January 2, 2011

1982: Dolphins Come from Behind, Chargers Prevail in Overtime Thriller

It appeared that the AFC Divisional playoff game at the Orange Bowl on January 2, 1982 would be a classic blowout when the visiting San Diego Chargers broke out to a 24-0 lead over the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter. Ultimately, the contest ended up being a thrilling overtime struggle.

The Chargers, coached by Don Coryell, had gone through the 1981 season with a 10-6 record to win the AFC West for the third straight year. They had lost two of their key players, WR John Jefferson and DE Fred Dean, to trades as a result of contract disputes. WR Wes Chandler was obtained from New Orleans during the season to take Jefferson’s spot, joining WR Charlie Joiner and TE Kellen Winslow to keep the aerial game explosive. QB Dan Fouts (pictured above) broke his own record with 4802 passing yards while also leading the NFL with 33 touchdown passes and ranking second with a 90.6 passer rating. The loss of Dean proved more difficult to compensate for, as the defensive performance dropped off badly, especially against the pass.

Miami, under Head Coach Don Shula, won the AFC East at 11-4-1. Second-year QB David Woodley had a strong arm and was mobile, but also inconsistent and was relieved several times during the season by eighth-year veteran backup Don Strock, who lacked mobility but was the better passer. The defense was respectable, if also prone to inconsistency, and featured Pro Bowl NT Bob Baumhower, DE Vern Den Herder, and LB A.J. Duhe.

It was a hot and humid night in Miami, but it was San Diego who played hot in the opening period, much to the dismay of the 73,735 fans in the Orange Bowl. On their first series, the Chargers drove from their 22 to the Miami 14, the big play being a 47-yard pass completion from Fouts to Chandler, and Rolf Benirschke kicked a 32-yard field goal for the early lead.

The Dolphins went three and out, and the resulting punt was returned 58 yards for a touchdown by Chandler, racing down the right sideline. Things went further awry for the Dolphins when San Diego regained possession on the ensuing kickoff after an odd bounce took the ball over Miami’s front line of players and was recovered by RB Hank Bauer for the Chargers at the Dolphins’ 29. Fouts completed two short passes, hit Winslow on a third-and-two play at the nine for an eight-yard gain to the one, and two plays later RB Chuck Muncie bulled over for a TD. The Chargers were up by 17-0.

Three plays into the ensuing Miami series, Woodley was intercepted by FS Glen Edwards, who returned it to the Miami 11 and in three more plays, Fouts tossed an eight-yard scoring pass to rookie RB James Brooks for a touchdown and 24-0 San Diego lead.

Woodley had been sacked three times and completed two of five passes for 20 yards. Coach Shula decided to make a change at quarterback, and in the second quarter, with 12:05 remaining in the half, Strock entered the game. On the first series with Strock behind center, Miami drove 63 yards to the San Diego 17 and Uwe von Schamann kicked a 34-yard field goal to finally get the Dolphins on the board.

On San Diego’s next possession, the defense created a break as Fouts was hit hard by DE Kim Bokamper and fumbled. Baumhower recovered for the Dolphins at the San Diego 39. Seven plays later, Strock threw to TE Joe Rose in the middle of the end zone from a yard out and it was 24-10 with 2:46 now left on the clock.

The Chargers, attempting to add to their lead before the half, got to the Miami 37 with 36 seconds remaining. On fourth down, Coryell chose to have Benirschke attempt a 55-yard field goal, but the kick was wide to the right and Miami had the ball with 30 seconds of time to work with.

Strock fired three completions and then tossed a 15-yard pass to WR Duriel Harris at the San Diego 25 who lateraled to the running back trailing the play, Tony Nathan. Nathan ran the rest of the way to complete the 40-yard “hook-and-ladder” play for a touchdown with no time left (pictured below), narrowing the score to 24-17 at the half.

The momentum stayed with the Dolphins to start the third quarter as they went 74 yards in eight plays on their first possession to pull even with San Diego on a 15-yard TD pass to Rose, making the comeback complete.

