December 17, 2014

1967: Rams Defeat Colts in Climactic Battle for Coastal Division Title

The NFL game in Los Angeles on December 17, 1967 featured a final-week showdown for the Coastal Division crown between the host Los Angeles Rams and visiting Baltimore Colts. Baltimore came into the contest undefeated at 11-0-2 and would win the division outright with a victory. The Rams were a game behind at 10-1-2 and would have the same record as the Colts if they came out winners, which would give them the division title due to a new tiebreaking procedure. With the league having split into four four-team divisions (two per conference), adding a new playoff level as a result, ties for first would no longer result in an extra game being played – the team scoring the most points in the two regular season meetings of the clubs would be awarded first place. Since the Colts and Rams had tied when they met earlier in Baltimore, a win for the Rams would deliver the division title and a spot in the Western Conference Championship game.

Los Angeles had not been to the postseason since 1955 and endured a great deal of mediocrity since then until the arrival of Head Coach George Allen in ’66. Allen’s specialty was defense, and the Rams had a good one, particularly on the line. DT Roosevelt Grier had been lost to a knee injury in the preseason, but Roger Brown was swiftly obtained from Detroit to take his spot and, together with ends Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy and DT Merlin Olsen, became part of what was called “the Fearsome Foursome”. OLB Maxie Baughan was the leader of an outstanding group of linebackers and, while the backfield was less impressive, it included excellent FS Ed Meador. The offense was conservative but competently directed by QB Roman Gabriel (pictured above), who had good deep receivers in split end Jack Snow and flanker Bernie Casey while FB Dick Bass and HB Les Josephson handled the bulk of the running game.

The Colts were coached by Don Shula and were typically among the league’s better teams. QB Johnny Unitas was the key to the pass-oriented offense, as he had been for the past decade, and he had outstanding receivers in flanker Willie Richardson and TE John Mackey. The running game was less effective, but not bad, and the defense was solid, especially at linebacker and in the backfield.

There were 77,277 fans in attendance at the Memorial Coliseum for the showdown. The Rams opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal by Bruce Gossett, while the Colts put together a 65-yard drive that ended with Johnny Unitas throwing to Willie Richardson for a 12-yard touchdown and Lou Michaels adding the extra point.

Baltimore again reached LA territory, but Michaels missed a 37-yard try for a field goal (his first failure after ten straight successes). On the next play, the Rams came through with a big play to start the second quarter as Roman Gabriel, firing the ball 50 yards in the air, connected with Jack Snow, who got beyond two defenders for an 80-yard TD. Bruce Gossett converted to give the home team a 10-7 lead.

Late in the period, Baltimore advanced deep into LA territory. However, as Unitas dropped back to pass, he was hit by Deacon Jones and his poor throw was intercepted by Ed Meador at the 12, who returned it seven yards. With time running down, Gabriel directed the Rams on an 81-yard drive that concluded with a throw to Bernie Casey for a 23-yard touchdown. Gossett converted and, rather than potentially being behind or tied, Los Angeles took a 17-7 lead into halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the Rams increased their margin when Gossett booted a 23-yard field goal. The Colts fought back, advancing 61 yards in 15 plays as Unitas converted two third downs with pass completions to Richardson of 19 and 11 yards. But a quarterback draw came up short on another third down deep in LA territory, and the Colts opted for a 14-yard Michaels field goal as the fourth quarter commenced.

The Rams responded with a 67-yard series that essentially clinched the win. Gabriel was successful on all four of his passes including, under a heavy rush, a toss to Casey that then set up a nine-yard touchdown throw to TE Billy Truax. Gossett tacked on the PAT and Los Angeles was ahead by 27-10.

The LA defense took control for the remainder of the contest, harassing Unitas and effectively shutting down the Baltimore offense.  FB Dick Bass punctuated the decisive win with a two-yard TD after Unitas was sacked for an eight-yard loss to his four yard line on a fourth down play. The Rams were Coastal Division champions by a final score of 34-10.

LA had the edge in total yards (328 to 262) although the Colts led in first downs (18 to 16). The Rams sacked Unitas seven times, while Baltimore recorded none of Gabriel, and the Colts turned the ball over twice, to one suffered by Los Angeles.

