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.

October 17, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Ben Roethlisberger, 2004

Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers



Age:  22
College: Miami (OH)
Height: 6’5”   Weight: 242

Prelude:
Roethlisberger passed for 10,829 yards and 80 touchdowns in three collegiate seasons and Miami reached the Mid-American Conference Championship in his junior year. He entered the NFL draft and was chosen by the Steelers in the first round (11th overall, and the third quarterback) and, when QB Tommy Maddox went down with an injury in the second game, “Big Ben” moved into the lineup.

2004 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 295
Most attempts, game – 28 at NY Giants 12/18
Completions – 196
Most completions, game – 21 at Dallas 10/17
Yards – 2621
Most yards, game – 316 at NY Giants 12/18
Completion percentage – 66.4 [4]
Yards per attempt – 8.9 [2]
TD passes – 17 [19, tied with Vinny Testaverde]
Most TD passes, game – 2 on six occasions
Interceptions – 11 [18, tied with Daunte Culpepper, Kyle Boller & Patrick Ramsey]
Most interceptions, game – 2 at Baltimore 9/19, vs. NY Jets 12/12, at NY Giants 12/18
Passer rating – 98.1 [5]
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 4

Rushing
Attempts – 56
Most attempts, game – 9 (for 16 yds.) at Cincinnati 11/21
Yards – 144
Most yards, game – 40 yards (on 3 carries) at Jacksonville 12/5
Yards per attempt – 2.6
TDs – 1

Scoring
TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 54
Most attempts, game – 30 vs. NY Jets, AFC Divisional playoff
Pass completions – 31
Most completions, game - 17 vs. NY Jets, AFC Divisional playoff
Passing yardage – 407
Most yards, game – 226 vs. New England, AFC Championship
TD passes – 3
Most TD passes, game – 2 vs. New England, AFC Championship
Interceptions – 5
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. New England, AFC Championship

Rushing attempts – 9
Most rushing attempts, game – 5 vs. New England, AFC Championship
Rushing yards – 75
Most rushing yards, game – 45 vs. New England, AFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 8.3
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: League/Pepsi, Sporting News
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI, NEA, Sporting News

Steelers went 15-1 to place first in the AFC North with the conference’s best record while leading the AFC in rushing yards (2464). Won AFC Divisional playoff over New York Jets (20-17). Lost AFC Championship to New England Patriots (41-27).

Aftermath:
Roethlisberger missed time with a knee injury in 2005 but led the league in yards per attempt (8.9), yards per completion (14.2), and TD percentage (6.3 on his 17 TD passes), and the Steelers won the Super Bowl. In so doing, he became the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Big and mobile with a strong arm, Roethlisberger also benefited from having a solid running attack and defense as he developed his considerable skills. It was tougher going in 2006 as he was injured in an offseason motorcycle accident and also suffered from appendicitis. The result was 3513 passing yards and 18 TDs, but also a league-leading 23 interceptions and the Steelers dropped to 8-8. He bounced back with a Pro Bowl year in ’07 in which he threw for 32 touchdowns and a 104.1 rating, and showed great toughness as he also took many hits – often due to his penchant for holding the ball until the last possible moment. Roethlisberger led the Steelers to another NFL Championship in 2008 as he showed outstanding late-game clutch ability and achieved career highs (thus far) with 4328 passing yards and a 66.6 completion percentage in ’09, although off-field issues caused him to be suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season. He played well upon his return, giving up just five interceptions while once again leading the NFL in yards per completion (13.3) and the Steelers won the AFC title. Roethlisberger was chosen to the Pro Bowl for a second time in 2011 after passing for 4077 yards but a high ankle sprain limited his mobility in a losing postseason game and a shoulder injury hindered his play in 2012 as he was also asked to refine his style of play with a rebuilding team. He stayed healthy for the full year in ’13 and passed for 4261 yards and 28 TDs. Overall, through the 2013 season Roethlisberger has thrown for 34,105 yards and 219 touchdowns with a 92.6 rating. The Steelers have been 98-50 during his regular season starts and 10-4 in the playoffs, with two NFL titles.

--

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 16, 2014

1955: Packers Blow Lead but Upset Rams with Late Field Goal


The Green Bay Packers were a surprising 2-1 as they faced the tough Los Angeles Rams on October 16, 1955. Coached by Lisle Blackbourn, they were coming off a 4-8 record in ’54 and had not posted a winning record since 1947. Talented, if erratic, QB Tobin Rote (pictured at right) led a revived offense that also featured end Billy Howton and FB Howie Ferguson. The defense was tough and included LB Roger Zatkoff and safety Bobby Dillon, and backup FB Fred Cone (pictured above) was also a reliable placekicker.

