown passes with 35. He received consensus league MVP honors in addition to being a first-team All-NFL choice for the third year in a row and a Pro Bowl selection.

November 19, 2014

1950: Walker Scores All 24 Points for Lions in Win Against Packers


The Detroit Lions were struggling, having lost four straight games, as they hosted the Green Bay Packers on November 19, 1950. Coached by Bo McMillin for the third year, the Lions were nevertheless assembling talent that would make them a formidable team over the next few seasons. Fiery and talented QB Bobby Layne had been obtained from the New York Bulldogs and HB Bob “Hunchy” Hoernschemeyer arrived from the defunct All-America Football Conference. Rookies included guard Lou Creekmur and the last two Heisman Trophy winners, end Leon Hart from Notre Dame and all-purpose HB Doak Walker (pictured at right) out of Southern Methodist.

Walker had been a high school teammate of Layne in Dallas, Texas and then a three-time All-American at SMU who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1948. An injury hindered his performance in ’49, but he still came in third in the voting for the coveted award. He had been a tremendous all-around talent in college, but at 5’11” and 170 pounds, there were questions as to whether he had the size to succeed as a pro, and there were doubts about his speed as well. But thus far, Walker was productive as a halfback who often caught passes out of the backfield, kick returner, and placekicker and punter.

The Packers had a new head coach in Gene Ronzani, only the second in their history after the departed Curly Lambeau. They had a talented rookie quarterback in Tobin Rote and also benefited from the demise of the AAFC, adding end Al Baldwin and HB Billy Grimes. But the defense was dreadful, and after winning two of their first three games, the Packers were in the midst of a five-game losing streak. They lost badly to the Lions in their previous meeting.

There was a small crowd of 17,752 fans in attendance on a dark and rainy day at Briggs Stadium. The opening period was scoreless, but both offenses cut loose in the second quarter. First, Bobby Layne threw a pass to Doak Walker for a 33-yard touchdown and Walker added the extra point. Green Bay responded with a series highlighted by Tobin Rote passing to HB Jug Girard for a 55-yard gain. Two plays later Rote connected with end Steve Pritko for a three-yard TD and Ted Fritsch tied the score with the PAT.

Shortly thereafter, Green Bay got the ball back again when DHB Bob Forte intercepted an option pass by Walker at the Detroit 30. Rote threw to Al Baldwin for 28 yards and FB Jack Cloud added another touchdown for the Packers as he dove into the end zone from two yards out. Fritsch converted to put Green Bay ahead by seven. With time running out in the first half, Walker kicked a 35-yard field goal and the score was 14-10 in favor of the Packers at halftime.

In the third quarter, Layne threw to Walker again for a 20-yard TD that put the Lions back in front by 17-14, Walker once again successfully kicking the extra point. Layne was injured, however, and Fred Enke came on in relief.

Following the ensuing kickoff, Green Bay advanced 69 yards but Detroit’s defense stopped two runs from the one yard line to force the Packers to turn the ball over on downs. Pinned deep in their own territory, the Lions punted and the Packers regained possession with favorable field position at the Detroit 35. Once again Green Bay moved effectively, but this time a Rote pass into the end zone was intercepted by DHB Don Doll.

Three plays later, the Packers got a break when DT Joe Spencer recovered a fumble at the Detroit 23. Following a running play, Rote completed a pass to HB Larry Coutre for 19 yards. Early in the fourth quarter, Cloud scored again for the Packers, this time plunging into the end zone from a yard out. Fritsch’s PAT gave the visitors a four-point edge.

The Lions put together a 73-yard drive and, with the game down to the last two minutes, Walker struck once more with an eight-yard touchdown catch of an Enke pass. It was Walker again adding the point after and Detroit came away with a 24-21 win, Walker having accounted for every point.



The Lions had the edge in total yards (376 to 309) and first downs (19 to 16). Bobby Layne and Fred Enke combined to pass for 241 yards for the Lions while Tobin Rote (pictured at left) completed 13 of 31 passes for 184 yards in defeat. However, the teams combined for 11 turnovers, with Detroit accounting for six to Green Bay’s five.

