For its final season prior to merging with the NFL, the American Football League adopted an expanded playoff structure. Rather than have the two division winners play directly for the league title, a first round pitting the second place team in each of the divisions against the first place club in the opposite division was added. On December 20, 1969 one of the Divisional playoffs pitted the Kansas City Chiefs, the second place club in the Western Division, against the top team in the Eastern Division, the defending-champion New York Jets.
The Jets, coached by Weeb Ewbank, had won a stunning victory in the previous year’s Super Bowl and easily repeated as division winners with a 10-4 record, sweeping all the other Eastern clubs along the way. They still had the ability to put points on the board with QB Joe Namath throwing to flanker Don Maynard, split end George Sauer, and TE Pete Lammons and a fine running attack headed by HB Emerson Boozer and FB Matt Snell. While the defensive backfield was suspect, the line and linebackers were not. In addition, PK Jim Turner, having kicked a then-record 34 field goals in 1968, followed up with 32 in ‘69.
Head Coach Hank Stram’s Chiefs were runners-up to Oakland in the tougher Western Division with an 11-3 tally. QB Len Dawson (pictured passing above) missed six games due to a knee injury but was healthy for the postseason. The stable of running backs provided a good blend of inside power and outside speed and the defense was solid in all areas. Kansas City also boasted an outstanding placekicker in Jan Stenerud, who set a league record with 16 consecutive field goals at one point. Moreover, in their one meeting with New York during the regular season, the Chiefs won decisively.
It was a cold and windy Saturday at Shea Stadium with 62,977 fans in attendance. The Jets were without the services of Don Maynard for most of the game due to a broken right foot, although he was inserted briefly in the second half and caught one pass. Meanwhile, a bout of the flu kept Kansas City FB Robert Holmes out of action for most of the game as well.
The strong winds played havoc on the passing game from the start and also affected the placekicking. An early 40-yard field goal attempt by Stenerud was held up by the wind and fell short. New York responded with a drive in which Namath completed all four of his passes and Jim Turner was successful on his three-point try from 27 yards.
The contest quickly settled into being a defensive struggle. Stenerud finally got Kansas City on the board early in the second quarter with a 23-yard field goal. The Jets played conservatively and chose to run out the clock with their last possession of the second quarter, much to the dissatisfaction of the home crowd.
Late in the third quarter, the Chiefs, helped by a key pass completion from Dawson to TE Fred Arbanas, went ahead by 6-3 as Stenerud booted a 25-yard field goal. It set the stage for the turning point of the game in the fourth quarter.
First, a pass interference call on CB Emmitt Thomas gave New York a first down at the KC one. With MLB Willie Lanier exhorting his teammates on, the Jets tried to run it in on successive carries by Matt Snell and HB Bill Mathis, but failed to reach the end zone. In both instances, Lanier was there to make the play. With third and inches inside the Kansas City one yard line, Namath rolled to his right. Snell was his primary receiver, but LB Bobby Bell picked him up out of the backfield and the hobbling quarterback was under pressure from onrushing LB Jim Lynch. As a result, Namath threw the ball away and the Jets had to settle for a seven-yard field goal by Jim Turner. It tied the score at 6-6, but was a big missed opportunity for New York – and a spur to the Chiefs.
On the ensuing series, Dawson threw to WR Otis Taylor for a 61-yard gain on a crossing pattern and then followed with a 19-yard TD pass to WR Gloster Richardson, who was all alone in the end zone after having eluded CB Cornell Gordon. With the extra point added, the Chiefs were up by seven points.
There was still time for the Jets to come back, but the inspired Kansas City defense was able to keep them out of the end zone and Namath was only able to complete 6 of 20 pass attempts the rest of the way. Twice New York made it into scoring territory, getting to the KC 16 and 13 respectively, but came up empty. On the second of those occasions, two Namath passes intended for George Sauer in the end zone fell incomplete and a third, to WR Bake Turner, was intercepted by CB Jim Marsalis to end the threat after New York had reached the KC four due to a personal foul penalty on SS Jim Kearney. Any last hopes ended when DB Mike Battle fumbled away a punt with 36 seconds left on the clock. The Chiefs won 13-6 to advance to the AFL Championshi p game.
Kansas City outgained the Jets (276 yards to 235) but New York had more first downs (19 to 14). The Jets turned the ball over four times while KC suffered no turnovers. The teams combined for 11 punts and Jan Stenerud struggled as he missed three of his five field goal attempts.
In the difficult weather conditions, Len Dawson completed 12 of 27 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. Mike Garrett rushed for 67 yards on 18 carries and Wendell Hayes added 32 yards on 10 attempts while leading the team with 5 catches for 46 yards. However, Otis Taylor (pictured at left) gained 74 yards on his two receptions.
For the Jets, Joe Namath went to the air 40 times and completed 14 for 164 yards with three interceptions. George Sauer caught 5 of those passes for 61 yards. Matt Snell was the rushing leader with 61 yards on 12 attempts.
Reacting to criticism of the attempt to pass on third down rather than try another run into the line, causing the Jets to end up with three points rather than potentially seven and shifting the game’s momentum, Coach Ewbank said, “We don’t second-guess a call. Hindsight is always 20-20. Joe (Namath) called that third down pass and I thought it was a good call. We worked on that play all week for that type situation and we thought it would work.”
The Chiefs faced their division rivals, the Oakland Raiders, for the AFL title and won to advance to the Super Bowl where they defeated the Minnesota Vikings to finish off the younger league’s existence on a winning note. They missed the playoffs in 1970 with a 7-5-2 record while the Jets sank much further due to injuries – most notably to Namath – and finished at 4-10. But while Kansas City would bounce back to make it to the postseason in 1971, New York would not appear again in the playoffs until 1981.