Roman Gabriel was outstanding as he completed 18 of 22 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns while giving up no interceptions. Billy Truax had 5 catches for 51 yards and a TD and Jack Snow, with the 80-yard touchdown on his lone reception, led the Rams in receiving yards. Bernie Casey contributed 78 yards on his four catches that included a score. Dick Bass topped the LA rushers with 36 yards on 12 carries with one TD and also caught four passes for 27 more yards.

For the Colts, Johnny Unitas was successful on 19 of 31 throws for 206 yards and a TD while being intercepted twice and taking a major battering from the LA front four. TE John Mackey caught 5 passes for 72 yards and Willie Richardson also pulled in 5 for 57 yards and a score. FB Tony Lorick rushed for 39 yards on 13 attempts.

“The crux of our defensive plan for this game was not to allow Unitas enough time to throw the ball, because he can thread the needle in a crowd,” explained Coach George Allen.

“The offense put some points on the board early,” added Deacon Jones. “And so we were able to dictate to Mr. Unitas what we wanted him to do, and that was pass.”

The Rams fell to Green Bay in the Western Conference Championship game by a 28-7 score the following week, a disappointing finish to an outstanding season. They finished second in 1968 before winning another division title in ’69, but would never reach the NFL Championship under George Allen. Baltimore came back with a 13-1 season in ’68, despite the loss of Johnny Unitas for virtually the entire season, and won the NFL Championship before being monumentally upset by the New York Jets, champions of the AFL, in Super Bowl III. Don Shula, who moved on to Miami in 1970, would get another shot at guiding a team to an undefeated season, and would succeed in '72.

Roman Gabriel ranked third in passing as he threw for 2779 yards and a career-high 25 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the first of three consecutive years. Bernie Casey caught 53 passes for 871 yards (16.4 avg.) and eight touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career.

It was the Los Angeles defense, in particular “the Fearsome Foursome”, that would leave the most enduring memory. The Rams allowed the fewest points in the NFL (196, two less than the Colts) and Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen were consensus first-team All-NFL selections as well as being named to the Pro Bowl along with Roger Brown, Maxie Baughan, and Ed Meador.

(pictured below L to R, #74 Merlin Olsen, partially hidden Lamar Lundy, #75 Deacon Jones, #78 Roger Brown)

December 16, 2014

1945: Rams Edge Redskins Thanks to Odd Safety to Win NFL Championship

The NFL Championship game on December 16, 1945 featured a postseason newcomer, the Cleveland Rams, against the Washington Redskins, a team that regularly contended for the title.

The Rams had never had a winning season since coming into the league in 1937, but topped the Western Division with a 9-1 record in ’45. Head Coach Adam Walsh implemented the T-formation and had the good fortune of having rookie QB Bob Waterfield  (pictured above) to operate it. The first-year player out of UCLA was the league MVP after performing well not only as a passer, but as a defensive back, kicker, and overall team leader. Halfbacks Fred Gehrke and Jim Gillette and FB Don Greenwood fueled the ground attack while end Jim Benton led the NFL with 1067 yards on his 45 catches.

The Washington Redskins, coached by Dudley DeGroot, topped the Eastern Division for the fourth time in six seasons with an 8-2 tally. QB Sammy Baugh was well-established as the league’s outstanding passer, having set a record with his 70.3 completion percentage during the season, and there were good receivers led by HB Steve Bagarus. However, Baugh had been injured in the season finale against the Giants and was not at his best.

There were 32,178 fans in attendance on a bitterly cold and windy day at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. The field had been covered with bales of hay in the days leading up to the game, and there were also big piles of snow on the sidelines.

The Redskins had the game’s first possession and punted. Cleveland moved the ball well in its initial series as Fred Gehrke ran for a 16-yard gain and Bob Waterfield completed two passes to Jim Benton, who was covered by rookie HB Bob DeFruiter. The second was good for 30 yards to the Washington 15, but the Redskins held the Rams up at their five yard line, with Jim Gillette stopped short on a fourth down play to regain possession. On second down, Sammy Baugh, dropping back into his end zone and feigning a punt, threw a pass that hit the goal post and bounced back. Under the rules at the time, the play was declared a safety and the home team had an early 2-0 lead.