The Lions won their next two games before dropping the season finale to end up even with a 6-6 record, which placed fourth in the National Conference. Green Bay won the following week before dropping the last two contests and tying for fifth in the conference with the 49ers at 3-9.

With the 24-point performance, Doak Walker’s scoring total was up to 91 and thus set a new franchise record, besting the 81 points by Bill Dudley the previous year. He went on to lead the NFL with 128 points and was fourth with 1262 all-purpose yards. Walker scored 11 touchdowns (five rushing, six receiving), kicked 8 field goals in 18 attempts, and was 38-of-41 on extra points. Continuing to display the all-around skills that had made him a college legend, he rushed for 386 yards on 83 carries (4.7 avg.), caught 35 passes for 534 yards (15.3 avg.), added another 302 yards returning kicks, and even intercepted a pass on defense that he returned 40 yards. Walker was a first-team All-NFL selection by the Associated Press and UPI and received second-team honors from the New York Daily News. He was also selected for the Pro Bowl.

November 18, 2014

1990: Cunningham Rallies Eagles to Win Against Falcons


The Philadelphia Eagles, who started the 1990 NFL season at 1-3, carried a 5-4 record into Atlanta as they took on the Falcons on November 18. Under brash Head Coach Buddy Ryan, the aggressive defense was the key to Philadelphia’s success, anchored by DE Reggie White and featuring other outstanding players such as DE Clyde Simmons, DT Jerome Brown, LB Seth Joyner, and CB Eric Allen. Exciting QB Randall Cunningham (pictured at right), fleet-footed as well as strong-armed, directed the offense that lacked a potent ground attack but benefited from the addition of rookie wide receivers Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams.

Atlanta was struggling under first-year Head Coach Jerry Glanville. The wide-open passing offense was operated by QB Chris Miller and received a boost from the arrival of WR Andre Rison. However, the running game was only fair and while the defense was effective against the run, the backfield, despite the presence of rookie CB Deion Sanders, was prone to giving up big plays.

There were 53,755 fans in attendance at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The Falcons had the first possession and drove deep into Philadelphia territory, the big play being a pass from Chris Miller to WR Michael Haynes for 55 yards to the 11. RB Steve Broussard followed up with a seven-yard run to the four, but two more running plays gained two yards and, trying to convert on fourth-and-one, Broussard ran wide to his left and was tossed for a four-yard loss by Seth Joyner.

The teams traded punts until, with just over three minutes remaining in the opening period, the Falcons commenced a 10-play, 73-yard series that extended into the second quarter. On a third-and-three play at the Philadelphia 40, Miller threw to Andre Rison for a 24-yard gain and that was followed by a pass interference penalty on Eric Allen that put the home team on the two yard line. Once again the Eagles defense proved difficult to penetrate, but the Falcons prevailed when RB Tracy Johnson ran for a touchdown from a yard out. Greg Davis added the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Philadelphia drove into Atlanta territory on the next possession, with RB Keith Byars (pictured below) gaining 20 yards on a carry from his 32 and Randall Cunningham completing two passes. However, penalties hindered the advance, including one that nullified an apparent TD throw to Fred Barnett, and the Eagles were forced to punt.



The Falcons, pinned deep in their own territory, also had to punt but retained possession when WR Anthony Edwards fumbled on the return. Atlanta was still unable to move the ball and punted again shortly thereafter and the Eagles, taking over at their 21, went 79 yards in just four plays. Cunningham threw to Byars, who picked up 33 yards, and then to TE Keith Jackson for another 27 to the Atlanta 19. Following the two-minute warning, Calvin Williams ran for 18 yards on a reverse and Cunningham finished off the drive with a one-yard TD pass to Jackson. Roger Ruzek added the point after to tie the score.

There was still 1:46 on the clock as the Falcons started a series that moved 25 yards in nine plays. Miller completed three passes to Rison, but three throws from the Philadelphia 36 fell incomplete and Davis kicked a 53-yard field goal that put the home team back on top by 10-7 at halftime.