With the game now tied at 24-24, the Chargers put together a scoring drive. San Diego went 60 yards in six plays, capped by a 25-yard Fouts to Winslow pass for a 31-24 lead with 4:15 remaining in the period. Miami came right back as Strock connected on five straight passes, the last a 50-yard TD throw to TE Bruce Hardy. The contest was again tied at 31-31.

The Chargers took over on their 17 and, after two incomplete passes, Fouts was intercepted by FS Lyle Blackwood who lateraled to CB Gerald Small for a return to the San Diego 15. Two plays later, and now into the fourth quarter, Nathan ran for a 12-yard touchdown and the Dolphins took the lead at 38-31.

The Chargers had to punt on their next possession, and Miami put together a long drive of 13 plays to the San Diego 21. However, before they could get the opportunity to add points, Miami RB Andra Franklin fumbled and SS Pete Shaw recovered for the Chargers.

Down seven points with 4:39 remaining in regulation and starting at their own 18, the Chargers drove downfield. Fouts passed to Joiner for 14 yards, Winslow for seven, and then Chandler for 19 to set up first-and-goal at the Miami 9. Fouts hit Brooks in the corner of the end zone and, with the successful extra point, the game was tied with 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

In the remaining time, Strock got Miami in position to try for a game-winning field goal on the last play of regulation, but the snap was high, the kick low, and the 6’5” Winslow was able to get a hand on the ball to block von Schamann’s 43-yard attempt. The game went into overtime.

San Diego got the first shot in OT, and it looked to be all over when the Chargers drove from their 13 yard line to the Miami eight, but Benirschke missed a rushed 27-yard field goal attempt.

Now it was Miami’s turn, and they again moved into Chargers territory. But another von Schamann field goal attempt, this time from 35 yards, was blocked by DE Leroy Jones. San Diego had the ball at its 16, and Fouts threw to Chandler for a 19-yard gain. A 40-yard completion down the middle to Joiner gave the Chargers a first down on the Miami 10 and Coryell immediately sent out the field goal unit. Benirschke then delivered the game-winning 29-yard field goal at 13:52 into the overtime period, and San Diego came away with a hard-fought 41-38 win.

The San Diego players could barely celebrate due to exhaustion after the game-winning kick. Kellen Winslow, dehydrated from the humidity and suffering from a sore shoulder, had to be helped off the field by teammates (pictured at bottom).

The teams combined for a then-NFL postseason-record 1036 yards, with the Chargers outgaining Miami by 564 to 472. The net passing total of 809 yards also set a record, as both quarterbacks threw for over 400 yards.

Dan Fouts completed 33 of 53 passes for 433 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Kellen Winslow caught 13 of those passes for 166 yards with a TD and also blocked a field goal. Two other San Diego receivers reached the hundred-yard mark, with Charlie Joiner gaining 108 yards on 7 receptions and Wes Chandler accumulating 106 yards on 6 catches. Chuck Muncie paced the rushing attack with 120 yards on 24 carries that included a touchdown.

Don Strock (pictured at left), who didn’t enter the game until the second quarter, threw 43 passes and completed 29 of them for 403 yards with four TDs and one interception. Tony Nathan, in addition to leading the team in rushing with 48 yards on 14 attempts that included a score, also gained 114 yards on 9 receptions with another TD. Duriel Harris added 6 catches for 106 yards.

It was an especially amazing performance for Strock, the career backup who threw just six touchdown passes in relief during the regular season, but tossed four against the Chargers. Dan Fouts complimented him afterward, saying “He played one of the best games I’ve ever seen any quarterback play. He was awesome.”

San Diego’s ascent through the playoffs ended in the AFC Championship game with a 27-7 loss to the Bengals in frigid Cincinnati. David Woodley was still Miami’s starting quarterback during the strike-shortened 1982 season, with Strock backing up, but the arrival of rookie QB Dan Marino in 1983 settled the issue.