Baugh was injured shortly thereafter and returned to play for only a few minutes during the second half. Following an interception by Washington LB Ki Aldrich early in the second quarter, QB Frank Filchock, subbing for Baugh, threw long to Steve Bagarus (pictured at left) for a 38-yard touchdown. Joe Aguirre added the extra point and Washington was ahead by 7-2.

With less than four minutes to play in the first half, Waterfield connected with Jim Benton for a 37-yard TD that capped a six-play, 70-yard series in which Gillette had a 19-yard run and Benton caught a pass for 14 yards. Waterfield’s extra point attempt was partially blocked and hit the crossbar, but it bounced over and the Rams took a 9-7 lead.

The Rams had another chance with a minute remaining in the first half when LB Pat West intercepted a pass, but Aldrich picked off another Waterfield throw and the score remained unchanged at halftime.

In the first series of the third quarter, Waterfield threw a long, arching pass that Jim Gillette caught for a 44-yard touchdown that concluded an 81-yard series. This time the extra point attempt failed but the Rams were in front by 15-7.

Late in the period, a Waterfield punt had the Redskins starting from their five yard line, but they moved effectively down the field. Following a 15-yard carry by DeFruiter, Filchock threw to Bagarus for a 50-yard gain that set up an eight-yard TD pass to wide-open FB Bob Seymour. Aguirre added the point after to make it a one-point contest.

Washington had two chances in the fourth quarter, but Aguirre missed field goals from 31 and 44 yards. The first followed a Filchock pass to end Les Dye that gained 44 yards to the Cleveland 31 and three running plays that picked up seven more yards. With time running out, Filchock threw long from deep in his own territory and DB Albie Reisz intercepted to nail down the 15-14 win for the Rams.

Cleveland gained more total yards (372 to 214) and led in first downs as well (14 to 8). The Redskins were held to 35 rushing yards on 34 attempts while the Rams were well balanced with 180 yards on the ground and 192 through the air. Cleveland turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by Washington. But the game came down to two plays involving the goal posts, with one leading to a safety and the other a kick that just made it over the crossbar for an extra point.

Bob Waterfield completed 14 of 27 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, giving up two interceptions, and was excellent with his play-calling and punting, too. Jim Gillette (pictured at right) rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries and also caught two passes for 45 yards and a TD. Jim Benton had 9 catches for 125 yards and a score.

Sammy Baugh ended up completing just one of six throws for seven yards. In his place, Frank Filchock was 8-of-14 for 172 yards and two touchdowns as well as two interceptions. Steve Bagarus caught three passes for 95 yards and a TD. HB Merl Condit led the rushers by gaining 18 yards on 9 attempts.

The Rams, having lost money despite putting together a championship season, left for Los Angeles the following year and placed second to the Bears with a 6-4-1 record. They next reached the Championship game in 1949. Washington went into a long period of decline, dropping to 5-5-1 in 1946 and not reaching the postseason again until 1971.

December 15, 2014

Highlighted Year: Marcus Allen, 1984

Running Back, Los Angeles Raiders

Age: 24
3rd season in pro football & with Raiders
College: Southern California
Height: 6’2”   Weight: 205

After winning the 1981 Heisman Trophy at USC, Allen was chosen by the Raiders in the first round of the ’82 draft. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, he led the NFL with 1098 yards from scrimmage, 14 TDs, and 84 points. For his efforts, he was a consensus Rookie of the Year and first-team All-NFL selection and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Allen rushed for 1014 yards in ’83 and caught 68 passes for another 590 yards while scoring 12 TDs, although he also led the league by fumbling 14 times. He was the MVP of the Super Bowl after rushing for 191 yards in the win against the Redskins.