Los Angeles, typically a contender in the Western Conference, was off to a 3-0 start and the favorite against the Packers. The head coach, Sid Gillman, was new, but there were many savvy veterans on the team, including QB Norm Van Brocklin, FB Tank Younger, and ends Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch. HB Ron Waller was a promising rookie and second-year QB Bill Wade was available to spell Van Brocklin.

There were 26,960 fans in attendance at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Less than two minutes into the game, Tobin Rote tossed an errant pitchout that FB Howie Ferguson couldn’t handle and DE Andy Robustelli picked it up for the Rams and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. Les Richter added the extra point to give the visitors the early 7-0 lead.

Later in the first quarter, the Packers got a 34-yard field goal by Fred Cone. Green Bay then put together a nine-play, 63-yard drive with Rote passing effectively that resulted in a seven-yard touchdown throw to HB Veryl Switzer. Cone’s conversion had the home team in front by 10-7 heading into the second quarter.

LB Deral Teteak intercepted a Van Brocklin pass that produced another score for the Packers. Green Bay went 34 yards in four plays, the first three of them runs and the last a pass from Rote to end Gary Knafelc, who grabbed the ball away from two defenders and ran into the end zone for a 16-yard TD. The Packers went into halftime with a 17-7 lead.

The Packers added to their lead on the fourth play of the third quarter as Rote threw to Billy Howton for a 57-yard touchdown. Cone again made good on the extra point. Down by 24-7, the Rams responded with a series that traveled 66 yards in six plays. QB Bill Wade both ran and passed LA down the field, connecting with Ron Waller for a 15-yard TD. Richter added the PAT to make it a ten-point contest.



As rain began to fall, the Packers correspondingly cooled off on offense. DHB Jim Cason (pictured at left) intercepted a pass by Rote to give the Rams the ball at the Green Bay 35. In a four-play series that extended into the fourth quarter, Van Brocklin, who was not at his best throwing the ball on this day, guided the Rams to another score. Again it was Waller getting the touchdown, this time on a five-yard carry to start the fourth quarter.

The Packers finally added to their lead when Cone booted a 45-yard field goal to make the score 27-21. Green Bay’s defense then kept the Rams in their own territory, but Van Brocklin’s 52-yard punt pinned the Packers back at their 14 in turn. Ferguson, gimpy with an ankle injury, could gain only three yards on two carries and, when Rote went to the air, Cason picked him off again and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Richter added the extra point that put the visitors ahead by 28-27.

Cason struck for a third time by picking off a long throw by Rote, giving the Rams the ball on their 15 with the clock down to 2:13. However, Los Angeles did a poor job of running time off the clock, going with three running plays that used a total of 26 seconds of playing time. Van Brocklin got off another long punt that traveled 65 yards, but HB Al Carmichael returned it 40 yards, weaving his way to the LA 30 where DHB Ed Hughes brought him down. Rote rolled out and, finding no receivers open, ran for 11 yards down to the 19. He also got out of bounds to stop the clock, but was stopped for no gain and stayed in bounds the next time. With 24 seconds left to play, Cone kicked a 25-yard field goal that just barely made it inside the uprights to put the Packers back on top. The Rams still had time for two plays following the kickoff, but time ran out with the ball at their 33 and Green Bay came away with a 30-28 win.

The Packers had the edge in total yards (343 to 260) and first downs (20 to 16). However, they also turned the ball over six times, to three suffered by LA, and the Rams recorded three sacks, to one by Green Bay. The Packers also were successful on three field goal attempts, while the combination of Les Richter and Tom Fears missed three for Los Angeles.

Tobin Rote completed 19 of 40 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, but tossed five interceptions as well, three of them by Jim Cason. Billy Howton (pictured below) caught 8 passes for 158 yards and a TD while, for the Rams, Ron Waller rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries.



The win put the Packers in a tie for first in the Western Conference, but the bubble burst and they lost their next four games on the way to a 6-6 third-place finish. The Rams came out on top of the conference at 8-3-1, although they lost badly to the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game.

Tobin Rote went on to lead the NFL with 17 touchdown passes (tied with San Francisco’s Y.A. Tittle). Billy Howton caught 44 passes for 697 yards (15.8 avg.) and scored five touchdowns, and was named to the Pro Bowl. Fred Cone was successful on a league-leading 16 of 24 field goal attempts and all 30 of his PATs.

