November 2, 2011

1969: Kilmer & Johnson Each Throw 6 TD Passes as Saints Hold Off Cards

The lowly New Orleans Saints were off to a 0-6 start prior to facing the St. Louis Cardinals on November 2, 1969, and it hardly seemed likely that they would do any better in Week 7. The Saints had scored a total of 91 points, an average of 15.2 per game, with a high of 20 in the season-opening contest against the Redskins.

In losing to Philadelphia the previous week, Jim Ninowski had seen action in place of QB Bill Kilmer (pictured at right), but the 30-year-old veteran was back behind center against the Cardinals. In addition, Dave Parks was shifted from wide receiver to tight end with Al Dodd being moved into Parks’ spot as Head Coach Tom Fears sought to generate some offense.

The Cardinals, under Head Coach Charley Winner, were having their own problems. They had started off at 2-1 but came into the game against New Orleans at 2-2-1. Injuries in the defensive backfield were a concern. Both Jim Hart and Charley Johnson (pictured at left) had started at quarterback, with Johnson holding down the job against the Saints.

There were 46,718 in attendance at Busch Memorial Stadium. In the first quarter, the Saints missed a scoring opportunity after CB Gene Howard returned a kickoff 86 yards before being knocked out of bounds. Following a pass interference call on CB Nate Wright, they had a first down at the one. FB Andy Livingston lost a yard, FB Ernie Wheelwright gained it back and then was stopped for no gain on third down. Going for it on fourth down, Kilmer tried to sneak the ball in and was stopped short. However, they were successful on a 25-yard touchdown pass play from Kilmer to Parks, and Johnson had connected with WR Dave Williams on a 32-yard TD throw for the Cardinals. The score was even at 7-7 after the opening period.

The Cardinals took the lead early in the second quarter on Johnson’s second scoring pass to Williams, this one covering 14 yards. Tom Dempsey booted a 43-yard field goal for the Saints to narrow the margin to 14-10.

Midway through the second quarter, Howard leaped and knocked away a Johnson pass that was intended for Williams, who was in the clear at the New Orleans 20. Following the thwarted scoring throw, FB Cid Edwards caught a pass from Johnson for a 14-yard gain but fumbled and CB Elijah Nevett recovered for the Saints at the St. Louis 43. Two passes to Dodd moved the ball to the 20 and then Kilmer hit Wheelwright for a touchdown that put New Orleans ahead at 17-14.

Late in the second quarter, Kilmer had an apparent 50-yard scoring pass called back when he scrambled before throwing to HB Don Shy. However, he had crossed the line of scrimmage before launching his pass. Still, the Saints extended their lead before halftime when Kilmer completed his third touchdown toss of the game of five yards to WR Dan Abramowicz. While Dempsey’s extra point attempt failed, New Orleans was up by 23-14 at the intermission and would never relinquish the lead – although there was still plenty of scoring to go.

In the third quarter, the Saints poured it on when Kilmer connected with Shy on a 28-yard scoring play and then capped another possession with a one-yard touchdown run by Wheelwright. Johnson threw a TD pass to WR John Gilliam, but Kilmer hit Abramowicz for another touchdown, from 11 yards out, and New Orleans held a 44-21 lead going into the final period.

Kilmer threw his sixth and last scoring pass less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, to Parks for 13 yards, and then St. Louis played catch-up with the score at 51-21. First came two Johnson scoring passes to Williams that covered 31 and 26 yards, respectively. After FS Larry Wilson returned a blocked field goal attempt by Dempsey late in the game, Johnson tossed his sixth touchdown pass to HB Roy Shivers that covered 14 yards. Time ran out on St. Louis, however, and the Saints held on to win the improbably wild offensive show by a score of 51-42.

It was the most points the Cardinals had given up since moving to St. Louis in 1960, and the 12 combined touchdown passes broke the NFL record of 11 first set by the Giants and Redskins in 1962.

Both teams piled up plenty of yardage, with New Orleans outgaining the Cardinals, 508 to 478. The Saints also led in first downs by 26 to 19. St. Louis was hurt by four turnovers, to one by New Orleans, and 10 penalties (as opposed to five flags thrown on the Saints).

Bill Kilmer completed 22 of 32 passes for 345 yards and a club-record 6 touchdowns and had one intercepted. Al Dodd (pictured at right) caught 7 passes for 145 yards and Dan Abramowicz and Dave Parks each caught 5 passes and scored two TDs (Abramowicz outgained Parks, 72 yards to 64). RB Tony Baker rushed for 110 yards on 14 carries.

For the Cardinals, Charley Johnson tied a franchise record with 6 touchdown passes (originally set by Jim Hardy in 1950, Johnson had matched it previously in 1965) while completing 20 of his 37 throws for 374 yards and giving up two interceptions. Dave Williams was the chief beneficiary as he caught 8 passes for 164 yards and 4 TDs. John Gilliam gained 106 yards on his 5 receptions that included one score. HB Johnny Roland was the team’s leading rusher with 44 yards on 10 attempts and Cid Edwards was right behind with 42 yards on 5 carries.

“There really isn’t any key to what happened,” said Kilmer afterward. “The receivers were getting open and I had great protection. When you get that, it makes it easy.”

“I was just disappointed in our defensive showing,” said a frustrated Charley Winner. “I just never thought a Cardinal defense would permit that many points.”

After a loss to the Cowboys the next week, the resurgent Saints won three straight games and ended up at 5-9 and in third place in the Capitol Division of the Eastern Conference. St. Louis rebounded with a big win over the Giants but won only once more and finished with a 4-9-1 record that ranked third in the Century Division.

Bill Kilmer, better known for his leadership ability than passing prowess, ended up throwing for 2532 yards with 20 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. Charley Johnson, in the meantime still splitting time with Jim Hart, passed for 1847 yards with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions apiece (he was dealt to Houston in the offseason, thus resolving the quarterback dilemma in St. Louis).

Dave Williams (pictured at left) caught a career-high 56 passes for 702 yards, but caught just three more touchdown passes over the course of the season to give him a total of seven. John Gilliam was the Cards’ more accomplished receiver overall with a fourth-ranked 997 yards on 52 receptions for a 19.2 average and 10 TDs. Dan Abramowicz of the Saints led the NFL with 73 catches and ranked third with 1015 yards.