1984 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 275 [10]
Most attempts, game – 22 (for 69 yds.) at Kansas City 9/16
Yards – 1168 [10]
Most yards, game – 155 yards (on 20 carries) at Miami 12/2
Average gain – 4.2 [18]
TDs – 13 [3, tied with Gerald Riggs & James Wilder]
100-yard rushing games – 3

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 64
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 46 yds.) at Kansas City 9/16, (for 62 yds.) vs. San Diego 9/24, (for 42 yds.) vs. Minnesota 10/14, (for 63 yds.) vs. Denver 10/28
Yards – 758
Most yards, game – 173 (on 4 catches) vs. Seattle 10/7
Average gain – 11.8
TDs – 5
100-yard receiving games – 1

All-purpose yards – 1926 [4]

Pass attempts – 4
Pass completions – 1
Passing yardage – 38
TD passes – 0
Interceptions – 0

TDs – 18 [1, tied with Mark Clayton]
Points – 108 [8, tied with Mark Clayton & Tony Franklin]

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Wild Card playoff at Seattle)
Rushing attempts – 17
Rushing yards – 61
Average gain rushing – 3.6
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 5
Pass receiving yards - 90
Average yards per reception – 18.0
Pass Receiving TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
2nd team All-NFL: AP, NEA
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Raiders went 11-5 to finish third in the AFC West and qualify as a Wild Card entry in the playoffs. Lost AFC Wild Card playoff to Seattle Seahawks (13-7).

Allen received multiple MVP honors in 1985 in addition to being a consensus first-team All-NFL selection following a season in which he led the NFL in rushing (1759 yards) and yards from scrimmage (2314) when adding in his 555 yards on 67 pass receptions. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl in 1985, ‘86, ’87, and ’93, but never again ran for a thousand yards or caught more than 51 passes after ‘85. Bothered by injuries (and involved in disputes with owner Al Davis), he shared time with other running backs during the remainder of his career with the Raiders, most notably Bo Jackson. Signing with the Chiefs as a free agent in 1993 reinvigorated his career at age 33, and he led the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns. Allen retired in 1997 with 123 career touchdowns, as well as 12,243 rushing yards and 587 pass receptions for another 5412 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2003.


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

December 14, 2014

1947: Browns Defeat Yankees for Second AAFC Championship

The second Championship game of the All-America Football Conference on December 14, 1947 featured the same two teams as the first, the Cleveland Browns and New York Yankees. The Browns had beaten New York in four of five meetings thus far in the AAFC’s two-year existence, which included the ’46 title game and the first regular season matchup in ’47 in Cleveland. They rallied to overcome a 28-0 deficit and salvage a tie a few weeks earlier in New York.

The powerful Browns, coached by the innovative Paul Brown, had compiled a 12-1-1 record in topping the Western Division once again. QB Otto Graham (pictured above) was named MVP by the league and was the AAFC’s top passer while end Mac Speedie, with 67 catches and 1146 yards, was the preeminent receiver and had an able counterpart in end Dante Lavelli. FB Marion Motley rushed for 889 yards with an impressive 6.1-yard average. The league’s highest-scoring team, Cleveland was equally tough on defense.

New York, under the direction of Head Coach Ray Flaherty, operated a single-wing offense that featured tailback Spec Sanders, the AAFC’s leading rusher (1432 yards) and scorer (19 touchdowns, 114 points). Diminutive and fast HB Buddy Young added another 712 yards on the ground and the line was good on both sides of the ball. The Yankees put together an 11-2-1 record in topping the Eastern Division.  

There were 61,879 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium on a cold day with the temperature near freezing. The turf was frozen, which seemed to affect the home team more than the visitors from Cleveland, and the teams agreed to wear cleats rather than sneakers.

The Yankees had the first possession and quickly found that Cleveland had made defensive adjustments to prevent a repeat of New York’s 28-point first half performance in the previous meeting. Late in the first quarter, following an exchange of punts, the Browns put together a 67-yard drive that was highlighted by a 51-yard carry by Marion Motley and culminated in a touchdown on a quarterback sneak by Otto Graham, who had also completed five of his first six passes. Lou Groza kicked the extra point.