Neither team was able to move the ball well to start the third quarter until the Falcons, on their second series, put together a nine-play, 34-yard scoring drive. Miller completed four passes along the way, including three on consecutive plays, to set up another Davis field goal, this time from 46 yards.

On Philadelphia’s next play following the ensuing kickoff, RB Heath Sherman fumbled and DE Tim Green recovered for the Falcons at the Eagles’ 35. In a series that extended into the fourth quarter, Atlanta chipped away and got a break when, after calling on Davis to successfully kick another field goal, a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the Falcons a first down at the four. However, on first down Clyde Simmons sacked Miller for a six-yard loss and two passes fell incomplete. The home team still had to settle for a Davis field goal, this time from 28 yards. Atlanta was ahead by 16-7, but had missed an opportunity to take a more commanding lead.

RB Thomas Sanders returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Philadelphia 35, and Cunningham went to the air, hitting Byars for five yards and Barnett for 29. The five-play series covered 65 yards as Cunningham completed one more throw to Jackson for a 17-yard touchdown. Ruzek converted and Atlanta’s lead was down to two points.

The Falcons turned the ball over when a fumbled snap was recovered by Jerome Brown and the Eagles took full advantage on the next play when Cunningham fired to Williams for a 30-yard TD. Ruzek again converted and the visitors were in the lead by a score of 21-16.

Now it was Atlanta’s turn to advance quickly down the field. Following two incompletions, Miller converted a third-and-ten play with a pass to WR George Thomas that picked up 50 yards. Another pass to Rison was good for a 23-yard touchdown and, with Davis converting the extra point, the Falcons were back in the lead by 23-21 with 8:30 to play.

At this point the teams exchanged punts. Scott Fulhage’s 29-yard kick for the Falcons gave the Eagles the ball at their 47 and, with the clock now down to 3:26, Cunningham completed three passes to advance to the Atlanta 29. The drive stalled, but Ruzek’s 46-yard field goal attempt was successful and the visitors were back in front by one.

In the time remaining, the Falcons were unable to come back as Miller threw an incomplete pass, exited the game due to a bruised sternum, and backup QB Scott Campbell had three more incompletions to effectively end the game. Philadelphia came away the winner by a score of 24-23.

Atlanta led in total yards (315 to 279) and time of possession (35:51 to 24:09) while the teams were even in first downs with 16 apiece, although the Falcons had difficulty running the ball, gaining just 59 yards. The Eagles turned the ball over twice, to one by Atlanta, while the Falcons were penalized eight times, to seven flags thrown on Philadelphia.

Randall Cunningham completed 16 of 27 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns with none intercepted. Keith Byars had 7 catches for 78 yards in addition to rushing for 26 yards on three attempts. Keith Jackson contributed four receptions for 54 yards that included two TDs. Heath Sherman was Philadelphia’s leading rusher with just 27 yards on 11 carries.


For the Falcons, Chris Miller was successful on 19 of 38 throws for 268 yards and a TD, also giving up no interceptions. Andre Rison (pictured at left) caught 7 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown and Michael Haynes added 70 yards on his three receptions. Steve Broussard ran for 25 yards on 10 attempts to top the club.

The Eagles went 4-2 the rest of the way to finish second in the NFC East with a 10-6 record. They lost to Washington in the Wild Card round, their third straight failure to advance past the initial playoff game.  Atlanta kept losing, reaching seven consecutive defeats before winning the final two games to end up at 5-11 and fourth in the NFC West.

Randall Cunningham led the NFC with 30 touchdown passes and had his best year to date (his sixth) as he threw for 3466 yards with a completion percentage of 58.3 and a passer rating of 91.6. He also rushed for 942 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl as well as receiving MVP honors from the Pro Football Writers and the Bert Bell Award from the Maxwell Club as Player of the Year. Keith Byars led the club with 81 catches for 819 yards and Keith Jackson was a consensus first-team All-NFL choice with his 50 receptions for 670 yards.

