September 29, 2010

1974: Dolphins Score 3 TDs in Fourth Quarter to Defeat Chargers

The Miami Dolphins had won back-to-back NFL titles in 1972 and ’73 under Head Coach Don Shula and were certainly contenders to potentially win a third in 1974. While the pro football world had been stunned when the Toronto Northmen of the World Football League (later to become the Memphis Southmen) signed three key members of the Miami offense – FB Larry Csonka, HB Jim Kiick, and WR Paul Warfield – to contracts for the 1975 season, those players were still in Dolphins uniforms in ’74. In addition, the club had QB Bob Griese, HB Mercury Morris, and a stingy defense.

The Dolphins were stunned by New England in the opening game, but righted the ship in a win at Buffalo and now faced the San Diego Chargers on September 29 at San Diego Stadium. The Chargers, under new Head Coach Tommy Prothro, were coming off of consecutive last place finishes, including 2-11-1 in 1973. Aging veteran QB Johnny Unitas had not been the answer after being obtained from the Colts, and retired during training camp in ’74. Second-year QB Dan Fouts was now running the offense, but he was still a work in progress and the club was a hodgepodge collection of players who were either over-the-hill or mediocrities to begin with. While the Chargers had beaten Cincinnati the previous week, it did not seem likely that they would give the Dolphins, who were 15-point favorites, much of a contest.

Defense dominated a first half that ended with the score tied at 7-7. Miami scored first, in the second quarter, when Csonka bulled over for a one-yard touchdown. The Chargers tied the game late in the period. On the scoring drive, Fouts completed all four of his passes, for 50 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown throw to TE Wayne Stewart with 49 seconds remaining in the half.

San Diego dominated the third quarter, with RB Don Woods scoring two touchdowns. First, a 75-yard drive ended with Woods plowing over from the one yard line for a TD. Less than two minutes later, the rookie from New Mexico took off on a 56-yard touchdown run to put the upset-minded Chargers ahead by 21-7.

Converting from college quarterback to pro running back, Woods (pictured below) had failed to make the Packers, who had drafted him in the sixth round, and he was waived at the end of the preseason. Claimed by the Chargers, he carried the ball a grand total of two times in his first regular season action the week before against the Bengals. Now, he was putting on a sensational display against the defending champions.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Chargers were still ahead by two touchdowns. But after Dennis Partee missed a 33-yard field goal attempt that would have padded San Diego’s lead, the Dolphins went 80 yards and scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass from QB Bob Griese to WR Nat Moore.

After San Diego was forced to punt, Miami drove downfield on a 58-yard possession highlighted by a 38-yard pass from Griese to TE Jim Mandich and 14-yard run by Csonka; Csonka finished it off with a three-yard run to tie the score with 3:38 remaining.

Again the Chargers had to kick, and with under two minutes left, Moore returned the low punt 30 yards. A few plays later, Jim Kiick ran five yards up the middle for the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining on the clock. The final score was 28-21 in favor of the Dolphins.

Afterward, Coach Shula said “The Dolphins played one of the finest fourth quarters since I have been associated with the team.”

Dan Fouts summed it up for the Chargers: “We felt pretty damn good the first three quarters, but it’s a four-quarter game.”

Total yardage was almost evenly matched, with San Diego gaining 392 yards to Miami’s 391. Bob Griese completed 14 of 27 passes for 248 yards with a TD and two interceptions; he clearly saved his best for last. The Dolphins, with their typically proficient ground game, compiled 173 yards rushing. Larry Csonka (pictured at left) led the way with 106 yards on 21 carries and two TDs. Both Jim Mandich and WR Howard Twilley caught four passes, with Mandich compiling 101 yards (Twilley had 45). Rookie Nat Moore (pictured at top) gained 183 total yards with 49 on three receptions (including a touchdown), 88 on three kickoff returns (29.3 average), and 46 on two punt returns, including the one that set up the tying TD.

Don Woods was the big story for the Chargers as he gained 157 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns; he also caught a pass for 10 yards. Dan Fouts completed 14 of 22 passes for 189 yards with a TD and none intercepted. WR Jerry LeVias caught the most passes (5 for 58 yards) while Wayne Stewart gained 71 yards on his three receptions, including the TD.

Miami finished the season at the top of the AFC East once again with an 11-3 record; they lost an epic Divisional playoff game to Oakland to end the pursuit of a potential third straight title. San Diego ended up at 5-9 and tied with the Chiefs at the bottom of the AFC West.

Woods had a career year, gaining 1162 yards rushing (second in the NFL) on 227 carries for a 5.1-yard average gain and seven touchdowns; he also caught 26 passes for 349 yards and another three TDs. He was named AFC Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. However, injuries held Woods to five games in ’75 and he never gained more than 514 yards on the ground in any of his remaining six seasons.

Nat Moore also had a notable rookie season, although he proved to have far more staying power. He gained 1344 total yards, including 605 on 37 pass receptions. When Paul Warfield departed the team for the WFL in ’75, it was Moore who took up the slack and lasted 13 seasons, all with the Dolphins, catching 510 passes for 7546 yards and 74 touchdowns.