November 29, 2009

1987: Cunningham & Eagles Withstand Patriots Comeback to Win in Overtime

Quarterback Tom Ramsey didn’t have much of an NFL career, lasting just four seasons as a backup for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts after coming over from the USFL. Injuries to Steve Grogan and Tony Eason put Ramsey in the starting lineup for three games in 1987, and in one, at Sullivan Stadium against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on November 29, 1987, he passed for just over 400 yards and rallied the team to force overtime.

The Patriots stood at 5-5 while the Eagles were 4-6 coming into the contest. Philadelphia took a 17-7 lead in the first half, thanks to a Paul McFadden field goal, a 61-yard pass play from QB Randall Cunningham to WR Mike Quick, and a one-yard Cunningham bootleg.

While ex-Eagle Tony Franklin kicked a 21-yard field goal to narrow the score in the second quarter, the Eagles extended their lead to 24-10 in the third quarter with a one-yard run by FB Anthony Toney. Early in the fourth quarter it seemed as though Philadelphia would cruise to an easy win when Cunningham hit Quick for another score, this one covering 29 yards.

But Ramsey rallied the Patriots in the fourth quarter, completing 15 of 24 passes for 157 yards in the final period. He threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to WR Stanley Morgan and three yards to TE Willie Scott to narrow the margin to 31-24. With 1:05 remaining, Ramsey tied the game with a one-yard rush. New England got the ball back and nearly won the game in regulation, but a fumbled hold on an attempted field goal caused Franklin to miss from just 31 yards out to send the game into overtime.

Both teams missed field goals in the OT period, first the Patriots with Franklin’s 46-yard attempt falling short and then McFadden failed after the Eagles drove to the New England 22 yard line. The game finally turned on a forced fumble by Eagles FS Terry Hoage (who had an outstanding overall performance) on Patriots FB Mosi Tatupu that was recovered by LB Garry Cobb at the New England 39. Four plays later, McFadden redeemed himself by kicking the game-winning 38-yard field goal with 2:44 left to play.

Overall in defeat, Ramsey completed 34 of 53 passes for 402 yards and three touchdowns, against two interceptions. Considering that he threw for just 898 yards and 6 TDs for the season (and for that matter, 1285 yards and 7 scores in his NFL career), it was an amazing performance. He became just the fourth quarterback in team history to reach the 400-yard passing mark in a game.

RB Tony Collins caught 11 passes for 100 yards with a TD to lead the Patriots pass receivers, while the unfortunate Tatupu was the top ground gainer with 58 yards on 14 carries.

For the Eagles, Cunningham passed 31 times, completing 18, for 314 yards with the two scoring throws and one picked off. WR Quick, the recipient of the two TD passes, had 5 pass receptions for 121 yards. TE John Spagnola also caught 5 passes, for 58 yards. FB Toney, usually better known for his blocking than ball carrying, led all rushers with a career-high 123 yards on 24 carries with the one TD.

It was a breakout year for Randall Cunningham, who passed for 2786 yards and 23 touchdowns, and also ran for 505 yards. Mike Quick went to the Pro Bowl for the fifth consecutive season, catching 46 passes for 790 yards with 11 TDs.

The Eagles, a team on the rise under second-year Head Coach Buddy Ryan, ended the strike-shortened season with a 7-8 record (they were 7-5 in non-replacement player games), tied for third in the NFC East. New England, which used five quarterbacks during the season, concluded at 8-7 and tied for second in the AFC East.