The Yankees came right back as the game headed into the second quarter. Buddy Young (pictured at left) and Spec Sanders spearheaded an advance that reached the Cleveland five yard line before stalling, primarily as a result of the poor footing, and Harvey Johnson kicked a 12-yard field goal. Cleveland had two more chances to score, but Groza missed two field goals and the score remained 7-3 at halftime.

In the third quarter, DHB Tom Colella intercepted a Sanders pass and returned it to the New York 41. Motley ran for 16 yards, tosses by Graham to HB Edgar “Special Delivery” Jones and HB Lewis Mayne picked up another 19 yards and, three plays later, Jones ran four yards for a TD. Lou Saban, who had booted 10 extra points during the regular season, successfully converted.

As the game headed into the fourth quarter, the Yankees drove to the Cleveland 18, but Young fumbled a lateral and Saban recovered at the 31. Another New York series highlighted by a 22-yard carry by Sanders reached the 23 but was blunted by a penalty for unnecessary roughness that moved the Yankees out of range for a score. Cleveland held on to win by a final score of 14-3.

The Browns had the edge in total yards (284 to 212) and first downs (15 to 13). The Yankees turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by Cleveland. The Browns gained 172 yards on the ground, with 109 generated by FB Marion Motley (pictured below) on 13 carries. Otto Graham completed 14 of 21 passes for 112 yards, giving up no interceptions, and also ran the ball four times for 21 yards and a touchdown. Mac Speedie had four pass receptions for 25 yards and Dante Lavelli gained 37 yards on his three catches.

Suffering from a bad ankle, Spec Sanders was held to just 40 yards on 12 carries and failed to score a touchdown for the first time all season. He also completed 7 of 17 passes for 89 yards and was intercepted once. Buddy Young rushed for 69 yards on 16 attempts and caught two passes for a team-leading 25 yards, but fumbled twice.

“Neither team could play its best on that field,” said Paul Brown. “However, we tried to take advantage of the conditions by creating one-against-one situations on our pass patterns, and this worked pretty well on Otto Graham’s flat tosses.”

“I can’t overemphasize how much that slick footing cost us,” summed up Coach Flaherty for the Yankees.

The Browns went on to an even better season in 1948, compiling a perfect 14-0 record and winning a third AAFC Championship. They met Buffalo, not the Yankees, for the title as New York dropped to 6-8 and a third place finish in the Eastern Division.

December 13, 2014

1970: Colts Defeat Bills to Win AFC East Title

The Baltimore Colts were looking to wrap up a division title as they took on the Buffalo Bills on December 13, 1970. In the newly-realigned league due to the merger between the AFL and NFL, the Colts found themselves in the American Football Conference, consisting primarily of ex-AFL franchises, and were ahead in the AFC East with a 9-2-1 record. Under first-year Head Coach Don McCafferty, the Colts had hardly been dominating in compiling their record. The running game was mediocre and 37-year-old QB Johnny Unitas was past his prime, although still effective with outstanding wide receivers in Roy Jefferson and Eddie Hinton. The defense was strong, however, especially with linebackers Mike Curtis and Ted Hendricks, and at safety with Jerry Logan and Rick Volk.

The Bills, coached by John Rauch, were struggling at 3-8-1 but had tied the Colts in their previous meeting. HB O.J. Simpson, the team’s rising star, went out for the year with a knee injury four weeks earlier, but rookie QB Dennis Shaw was playing well after having taken over the starting job in Week 3 and WR Marlin Briscoe was leading the conference in pass receiving. The defense was effective against the pass, but overall the team was chronically prone to penalties and turnovers.

There were 34,346 fans in attendance at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium and the field was slippery and covered with snow. The Colts scored first, at 5:46 into the first quarter, when Jim O’Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal. Buffalo got a boost when HB Roland Moss returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards to the Baltimore 40. Dennis Shaw completed four passes, HB Lloyd Pate scored a one-yard touchdown, and Grant Guthrie added the extra point to give the Bills a 7-3 lead.

Baltimore came back with a 14-play series that was helped along by a 30-yard pass interference penalty on the defense after running eight straight times. FB Tom Nowatzke gained the last yard for a TD with seconds remaining in the opening period and O’Brien converted.