Andre Rison ranked second in the NFL in pass receptions (82) and TD catches (10) and third with 1208 yards. He was also a consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selection.

November 17, 2014

Highlighted Year: Drew Bledsoe, 1994

Quarterback, New England Patriots





Age:  22
2nd season in pro football & with Patriots
College: Washington State
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 233

Prelude:
In college, Bledsoe set single-season school records for passing yards (3946) and completions (241) and had a 476-yard passing performance. He was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year following the 1992 season. Bledsoe entered the NFL draft following his junior year and was picked first overall by the Patriots. Bledsoe moved directly into the starting lineup as a rookie and passed for 2494 yards and 15 touchdowns as well as 15 interceptions, although he missed four games due to a sprained knee. A classic dropback passer with little mobility, he displayed poise and intelligence as well as a quick release and strong arm.

1994 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 691 [1]
Most attempts, game – 70 vs. Minnesota 11/13
Completions – 400 [1]
Most completions, game – 45 vs. Minnesota 11/13
Yards – 4555 [1]
Most yards, game – 426 vs. Minnesota 11/13
Completion percentage – 57.9 [18]
Yards per attempt – 6.6
TD passes – 25 [4]
Most TD passes, game – 4 at Miami 9/4
Interceptions – 27 [1]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at Cleveland 11/6, vs. Indianapolis 12/11
Passer rating – 73.6
400-yard passing games – 2
300-yard passing games – 6
200-yard passing games – 13

Rushing
Attempts – 44
Most attempts, game – 5 (for -4 yds.) at Cincinnati 9/18, (for 2 yds.) at Detroit 9/25
Yards – 40
Most yards, game – 9 yards (on 2 carries) vs. Green Bay 10/2, (on 4 carries) vs. LA Raiders 10/9
Yards per attempt – 0.9
TDs – 0

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Wild Card playoff at Cleveland)
Pass attempts – 50
Pass completions – 21
Passing yardage – 235
TD passes – 1
Interceptions – 3

Rushing attempts – 2
Rushing yards – 2
Average gain rushing – 1.0
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
2nd team All-AFC: UPI
Pro Bowl

Patriots went 10-6 to finish second in the AFC East, qualifying for a Wild Card berth in the postseason while leading the NFL in passing yards (4444). Lost AFC Wild Card playoff to Cleveland Browns (20-14).

Aftermath:
Bledsoe again led the NFL in pass attempts in 1995 with 636, but averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt and again had a negative TD-to-interception ratio (13 to 16). He came back in ’96 to throw for 4086 yards and 27 touchdowns, against 15 interceptions, and topped the league once more in pass attempts (623) as well as completions (373) as the Patriots won the AFC title. Bledsoe was chosen to the Pro Bowl, and again in 1997 when he achieved career highs for TD passes (28) and passer rating (87.7). There was a drop-off over the next three years, however, as Bledsoe’s performance declined along with the team and he took many sacks. Still, he was given a huge contract extension, but two games into the 2001 season, an injury caused him to lose his starting job to unheralded Tom Brady, and while Bledsoe rallied the Patriots to a win in the AFC Championship game, it was the younger quarterback who assured his starting spot with an upset victory in the Super Bowl. Bledsoe was dealt to the Buffalo Bills in 2002 and had a Pro Bowl year, passing for 4359 yards and 24 TDs while compiling a career-best 61.5 completion percentage for the 8-8 team. He played two more years in Buffalo with lesser results and moved on to Dallas for the last two seasons of his 14-year career in 2005 and ’06, yielding the starting job to Tony Romo. Overall, Bledsoe was named to the Pro Bowl four times and passed for a total of 44,611 yards and 251 touchdowns, against 206 interceptions. While not quite achieving the anticipated level of success, Bledsoe remained a classy team player throughout his career.

