October 30, 2011

1960: Bills Upset Oilers with Two Fourth Quarter Field Goals

Coming up on the midpoint of the inaugural American Football League season, the Houston Oilers (5-1) had established themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Division while the Buffalo Bills (2-4) were struggling. They met for the first time on October 30, 1960 at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium.

The Oilers, coached by Lou Rymkus, featured QB George Blanda, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons almost exclusively with the Bears, and rookie HB Billy Cannon, the Heisman Trophy winner out of LSU. Cannon was off to a slow start, but FB Dave Smith proved to be a good find and Blanda had outstanding receivers to throw to in flanker Charley Hennigan and split end Bill Groman.

Buffalo, under the direction of Head Coach Buster Ramsey, had a respectable defense that included DE LaVerne Torczon, DT Chuck McMurtry, MLB Archie Matsos, and FS Richie McCabe. However, offense was a problem, in particular quarterback. Ex-Brown Tom O’Connell started the year behind center and was a disappointment. Johnny Green played well in his first start of the season the week before, a convincing 38-9 win over the Raiders.

There were 23,001 fans in attendance and they saw the Oilers score first as Blanda connected with Hennigan on an eight-yard touchdown pass. The Bills responded when FB Wray Carlton went 70 yards for a touchdown with a screen pass from Green (the Green-to-Carlton combination on screen passes would prove effective throughout the game). However, the extra point attempt failed and Houston maintained a 7-6 lead.

Before the first quarter was over, Joe Hergert kicked a 36-yard field goal that put the Bills in front by 9-7. The Oilers retook the lead in the second quarter when Blanda threw to Cannon for a 21-yard touchdown.

Hergert suffered an injury and DB Billy Atkins (pictured at top), the team’s punter, took over the placekicking for Buffalo. His 18-yard field goal moved the Bills to two points behind the Oilers at 14-12 and then end Dick Brubaker caught a 10-yard pass from Green to make the score 19-14 at the half.

The Blanda-to-Cannon combination struck again in the third quarter, this time for a 53-yard touchdown and, with Blanda’s successful extra point, Houston moved back in front in the see-saw game at 21-19. The lead increased by three on a 50-yard Blanda field goal, still in the third period.

The Bills drove from their 26 into Houston territory early in the fourth quarter, ending with an Atkins field goal from 45 yards out. A shanked punt by Houston’s Ken Hall allowed Buffalo to take over at the Oilers’ 39 following a 20-yard return by Matsos. Another Green screen pass to Carlton got the ball down to the three. The Oilers defense held as Buffalo was only able to gain a yard on the next three plays. Although the crowd was yelling for the Bills to go for it, they took a delay-of-game penalty that set the ball back to the seven so that Atkins would have a better angle for his field goal attempt. It was successful from 15 yards with less than six minutes remaining to play and provided the final result, a 25-24 upset win for Buffalo.

Buffalo’s offense rose to the occasion as the Bills outgained the Oilers (352 yards to 287) and had more first downs (17 to 13). While they gained only 59 yards on the ground, the Bills netted 293 yards through the air (Green was sacked five times for 41 yards in losses). Blanda was sacked just once, but the Oilers turned the ball over five times, to three by Buffalo.

Johnny Green had a big performance, completing 18 of 49 passes for 334 yards with two touchdowns and one intercepted. Wray Carlton caught 6 passes for 177 yards and the one long TD while also rushing for 25 yards on six carries. Elbert Dubenion contributed 5 receptions for 76 yards. HB Wilmer Fowler was the team’s leading ground gainer with 36 yards on 10 attempts. Archie Matsos (pictured above) had a big day for the Bills, intercepting two passes and returning the short punt, thus setting up two touchdowns.

George Blanda had his worst passing game of the year, hitting on just 9 of 32 throws for 124 yards, and while three were good for TDs, four were intercepted. Dave Smith ran for 107 yards on 12 carries, and Billy Cannon also ran the ball 12 times, gaining 60 yards, and also caught three passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

The upset win wasn’t a turning point for the Bills – they won just twice more and finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a 5-8-1 record. Houston recovered to win the division comfortably at 10-4 and defeated the Chargers for the first AFL Championship.

Johnny Green (pictured at left) failed to sustain his success against the Oilers, partly because of an injury to his throwing arm suffered during the game. He ended up completing just 89 of 228 passes (39.0 percent) for 1267 yards with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions apiece. Wray Carlton led the team in rushing with 533 yards and caught 29 passes for 477 yards (16.4 avg.). Billy Atkins ended up handling most of the placekicking as well as the punting and was successful on 6 of 13 field goal attempts and 27 of 33 extra points.