In the second quarter, Buffalo put together a seven-play, 78-yard possession that led to Shaw throwing to WR Marlin Briscoe for a 10-yard touchdown. Guthrie’s successful point after provided the home team with a 14-10 lead at halftime.

A key sequence in the third quarter allowed the visitors to regain the lead. The Bills were at their 23, but a holding penalty backed them up to the 11, from where they had to punt.  Another penalty, this time for interfering with the fair catch, gave the Colts excellent field position at the Buffalo 33. From there, Johnny Unitas threw to Roy Jefferson for a 30-yard gain. FB Norm Bulaich powered over from three yards out for a touchdown and a fight also broke out, leading to CB Robert James of the Bills being ejected. O’Brien added the PAT to make it a three-point lead for Baltimore.

Buffalo was unable to put any more points on the board in the second half as the Colts stepped up on defense. In two instances, CB Charlie Stukes (pictured below) intercepted passes by Shaw to stop drives. The Colts scored once more when O’Brien kicked a 38-yard field goal and held on to win the sloppy game by a final score of 20-14.

The Bills had the edge in total yards (333 to 275) and first downs (18 to 15), with Baltimore managing just 49 rushing yards on 29 attempts. However, Buffalo turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by the Colts, and were hurt by seven penalties, totaling 103 yards, as against just one flag thrown on Baltimore. The teams combined for 15 punts (8 by the Bills, 7 for the Colts).

Johnny Unitas completed 13 of 31 passes for 236 yards and no touchdowns, but also had none intercepted. WR Roy Jefferson had 5 catches for 125 yards and WR Jimmy Orr added 70 yards on his three receptions. Tom Nowatzke led what there was of a rushing attack with 20 yards on 9 carries that included a TD. Norm Bulaich was held to 18 yards on 15 attempts that also included a score.

For the Bills, Dennis Shaw (pictured at left) was successful on 23 of 43 throws for 252 yards and a TD, although he gave up two interceptions. Marlin Briscoe caught 7 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown and WR Haven Moses gained 100 yards on his 6 receptions. Lloyd Pate rushed for 49 yards on 15 carries that included a TD and also had 6 catches for 29 yards.

Despite clinching the division title, there was much dissatisfaction with Baltimore’s performance, especially from Coach McCafferty, who didn’t give out any game balls. Starting WR Eddie Hinton was benched in the first quarter after blowing an assignment and DB Ron Gardin saw no further action after he fumbled a punt that the Bills recovered.

“The field was sloppy,” explained Johnny Unitas. “The cold didn’t bother us, it was the field. Nobody could cut. All had to be careful and round their turns.”

The mood may not have been particularly celebratory, but the Colts clinched first place in the AFC East and finished with an 11-2-1 record. Baltimore went on to win the first AFC Championship and defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl. Buffalo made it five straight losses to close out the season at 3-10-1 for fourth place in the division.

Johnny Unitas, in what proved to be his last effective season (he played for three more), threw for 2213 yards and 14 touchdowns, although with 18 interceptions. Roy Jefferson, in what was his only season in Baltimore (he was dealt to Washington the following year), caught 44 passes for a team-leading 749 yards (17.0 avg.) and seven touchdowns.

Dennis Shaw received Rookie of the Year plaudits as he placed second in the AFC in pass completions (178), yards (2507), and yards per attempt (7.8), although also in interceptions (20). Marlin Briscoe topped the AFC with 57 catches for 1036 yards.

December 12, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Vilma, 2004

Linebacker, New York Jets

Age: 22
College: Miami (FL)
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 223

Highly rated coming into the NFL draft despite some concern about his size, Vilma was chosen by the Jets in the first round (12th overall). When starting MLB Sam Cowart was injured early in the season, Vilma took over and held onto the job thanks to his excellent speed and athleticism.