--

Highlighted Years features players who were consensus 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

November 16, 2014

1975: Oilers Defeat Dolphins Thanks to Two Bubba Smith Blocks of PATs


The Houston Oilers were a surprising 6-2 as they hosted the Miami Dolphins on November 16, 1975. Under first-year Head Coach Bum Phillips, the team that had been 1-13 in both 1972 and ’73 was playing like a contender. The Oilers ran the ball effectively with HB Ronnie Coleman and FB Don Hardeman carrying most of the load, and while the passing game was unexceptional, there was an emerging star in WR Ken Burrough. The solid 3-4 defense was the key to Houston’s success, with NT Curley Culp anchoring the line and rookie LB Robert Brazile proving to be a valuable addition. Topping it off was WR Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who was an exciting kick returner and had already scored twice on punt returns.

One lineup change for the Miami game involved a fading star who had been brought in to provide defensive depth. 30-year-old DE Bubba Smith (pictured above) had been let go by the Raiders and was now backing up his younger brother, Tody, on the defensive line, who was out with a knee injury.

The Dolphins came into Houston at 7-1, having not lost since the opening week. Since Head Coach Don Shula’s arrival in 1970, Miami had been as successful as the Oilers were mediocre. But while there were still some stalwarts, such as QB Bob Griese and HB Eugene “Mercury” Morris, remaining, the Dolphins were in the process of retooling.

There were 48,892 fans in attendance at the Astrodome. The Oilers had first possession and drove 48 yards in 13 plays. Ronnie Coleman and Don Hardeman ran effectively, picking up three first downs, but after reaching the Miami 17 QB Dan Pastorini was sacked by LB Bob Matheson on third down and Skip Butler kicked a 43-yard field goal.

The teams exchanged punts following short possessions, and Miami was driving as the first quarter ended. Bob Griese completed a screen pass to FB Norm Bulaich for 13 yards on a third-and-nine play and then hit on three straight throws to WR Freddie Solomon for eight yards, TE Jim Mandich for 10, and WR Howard Twilley for 31 yards to the Houston 18. But on the second play of the second quarter, another Griese pass was intercepted by LB Ted Washington, who returned it 23 yards.

On a series that advanced 63 yards in seven plays, Pastorini threw to FB Fred Willis for 16 yards and Hardeman broke away for a 37-yard carry to the Miami 12. Butler kicked a 26-yard field goal to make it a 6-0 game.

Miami responded with an eight-play, 64-yard possession. Griese completed three of his passes, the last to Mandich for a 26-yard touchdown. However, the score remained tied when Bubba Smith blocked Garo Yepremian’s try for the extra point.

The Oilers moved into Miami territory on the next series thanks to a Pastorini throw to Ken Burrough that covered 24 yards, but after reaching the 35, two sacks backed them up and they were forced to punt. With time running out in the first half, the Dolphins drove to the Houston 32 before Griese was sacked by Robert Brazile and DE Elvin Bethea. The teams went into halftime still tied at 6-6.

A short Miami series to start the third quarter lost yardage and ended with a punt that Billy “White Shoes” Johnson returned 83 yards for a touchdown. Butler converted and the home team was ahead by 13-6.

Griese started off the next series for the Dolphins by throwing to Twilley for 24 yards and they drove methodically to the Houston nine. However, a completion to HB Larry Seiple at the goal line that was originally called a touchdown by one official was instead ruled down inches short of the goal line by the referee.  FB Don Nottingham was stopped by Smith on a fourth down play and Miami came up empty.

The Oilers went three-and-out and punted and this time Miami didn’t fail to put points on the board. Again facing fourth down, HB Benny Malone ran for the last two yards and a TD and, with Yepremian successfully adding the point after, the score was tied at 13-13 as the game headed into the fourth quarter.

Houston had to punt from deep in its own territory following the next series and the Dolphins took possession at the Oilers’ 48. Three plays later, Solomon took the handoff on a double reverse and sped 35 yards to the Houston three, and from there Nottingham ran for a TD. But once again Bubba Smith blocked Yepremian’s extra point try and the visitors held onto a six-point lead at 19-13.