October 15, 2014

1989: Vikings Defeat Packers as Newly-Acquired Walker Stars


Three days after being in the middle of one of the biggest trades in NFL history, RB Herschel Walker (pictured above) took the field for the Minnesota Vikings as they hosted the Green Bay Packers on October 15, 1989. In a complex transaction that ultimately involved 18 players and draft picks, Walker was obtained from the Dallas Cowboys. From the perspective of the Cowboys, the deal provided the opportunity to rebuild a last-place team through the draft. For Minnesota, it was hoped that the talented Walker would be the key to reaching the Super Bowl.

Much had been expected of Walker since he first gained attention as a freshman on Georgia’s 1980 national championship team. After winning the Heisman Trophy as a junior, he made the stunning move of passing up his last collegiate season for the new United States Football League and, over the course of three years with the New Jersey Generals, rushed for 5562 yards. Moving on to the Cowboys after the demise of the USFL, he was selected to the Pro Bowl twice and, in 1988, gained 1514 yards on the ground and 2019 overall. To be sure, Walker had drawn his share of criticism for being a strictly straight-ahead, no-polish runner who had yet to fulfill gigantic expectations, but he was also a tremendous athlete with outstanding strength and speed. It was anticipated that, having practiced only twice with the team since the trade, he would see limited action in his first game with Minnesota.

Beyond Walker, the Vikings, coached by Jerry Burns, were a talented football team with an outstanding defense but an offense that seemed to be underachieving. QB Wade Wilson had a fractured hand and former starter Tommy Kramer was back behind center, and WR Anthony Carter and TE Steve Jordan were playing but hampered by injuries. Coming off an 11-5 record in ’88, Minnesota was 3-2 and willing to mortgage the future for near-term success.

The Packers, also at 3-2, were a rejuvenated team under Head Coach Lindy Infante. The offense had been highly productive with Don Majkowski taking over at quarterback, WR Sterling Sharpe breaking out as the feature receiver, and RB Brent Fullwood carrying the running load, and the defense featured pass-rushing LB Tim Harris.

There was a record crowd of 62,075 in attendance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The Packers had first possession but Minnesota got the ball on a fumble by Brent Fullwood that was recovered by DE Chris Doleman at the Green Bay 34. The Vikings were unable to capitalize, however, as they were unable to move on offense and a field goal attempt by Rich Karlis from 51 yards was wide to the right.

Green Bay responded by driving 66 yards in nine plays, the big one a pass from Don Majkowski to Sterling Sharpe that covered 51 yards to the Minnesota 10. A face mask penalty on LB Mike Merriweather helped to convert a third down and RB Herman Fontenot finally ended the series with a one-yard touchdown carry. Chris Jacke added the extra point to give the visitors the early 7-0 lead.

With the crowd cheering as he came onto the field, Herschel Walker touched the ball for the first time on the ensuing kickoff and returned it 51 yards, although it was for naught when nullified by a penalty for an illegal block. The teams exchanged punts and Walker provided some excitement when, on his first carry from scrimmage, he took off for a 47-yard gain to the Green Bay 28, losing his right shoe along the way, and this one counted. But again the Vikings came up empty when FS Ken Stills intercepted a Tommy Kramer pass on the next play.

Minnesota took charge on defense with a stuff and a sack to push the Packers back to their eight yard line to finish the opening period, and on a third-and-22 play to start the second quarter, Majkowski’s pass was intercepted by CB Reggie Rutland. The Vikings advanced 45 yards in eight plays, with Kramer completing passes to WR Hassan Jones for 19 yards and to Anthony Carter for 15, and this time Karlis got them on the board with a 28-yard field goal.



Once again the Minnesota defense pushed the Packers back, with Doleman sacking Majkowski for a seven-yard loss, and a punt was returned 17 yards by WR Leo Lewis to give the Vikings favorable starting field position at the Green Bay 49. Walker had two carries for 11 yards and, in between, Kramer connected with RB D.J. Dozier for a gain of 30 yards. FB Rick Fenney ran eight yards for a TD and, with the PAT by Karlis, Minnesota was in the lead by 10-7.

