November 9, 2011

1975: Bert Jones Rallies Colts Past O.J. Simpson & Bills

After getting off to a 1-4 start in the 1975 NFL season, the Baltimore Colts had won two straight games. For the once-proud franchise that had most recently suffered through three straight losing seasons, including a miserable 2-12 in ’74, it was a sign of improvement under new Head Coach Ted Marchibroda. On November 9 they were at Buffalo to take on the division-rival Bills at Rich Stadium.

The Bills, coached by Lou Saban in his second stint with the team, had been 9-5 in each of the previous two years and started off fast by winning their first four games in ’75 (including one at Baltimore) before losing twice. Still, they were 5-2 and very much in contention. The key to the offense was star RB O.J. Simpson behind an outstanding line, but third-year QB Joe Ferguson was on the rise and had good wide receivers in Bob Chandler and J.D. Hill. However, Buffalo’s once-formidable defensive backfield had been decimated by injuries.

Buffalo’s defense took a further hit when CB Ike Harrison reinjured a groin pull in the first quarter and sat out the rest of the game. However, it didn’t seem to be a matter of immediate concern when Simpson ran 44 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bills a 7-0 lead after a quarter of play.

Buffalo poured it on in the second quarter, and Simpson was having a big day as he scored on pass plays that covered 22 and 32 yards. The home team was up by 21-0 and appeared to be in control.

The Colts, led by third-year QB Bert Jones (pictured above), struck quickly to get back into the game. First, Jones threw to WR Glenn Doughty for a 63-yard gain. Following a running play, Jones passed to all-purpose HB Lydell Mitchell for a nine-yard TD. The Bills came back, however, and Ferguson threw a scoring pass to Chandler that covered 19 yards and stretched their lead to 28-7.

With 2:28 left in the first half and facing a fourth-and-two situation, the Colts lined up for a field goal attempt, but holder Marty Domres, the backup quarterback, faked and threw a 15-yard TD pass to FB Bill Olds.

Baltimore’s defense kept Buffalo to a short possession and the Colts got the ball back once more before the half. Jones threw a bomb to fleet WR Roger Carr for an 89-yard touchdown and it was a 28-21 tally going into halftime.

There was no scoring during the third quarter, but on the fourth play of the fourth quarter, Mitchell scored from 11 yards out to cap a five-play, 72-yard drive for the Colts. With Toni Linhart’s extra point, the game was now tied at 28-28. It didn’t stay that way long as LB Stan White intercepted a Ferguson pass to give Baltimore the ball at the Buffalo 23 and two plays later the mobile Jones ran 19 yards for the go-ahead TD.

Late in the game, QB Gary Marangi came in for the injured Ferguson, who suffered a concussion, and was intercepted by CB Lloyd Mumphord at the Buffalo 41 - he returned the pickoff to the 13. Two plays later, Mitchell ran for a 12-yard touchdown with just over three minutes on the clock, effectively putting the game away for the Colts.

Buffalo scored once more as Marangi threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Chandler with 1:38 to go, but that was it. Baltimore came away with a 42-35 win.

The Colts outgained the Bills (498 yards to 418) and had more first downs (25 to 20). Both offenses were effective rushing as well as passing – Baltimore gained 299 net yards through the air and 199 on the ground while Buffalo rolled up 179 yards on the ground and 239 through the air. Each team turned the ball over three times and was penalized on seven occasions. The Colts recorded four sacks while Jones was dumped twice by the Bills.

Bert Jones completed 14 of 22 passes for 306 yards with two touchdowns and one interception; he also ran the ball 9 times for 59 yards and a TD. Lydell Mitchell (pictured at right) had 27 carries for 112 yards and two scores and also had 4 pass receptions for 25 yards and another touchdown. Glenn Doughty caught 3 passes for 102 yards and Roger Carr, thanks to the long scoring reception, gained 136 yards on just two catches.

O.J. Simpson ran for 123 yards on 19 carries with one TD, but 105 of those yards came in the first half as the Colts held him to 18 yards on 5 attempts in the second half; he also caught three passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Joe Ferguson went to the air 21 times and had 12 completions for 234 yards and three touchdowns, with one intercepted. In relief, Gary Marangi was successful on just two of 10 pass attempts for 33 yards with a TD and one picked off. Bob Chandler had 7 catches for 118 yards and two scores.

“I think we were too concerned with stopping O.J. Simpson in the first half,” said Ted Marchibroda afterward. “The best thing you can do is just go out and play football. We kept our poise and our line started coming off the ball.”

“I’ve never been that far behind,” added Bert Jones. “Twenty-one points is a long way to come.”

“At this stage we're just too crippled to play pass defense,” Coach Lou Saban said from Buffalo’s perspective. “When Ike (Harrison) went out today we knew we were in trouble. We're scoring 35 to 40 points a game and we're having a heck of a time.”

The Colts won all the rest of their games to close out the regular season with a 10-4 record, placing them at the top of the AFC East. The run came to an end in the Divisional round of the playoffs with a loss to Pittsburgh. Buffalo ended up third in the division at 8-6.

Bert Jones was the third-ranked passer in the NFL (89.1 rating) as he threw for 2483 yards and 18 touchdowns with just 8 interceptions. His 2.3 interception percentage was best in the league.

Joe Ferguson led the AFC in TD passes (25), which also tied him for the NFL lead with Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton. He had the highest percentage of scoring passes (7.8) and threw for 2426 yards with 17 interceptions.

Following the game against the Colts, O.J. Simpson (pictured at left) had 1128 yards rushing, and he went on to lead the NFL for the third time in four years with 1817 yards on 329 carries with 16 touchdowns. He also scored 7 TDs on pass receptions and led the league with 23 touchdowns (the NFL record at the time) and 138 points.

Lydell Mitchell ran the ball 289 times for 1193 yards, to rank third in the NFL, and was second (tied with Reggie Rucker of the Browns) with 60 pass receptions, for 544 yards. He was fourth with 15 touchdowns (11 rushing, 4 receiving) and was selected to the Pro Bowl.