Following another exchange of punts, the Oilers took possession at their 11. They proceeded to drive 89 yards in 15 plays. Johnson ran for 19 yards on an end-around, Pastorini completed a pass to TE Mack Alston for 24 yards, and on a third-and-seven play from the Miami 26 at the two-minute warning, Pastorini connected with Coleman for 10 yards. Still, the Oilers were facing fourth-and-six when it appeared that another pass intended for Alston was picked off by SS Charlie Babb. But Miami was penalized for defensive holding, allowing Houston to keep the ball with a first down at the seven. Coleman swept around end for a touchdown from there, breaking three tackles in the process, and Butler’s all-important extra point was good to put the Oilers on top by one. A few plays later, an interception by LB Gregg Bingham sealed the 20-19 win for Houston.

The Dolphins led in total yards (350 to 239) and first downs (23 to 15). They also recorded four sacks, to three by Houston, and the Oilers were penalized 10 times at a cost of 90 yards while Miami was flagged five times. However, the Dolphins turned the ball over twice, to none by Houston, and gave up the punt return touchdown as well as the two blocked extra points that ultimately determined the outcome.



Dan Pastorini completed 11 of 22 passes for 111 yards and no touchdowns, although also with none intercepted. Don Hardeman gained 60 yards on seven attempts and Ronnie Coleman rushed for 58 yards on 13 carries that included a TD and caught three passes for another 20 yards. Fred Willis, in addition to running the ball 9 times for 32 yards, led the Oilers with four pass receptions for 33 yards. In addition to his third punt return touchdown of the season, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson (pictured at left) had two catches for 10 yards plus the one 19-yard run.

For the Dolphins, Bob Griese was successful on 21 of 29 throws for 257 yards and a TD, but was intercepted twice. Jim Mandich caught 6 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown and WR Nat Moore contributed five receptions for 59 yards. The ground game was not strong and Benny Malone was the club’s top rusher with 38 yards on 12 carries that included a score.

“Take a step, watch for the kick, and jump up. Just as easy as that,” said Bubba Smith of how he blocked the two extra point attempts, also noting that in film study they had noticed that Yepremian tended to kick low and center Jim Langer took a step back to block.

“I hit the ball low on the second (blocked) one,” explained a dejected Garo Yepremian in talking about his two blocked extra point tries, his fourth and fifth of the season. “I had a bad day…I got to go back to work. I cost us the game. There’s nobody to blame but myself.”

Houston lost its next two games to the only teams it lost to all year, the Steelers and Bengals, and ended up in third place behind those AFC Central rivals with a 10-4 record, missing out on the postseason. The Dolphins lost again the next week, and it was especially costly because Bob Griese went down with a knee injury. They also finished at 10-4, placing second in the AFC East and missing the postseason for the first time since Shula’s arrival.

Bubba Smith appeared in 12 games for the Oilers and started two of them in what was his next-to-last season in the NFL. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson led the league with a 15.3-yard average on 40 punt returns, including the three touchdowns. He also averaged 24.2 yards on 33 kickoff returns and returned one for a TD. Adding in his 393 pass receiving yards and 17 by rushing, he totaled a career-high 1820 all-purpose yards and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Garo Yepremian, in his sixth year with the Dolphins, ended up failing on six of his 46 extra point attempts, but led the NFL with a field goal percentage of 81.3 (13 for 16). He spent another three seasons with Miami.

November 15, 2014

1976: Staubach-to-Pearson Propels Cowboys Past Bills


The Dallas Cowboys were off to a solid 8-1 start as they met the Buffalo Bills on November 15, 1976, but they had also been having trouble scoring in recent contests. Head Coach Tom Landry’s team, perennially a contender and coming off of a NFC Championship season, was nevertheless as formidable on both sides of the ball as the record would suggest. QB Roger Staubach was of the highest caliber and had highly-productive WR Drew Pearson (pictured at right) as his favorite target. There were injury problems among the running backs, but enough depth to keep the ground attack going, while the defense continued to be solid.

Buffalo was stumbling along at 2-7 and had yet to win under Head Coach Jim Ringo, the all-time great center who was elevated from offensive line coach after Lou Saban resigned five games into the season. HB O.J. Simpson remained the key to the offense and was still a formidable runner, but QB Joe Ferguson and FB Jim Braxton were both sidelined by injuries and QB Gary Marangi and FB Jeff Kinney were not as able.