Another short series by the Packers in which they remained bottled up inside their ten yard line was followed by a punt, but while the Vikings reached the Green Bay 30, a 47-yard field goal try by Karlis was blocked by CB Ron Pitts. RB Keith Woodside provided some offense for Green Bay by breaking away for a run of 31 yards, but Majkowski threw a pass that was picked off by Rutland. With the ball at the Green Bay 28 and 2:40 remaining in the half, the Vikings chipped away and Kramer threw to WR Jim Gustafson for a six-yard touchdown. Karlis converted and Minnesota took a 17-7 lead into halftime. Don Majkowski had completed only two of 11 passes thus far and was sacked three times.

The teams traded punts to start the third quarter. The Vikings put together an eight-play, 78-yard drive on their second possession as Kramer completed five passes, the longest to Jones for 39 yards to the Green Bay 11 and the last to Fenney for an eight-yard TD. Karlis converted and Minnesota was leading comfortably by 24-7.

The Packers once again found themselves playing deep in their own territory when a penalty on the ensuing kickoff had them starting off at their 12 and, after two passes were incomplete, Majkowski was sacked in the end zone by LB Ray Berry for a safety, thus adding two more points to Minnesota’s lead.

Following the free kick, Walker ran the ball three times for 41 yards to reach the Green Bay 27, but a fumble on an errant pitchout by Kramer was recovered by LB Brian Noble on the final play of the period.

The teams exchanged punts before the Packers, gaining possession with 4:47 left to play, put together a scoring series. Majkowski completed passes to Sharpe for 31 yards and WR Carl Bland for a 46-yard touchdown, but the try for an onside kick was recovered by the Vikings, who were able to run out the clock. Minnesota won by a final score of 26-14.



The Vikings outgained Green Bay by 398 yards to 219, with 238 of that total coming on the ground. They also had the advantage in first downs by 21 to 11. Minnesota’s defense recorded eight sacks, to one by the Packers, four of them by DT Keith Millard (pictured at right). The Packers turned the ball over three times, to two by the Vikings, and hurt themselves further with 11 penalties, at a cost of 77 yards, although Minnesota was flagged nine times.

Herschel Walker rushed for 148 yards on 18 carries, becoming the first player to debut with a hundred yards rushing in franchise history. Tommy Kramer completed 14 of 24 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, giving up one interception. Hassan Jones caught four passes for 68 yards and D.J. Dozier was right behind with four receptions for 47 yards in addition to his 31 rushing yards on 8 attempts. In addition to Millard’s four sacks, Chris Doleman had two and Najee Mustafaa accounted for both Minnesota interceptions.

For the Packers, it was a long day for Don Majkowski, who was successful on just 9 of 24 throws for 198 yards and a TD with two interceptions, in addition to the sacks. Keith Woodside led the team with 36 rushing yards on three carries as well as three pass receptions, which added another 23 yards. Sterling Sharpe gained 82 yards on his two catches.

“We didn’t anticipate him to play to that extent,” said Coach Burns of Herschel Walker. “I’m not the smartest guy, but I’m not a complete idiot, either. When I saw what he was doing out there, I said ‘hey, keep feeding him the ball.’”

Alas, the initial excitement over Walker’s impact gave way to disappointment. He never came close to the rushing yardage total of his debut in the remaining games of the season, with 89 the next week at Detroit his next best amount. In 11 games with the Vikings, Walker ran for 669 yards in 169 carries for an even 4.0 average and five touchdowns, often looking tentative in the offense. He also was rarely used as a receiver, despite great success out of the backfield in New Jersey and Dallas, catching more passes in his five games with the Cowboys (22) than with Minnesota (18). He would play two more years for the Vikings and remained a poor fit.

Minnesota played well at home (8-0) but not on the road (2-6) and, while topping the NFC Central with a 10-6 record, the Vikings lost badly to the 49ers in the Divisional playoff round. They dropped to 6-10 the following year, and rebounded only mildly to 8-8 in 1991, with the Walker trade receiving much of the blame for the club’s decline. By contrast, the Dallas Cowboys, recipients of the load of draft choices from Minnesota, they were able to move up quickly from 1-15 in 1989 to the first of three NFL titles in four years by 1992.

As for the Packers, they lost again the next week but beat the Vikings later in the season in the rematch and also finished at 10-6, although in second place and out of the postseason due to tiebreakers.

October 14, 2014

2007: Patriots Defeat Cowboys in Battle of Unbeaten Teams


Both the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys sported unblemished 5-0 records as they faced off at Texas Stadium on October 14, 2007. The Patriots had yet to score fewer than 34 points in any of their games, or give up more than 17, while Dallas had been only a bit less dominant.