2004 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
(Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20)

Sacks – 2
Most sacks, game – 1 vs. Buffalo 10/10, vs. New England 12/26
Interceptions – 3
Most interceptions, game – 1 vs. San Francisco 10/17, at Arizona 11/28, at St. Louis 1/2
Int. return yards – 58
Most int. return yards, game – 38 (on 1 int.) at St. Louis 1/2
Int. TDs – 1
Fumble recoveries – 1
Forced fumbles – 0
Tackles – 77
Assists – 31

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 2 G
Sacks – 1
Interceptions – 0
TD – 0

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

Jets went 10-6 to finish second in the AFC East and qualify for the playoffs as a Wild Card. Won AFC Wild Card playoff over San Diego Chargers (20-17). Lost AFC Divisional playoff to Pittsburgh Steelers (20-17).

Vilma followed up his outstanding rookie season by recording 128 tackles and gaining selection to the Pro Bowl in 2005. The shift by the Jets from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense in 2006, where he was not an ideal fit, was a setback and in ’07 he went down with a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game. Vilma was traded to the New Orleans Saints where he was able to thrive again in a 4-3 scheme. He was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 2009 and ’10 seasons. However, he was initially suspended for the 2012 season for his alleged role in the Saints bounty scandal, but was reinstated by court decision and played in 11 games. A knee injury kept him off the field for virtually all of 2013 and he was not re-signed for 2014. Overall, Vilma played in 125 games and accumulated 10.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries, and over 600 tackles, scoring three TDs (two on interceptions, one on a fumble recovery). He was named to the Pro Bowl three times.


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).

December 11, 2014

2011: Texans Rally to Beat Bengals and Clinch First-Ever Division Title

The Houston Texans did not reach the postseason in their first nine years of existence, but stood poised to win a division title as they faced the Cincinnati Bengals on December 11, 2011. Coached by Gary Kubiak, the Texans had an outstanding defense, but attrition was a problem on offense.  T.J. Yates (pictured above), a rookie fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, had taken over at quarterback when starting QB Matt Schaub and then backup Matt Leinart went down with season-ending injuries in consecutive weeks. The first-year quarterback was making just his second start and was also without star WR Andre Johnson, who was sidelined by a strained hamstring. But RB Arian Foster was a steady performer and the Texans had won six straight games after a 3-3 start to come into the contest at Cincinnati with a 9-3 record.

Cincinnati, under Head Coach Marvin Lewis for the ninth year, was moving in the opposite direction, having started off at 6-2 before losing three of four games to barely be in playoff contention with a 7-5 tally. QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green were both rookies who moved directly into the starting lineup with promising results. As had typically been the case since Lewis took over as coach, the defense was solid.  

There was a small crowd of 41,202 fans in attendance at Paul Brown Stadium. The teams traded punts to start the game before the Texans mounted a scoring drive. After Arian Foster gained 11 yards on two carries, RB Ben Tate (pictured below) broke away for 44 yards to the Cincinnati 32. Houston was able to pick up another four yards before Neil Rackers kicked a 46-yard field goal.

The Bengals responded with a scoring series of their own. Andy Dalton completed a pass to WR Jerome Simpson for 21 yards and RB Cedric Benson followed up with a 42-yard run to the Houston one. The failure to reach the end zone mattered as the home team was immediately backed up five yards by a false start and the Bengals were able to regain only two yards before Mike Nugent kicked a 22-yard field goal that tied the score at 3-3.

FS Reggie Nelson intercepted a T.J. Yates pass on the next series and returned it 23 yards to the Houston 25. The Bengals lost ground from there but still took the lead when Nugent kicked another field goal, this time from 47 yards.

In a series that extended into the second quarter, Yates completed passes to TE Owen Daniels for 27 yards, WR Kevin Walter for 19, and Foster for 21. But after reaching the Cincinnati one, LB Rey Maualuga forced Tate to fumble and the Bengals recovered.

Cincinnati proceeded to drive 97 yards in 15 plays. Benson ran effectively and Dalton had a completion to TE Jermaine Gresham that picked up 26 yards. The Bengals converted two third downs and, facing a fourth-and-three situation at the Houston 35, Dalton passed to A.J. Green for 11 yards. Finally, Dalton threw down the middle to Simpson for a 17-yard touchdown. Nugent converted and the Bengals were up by 13-3 with three minutes remaining in the first half.