While the game was a sellout, only 51,779 fans showed up for the nationally-televised contest (that was not blacked out locally) on a cold Monday night at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys were focused on containing O.J. Simpson, but the Bills took the opening kickoff and drove effectively as Gary Marangi completed passes of 14 and 9 yards to WR Bob Chandler and 10 yards to Simpson, who also contributed short runs along the way. But the advance stopped at the Dallas 26 and George Jakowenko missed to the right on a 42-yard field goal attempt.

Neither team was able to come close to scoring for the remainder of the period, with the Cowboys unable to get out of their end of the field. The Bills blitzed heavily and went with an eight-man front, thus hampering the Dallas running game and forcing Roger Staubach to go to the air.



Midway through the second quarter, and following a 13-yard punt return by rookie WR Butch Johnson, Dallas put together the game’s first scoring drive. HB Preston Pearson (pictured at left) had a catch for 25 yards and ran for a 14-yard gain around end. He finished off the 54-yard series with a two-yard touchdown carry and Efren Herrera added the extra point.

The Bills were pinned deep in their own territory on their next series and punted but got a break when Johnson couldn’t handle the erratically-bouncing kick and LB Dan Jilek recovered at the Dallas 42. Three plays later, Marangi threw to TE Reuben Gant, who broke two tackles on the way to the end zone for a 27-yard TD. Jakowenko’s point after tied the score at 7-7.

The Cowboys regained possession at their own 39 following the ensuing kickoff with just 26 seconds remaining in the first half. Staubach, who had completed only four of 12 passes thus far, fired to Drew Pearson for a 40-yard gain to the Buffalo 31. On the next play, Staubach threw to Pearson again, who had gotten behind SS Doug Jones and pulled the ball in for a 21-yard touchdown. Herrera added the PAT and Dallas took a 14-7 lead into halftime.

Johnson returned the second half kickoff 74 yards to the Buffalo 14, but Staubach lost two yards when the ball slipped away as he was trying to pass and, while he recovered, a penalty backed Dallas back farther. Facing fourth-and-33, the Cowboys faked a field goal and Herrera punted.

Later in the period, Dallas again advanced into Buffalo territory, but after the drive stalled at the 14, Herrera’s field goal attempt from 31 yards hooked to the left and missed. Still, Buffalo wasn’t able to gain any ground against the tough Dallas defense and the tally remained unchanged.

Early in the fourth quarter, Herrera kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it a ten-point contest. With time running down, the Bills put together a drive that included Marangi passes of 12 and 13 yards to Chandler and to Gant for 24 yards to the Dallas five. They had to settle for a 22-yard Jakowenko field goal, however, with 1:57 remaining to play and the Cowboys held on to win by a final score of 17-10.

Buffalo, which never had the lead, held the edge in total yards (250 to 228) and first downs (19 to 14), holding the Cowboys to just 63 rushing yards. Each team turned the ball over one time. Dallas recorded five sacks, to three by the Bills.

Roger Staubach went to the air 34 times and completed only 15 for 202 yards and a touchdown while giving up no interceptions. Drew Pearson was the chief beneficiary, with 9 catches for 135 yards and the TD. Preston Pearson led the ground attack with 29 yards on seven attempts that included a TD and also had the 25-yard gain on his lone reception. Defensively, DE Harvey Martin accounted for three sacks (unofficially, since sacks were not officially compiled in the NFL until 1982).



For the Bills, O.J.Simpson was held to 78 yards on 24 carries, with no run longer than nine yards. Gary Marangi completed 10 of 28 passes for 132 yards and a TD along with one interception. Bob Chandler caught five passes for 63 yards and Reuben Gant (pictured at right) added two receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown.

“Our offensive performance wasn’t good at all,” summed up Roger Staubach.

“We are not playing real good,” said Coach Landry. “But I remember last year we got beat three or four times when we didn’t play well. It shows you something when you don’t play well and still can win.”