Under Head Coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots had been molded into perennial contenders, reaching the playoffs in five of the previous six seasons that included three NFL Championships. They were guided on offense by QB Tom Brady (pictured above), who was at the height of his abilities at age 30. There were no stars among the running backs, but WR Randy Moss had been added to the receiving mix with outstanding results thus far, WR Wes Welker was a reliable possession receiver, and there was good depth behind them. The defensive line was excellent and the linebackers an experienced and savvy group.

Dallas, coached by Wade Phillips, also had a talented quarterback in Tony Romo, who had come out of nowhere the previous year to take over the starting job, and excellent receivers in WR Terrell Owens and TE Jason Witten. The running duties were shared by Julius Jones and Marion Barber, with good results. On defense, the corps of linebackers, led by DeMarcus Ware, was effective, but the backs were vulnerable to being spread out – as the Patriots would show.

The Cowboys had first possession and punted. New England went 74 yards in 14 plays in response. After misfiring on his first two passes, Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker for 16 yards on third-and-ten and was successful on his next four throws, three of them to WR Donte’ Stallworth that totaled 25 yards. Facing third-and-seven at the Dallas 26, Brady again completed a pass to Welker for 20 yards and, three plays later, hit Randy Moss for a six-yard touchdown. Stephen Gostkowski added the extra point.

The teams traded punts until the Patriots again put together another scoring drive, this time advancing 69 yards in six plays. Once again Brady made big plays on third down, throwing deep to TE Ben Watson for 28 yards in a third-and-seven situation to reach the Dallas 38 and then, on third-and-seven, to Welker for a 35-yard TD. Gostkowski again successfully converted and New England took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.

The Cowboys moved into New England territory on their next series and Nick Folk got them on the board with a 38-yard field goal. They scored again a short time later when Brady fumbled while being sacked by LB Greg Ellis and DE Jason Hatcher recovered and it returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. Folk’s PAT narrowed the visitors’ lead to 14-10.

The Patriots responded with another long series. Falling quickly into a second-and-20 hole, Brady passed to Stallworth for 17 yards and an offside call on the Cowboys gave New England a first down. Another completion to Stallworth gained 15 yards and, in a third-and-ten situation at the Dallas 42, Brady’s short toss to RB Kevin Faulk picked up 18 yards. The series ended with Brady once again throwing to Welker for a touchdown, this time from 12 yards out. Gostkowski’s extra point extended New England’s lead to 21-10.

Dallas regained possession with 3:28 remaining in the first half. Tony Romo immediately connected with TE Anthony Fasano for 26 yards, the first of seven completions that included three to Jason Witten for 11, 25, and 11 yards. A pass to Terrell Owens that was ruled complete but overturned on review was followed by a 12-yard TD pass to Owens and, with Folk’s extra point, the score stood at 21-17 at halftime.



New England’s first possession of the third quarter ended with a punt and the Cowboys put together a seven-play, 74-yard drive. Julius Jones (pictured above) had back-to-back runs of 25 and 18 yards along the way and Romo was successful on all four of his passes, the last to WR Patrick Crayton for an eight-yard touchdown. Folk added the point after and Dallas was in the lead by 24-21.

The Patriots responded with a scoring drive of their own, covering 77 yards in ten plays. Brady completed six passes, a pair each to Moss and Welker, and when Moss was interfered with by safety Pat Watkins, New England was at the one yard line. Brady tossed to TE Kyle Brady from there for a TD, Gostkowski added the PAT, and the visitors were back in front by 28-24.

The Cowboys were unable to move beyond their 12 yard line on the next possession and Mat McBriar’s punt, which was returned 18 yards by Welker, gave the Patriots good field position at the Dallas 43. An apparent touchdown pass was overturned by review, but a roughing-the-passer penalty advanced New England 15 yards and, while the drive stalled at that point, Gostkowski added a 45 yard field goal to make it a seven-point game.

 As the period came to a close, Dallas had fourth-and-one at its own 47, but an attempt to convert was nullified by a holding penalty and the Cowboys had to punt. Four plays later, Brady went long for Stallworth and the result was a 69-yard touchdown. Gostkowski’s extra point put New England ahead by 38-24.

RB Tyson Thompson returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the New England 23, but after Romo threw to Owens for 13 yards, the Cowboys were unable to reach the end zone and had to settle for a 23-yard Folk field goal.

Ahead by 11 points, the Patriots put together a long drive that burned six minutes off the clock. Brady completed four passes, Faulk ran the ball six times, and Gostkowski kicked a 22-yard field goal to extend New England’s lead to 41-27 with just over four minutes remaining on the clock.