The Texans put together an effective drive in response as Yates went to the air and had completions of 24 and 18 yards to Daniels, five yards to WR Jacoby Jones, and six to Foster. But after reaching the Cincinnati 30, Rackers missed on a 47-yard field goal try. With the clock now down to 30 seconds, Dalton threw to WR Andrew Hawkins for 22 yards and to Gresham for 10 to set up a 49-yard Nugent field goal. Cincinnati carried a 16-3 lead into halftime.

The Bengals had the ball first in the third quarter but Dalton fumbled when sacked by LB Connor Barwin and LB Brooks Reed recovered for the Texans at the Cincinnati 17. Houston capitalized when, four plays later, Yates passed to TE Joel Dreessen for a six-yard touchdown. Rackers added the PAT and the home team’s lead was cut to six points.

The teams traded punts until the Bengals, starting from their own two yard line, drove all the way to the Houston 10. A pass interference penalty accounted for 25 yards and Dalton threw to Green for a 36-yard gain to the Houston 9. Cincinnati lost a yard over the ensuing three plays and Nugent came on to kick a 28-yard field goal that extended the lead to 19-10.

In a series that extended into the fourth quarter, the Texans advanced into Cincinnati territory. Yates threw to Foster for 17 yards and Jones for 16 and ran for 12 yards on his own to convert a third down, but he also fumbled when hit by DT Geno Atkins on a sack and DE Jonathan Fanene recovered for the Bengals at the Cincinnati 48.

The resulting possession was short and ended with a punt. On Houston’s next series, Yates completed seven passes, the longest to Walter for 19 yards, and the Texans reached the Cincinnati 15 before the drive stalled. Rackers kicked a 33-yard field goal to again make it a six-point contest.

The Bengals again had to punt following the next series and the Texans started at their 20 yard line with 2:33 left in regulation and no timeouts remaining. Yates was again effective passing the ball, connecting with Daniels three times for a total of 26 yards and Walter for 19 to the Cincinnati 35. A spike followed by a sack had the visitors facing third-and-15, but Yates ran 17 yards for a first down. Three plays later, the Texans were again facing third down and this time a pass interference penalty on CB Adam “Pacman” Jones moved the ball 17 yards to the six. From there, Yates threw to Walter for a six-yard touchdown with two seconds left. Rackers added the all-important extra point and Houston came away with a dramatic 20-19 win.

The Texans had the edge in total yards (412 to 285) and first downs (25 to 16) as well as time of possession (31:44 to 28:16). However, Houston also turned the ball over four times, to two suffered by the Bengals, and Cincinnati recorded five sacks, to one by the Texans.

T.J. Yates completed 26 of 44 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns while giving up one interception. He also rushed for 36 yards on five carries. Owen Daniels had 7 catches for 100 yards and Kevin Walter contributed 6 receptions for 76 yards and the game-deciding TD. With the one long carry, Ben Tate led Houston in rushing with 67 yards on 8 attempts while Arian Foster was held to 41 yards on 15 carries, although he added 33 yards on four catches.

For the Bengals, Andy Dalton was successful on 16 of 28 throws for 189 yards and a TD, giving up no interceptions. Cedric Benson ran for 91 yards on 21 attempts and A.J. Green (pictured below) topped the receivers with 5 catches for 59 yards. Mike Nugent was successful on all four of his field goal attempts.

“A rookie quarterback beat us today,” said Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker. “He did it with both his arm and his feet. I don’t even know what to say. Wow.”

With a Tennessee loss shortly thereafter, the Texans clinched the AFC South title and finished with a 10-6 record. Cincinnati, given scant chance of making the postseason after the loss, nevertheless won its next two games and qualified for a Wild Card slot at 9-7, which placed third in the AFC North. The teams met again in the Wild Card playoff round and Houston won to advance to the Divisional level, falling to Baltimore.

T.J. Yates ended up completing 82 of 134 passes (61.2 %) for 949 yards and three touchdowns along with three interceptions. In the postseason, he was 28-of-55 for 343 yards with a TD and three interceptions. He returned to being a backup in 2012 and threw just 32 more passes over the course of the next two years before being traded to Atlanta. The 300-yard passing performance against the Bengals remains his best single-game total.