The win gave Dallas a 9-1 record, the franchise’s best start thus far. The Cowboys lost at Atlanta the following week, but won an important showdown with the Cardinals on Thanksgiving and cruised to an 11-3 tally to top the NFC East. They fell to the Rams in the Divisional playoff round. Buffalo kept losing the rest of the way and ended up at the bottom of the AFC East with a 2-12 mark that was the club’s worst in five years.

Roger Staubach had his highest totals to date in pass attempts (369), completions (208), and yards (2715), all of which were eclipsed in the remaining three years of his career, and he was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time. Drew Pearson had 58 catches for 806 yards (13.9 avg.) and six TDs and was a consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selection.

November 14, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Charley Taylor, 1964

Halfback, Washington Redskins



Age: 23 (Sept. 28)
College: Arizona State
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 215

Prelude:
Taylor’s college career (and, potentially, life) nearly came to an end when he broke four vertebrae in his neck while making a tackle during Spring scrimmage in 1961, but following several months of recovery, he returned to star in the backfield for three years. Highly versatile, he played at running back, wide receiver, and defensive back and also returned kicks. Taylor led the team with four interceptions in 1962 and in ’63 rushed for 595 yards (averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry) and also gained 217 pass receiving and 308 kick return yards. He received All-Western Athletic Conference honors after both seasons. The Redskins, winning a coin flip to choose ahead of the Cowboys (who were also interested in the native Texan) chose Taylor in the first round of the 1964 NFL draft (third overall; he was also chosen by the Houston Oilers in the second round in the AFL) and he quickly moved into the lineup at halfback with his speed and ability as a pass receiver as well as runner from scrimmage.

1964 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 199 [5]
Most attempts, game – 22 (for 61 yds.) vs. Philadelphia 10/11
Yards – 755 [6]
Most yards, game – 85 yards (on 17 carries) vs. NY Giants 11/29
Average gain – 3.8 [18]
TDs – 5 [10, tied with four others]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 53 [8] 
Most receptions, game – 8 (for 88 yds.) vs. Cleveland 9/13
Yards – 814 [10]
Most yards, game – 94 (on 4 catches) at Baltimore 12/13
Average gain – 15.4 [16]
TDs – 5 [17, tied with seven others]

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 20
TDs – 0

All-Purpose yards – 1589 [3]

Passing
Attempts – 10
Completions – 2
Yards – 54
TDs – 0
INT – 1

Scoring
TDs – 10 [4, tied with five others]
Points – 60 [15, tied with five others]

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: UPI, NEA, Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: AP, NY Daily News
1st team All-Eastern Conference: Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Redskins went 6-8 to finish tied for third with Philadelphia in the NFL Eastern Conference.

Aftermath:
Taylor had a lesser year in 1965, nagged by a foot injury and the lack of an effective fullback to pair up with him – he averaged only 2.8 yards in compiling 402 rushing yards but still caught 40 passes for 577 yards (14.4 avg.) and was again named to the Pro Bowl. During the ’66 season, new Head Coach Otto Graham shifted him to split end and, while initially reluctant toward making the switch, he led the NFL with 72 catches, for 1119 yards and 12 touchdowns. His size and skill made for favorable matchups, and he again topped the league with 70 catches in 1967, gaining 990 yards and scoring 9 TDs while receiving consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl honors. Taylor went on to consistently star at wide receiver with only one significant injury, a broken leg in the sixth game of the ’71 season, until he missed all of 1976 and came back at reduced form to catch 14 passes in ’77, his last year. He was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection once, received at least second-team recognition on five more occasions, all-conference honors yet four more times, and was chosen to the Pro Bowl after eight seasons. At the time of his retirement, his 649 catches ranked first all-time in NFL history, as did his seven seasons with 50 or more catches, and he gained 9110 yards (14.0 avg.) with 79 TDs. His rushing totaled 1488 yards and, adding in another 11 touchdowns, he scored 90 overall, which tied with Leroy Kelly for sixth place at the time. Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1984.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, 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).