On the first play of the next Dallas series, LB Junior Seau intercepted Romo’s pass to effectively extinguish any hopes for the Cowboys. The Patriots added one last touchdown on a one-yard carry by FB Kyle Eckel and came away with a decisive 48-27 win.

New England was statistically dominant, leading in total yards (448 to 285) and first downs (28 to 13). Each team turned the ball over once. The Cowboys recorded three sacks, to two by the Patriots. They also were penalized 12 times, at a cost of 100 yards, compared to five flags thrown on New England.

Tom Brady completed 31 of 46 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns while giving up no interceptions. Wes Welker (pictured below) had 11 catches for 124 yards and two TDs and Donte’ Stallworth gained 136 yards on 7 receptions that included a score. They benefited from Dallas’ coverage of Randy Moss, who still caught 6 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Faulk was New England’s leading rusher with 47 yards on 12 attempts.



For the Cowboys, Tony Romo was successful on 18 of 29 throws for 199 yards and two TDs with one interception. Terrell Owens topped the receivers with 6 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown and Julius Jones ran for 51 yards on six carries, followed closely by RB Marion Barber who had 49 yards on 9 runs. Mat McBriar averaged 53.8 yards on his five punts.

“The reality is we got a win on the road and we’re 6-0. That’s what is important,” summed up Tom Brady. “Any time you win you’re doing just fine. It’s another step in the process. We have to continue to make improvements.

The Patriots improved all the way to a 16-0 record in the regular season, but came short of ultimate perfection with an upset loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. Dallas recovered to win its next seven straight games on the way to a NFC-best 13-3 tally. However, they lost in the Divisional playoff round to the Super Bowl-bound Giants.

Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards (4806), completion percentage (68.9), yards per attempt (8.3), and overall rating (117.2) as well as a then-record 50 touchdown passes and received consensus MVP honors as well as All-NFL and Pro Bowl recognition. Randy Moss caught a record 23 TD passes among his 98 receptions for 1493 yards and Wes Welker tied for the league lead with 112 catches, good for 1175 yards and eight scores.

Tony Romo passed for 4211 yards and a NFC-high 36 touchdowns, although his 19 interceptions ranked among the league leaders as well. 

October 13, 2014

Highlighted Year: Raul Allegre, 1983

Placekicker, Baltimore Colts



Age:  24
1st season in pro football
College: Texas
Height: 5’10” Weight: 165

Prelude:
A native of Mexico, the soccer-playing Allegre was an exchange student at a Washington state high school when he began kicking extra points in football games. In college, he kicked 27 field goals in 45 attempts as well as 66 extra points. Ignored in the 1983 NFL draft, Allegre was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys but was traded to the Colts prior to the season.

1983 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Kicking
Field goals – 30 [3, 1st in AFC]
Most field goals, game – 5 at Philadelphia 10/30
Field goal attempts – 35 [3]
Most field goal attempts, game – 6 at Philadelphia 10/30
Field goal percentage – 85.7 [3]
PATs – 22
PAT attempts – 24
Longest field goal – 55 yards at Denver 12/11

Scoring
Field Goals – 30
PATs – 22
Points – 112 [12]

Awards & Honors:
2nd team All-NFL: NEA
1st team All-AFC: UPI

Colts went 7-9 to finish fourth in the AFC East while leading the AFC in rushing (2695 yards) and field goals (30).

Aftermath:
Allegre spent two more seasons with the Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1984. His performances were not as strong as in his outstanding rookie year, with a combined 27 successes in 44 field goal attempts (61.4 %), and he was unreliable beyond 40 yards. The Colts cut Allegre just prior to the 1986 season in favor of Dean Biasucci and he was picked up by the New York Giants four games into the schedule. He performed well, making several clutch kicks, and was successful on 24 of 32 field goal attempts, as well as all 33 extra point tries. In addition, he made good on both of his postseason field goals as the Giants won the Super Bowl. Allegre stayed with New York until 1991, but missed time with injuries (thus missing out on another Super Bowl appearance) and had problems with consistency. He was cut by the Giants three games into the ’91 season, having kicked 77 field goals and 109 extra points for the team, and was picked up by the Jets for the season finale, in which he connected on three of four field goal attempts. Allegre kicked in the playoff loss at Houston but was unable to make the team the next year and, nagged by back problems, retired. Overall, Allegre was successful on 137 of 186 field goal attempts (73.7) and added 183 PATs for a total of 594 points.

--

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