November 2, 2014

1975: Bills Rally to Beat Jets on Long Ferguson-to-Simpson Touchdown

The Buffalo Bills were at 4-2, having lost two consecutive games after winning their first four, as they faced the New York Jets on November 2, 1975. The offense could score points and was spurred by star HB O.J. Simpson. FB Jim Braxton was an effective runner as well as blocker while QB Joe Ferguson (pictured above) had developed into a fine passer. However, the defense was another story and had been most notably weakened by the loss of CB Robert James for the entire year. Head Coach Lou Saban’s team was looking to get back on track after the two defeats.

New York had a 2-4 record and lost badly to the Bills in the season-opening contest. Coached by Charley Winner, the Jets still had QB Joe Namath to throw the ball, but at 32, “Broadway Joe” was too immobile and interception-prone playing behind a mediocre line. FB John Riggins was an effective runner and there were good receivers in WR Jerome Barkum and TE Rich Caster. But the defense was poor, although on this day it was focused on stopping Simpson.

It was a clear day at Shea Stadium with 58,343 fans in attendance. The Bills took the opening kickoff and drove 74 yards in 11 plays. O.J. Simpson was stopped for losses on both of his carries, but Joe Ferguson had completions to WR Bob Chandler for 16 yards and WR J.D. Hill for 32 and 21 yards as well as a four-yard gain on a quarterback sneak that converted a third down. A holding penalty backed the Bills up after they reached the one and scored an apparent touchdown, but Ferguson threw to Jim Braxton for an 11-yard TD that counted and John Leypoldt added the extra point.

The Jets had to punt after their first series came to a stop at the Buffalo 49 and this time it was Simpson (pictured at left) carrying the bulk of the load as the Bills advanced to their own 38. However, FS Delles Howell intercepted a Ferguson pass and returned it nine yards to the Buffalo 42. John Riggins carried three straight times to pick up 23 yards before the drive stalled at the 25 and Pat Leahy kicked a 42-yard field goal. Buffalo held a 7-3 lead at the end of the opening period.

Simpson and Braxton had good gains to close out the first quarter and the Bills drove methodically into New York territory. On a third-and-nine play, Ferguson threw to Braxton for a 26-yard gain to the 16 yard line. However, a penalty and a sack by DT Ed Galigher moved the visitors back to the 33 and they punted.

Starting from their own 11, it was the Jets’ turn to put together a long possession. Riggins and HB Emerson Boozer ran effectively and Joe Namath passed to WR Eddie Bell for a 22-yard gain. The advance finally was stopped at the Buffalo 24 and Leahy kicked a 41-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.

New York got the ball back a few plays later when a Ferguson pass was picked off by LB Godwin Turk, who returned it to near midfield. Following a five-yard carry by Boozer, HB Steve Davis ran for 22 yards to the Buffalo 24 and then, following the two-minute warning, he carried again for 11 yards. Boozer lost a yard on the next play and two Namath passes were incomplete, and the home team settled for a 31-yard Leahy field goal.

The Jets got the ball right back on the ensuing kickoff, however, when WR Vic Washington fumbled after running it back 24 yards and DB Ed Taylor recovered for New York at the Buffalo 23. Two plays later, Namath threw to Boozer for a 16-yard touchdown. Leahy added the point after and the Jets took a 16-7 lead into halftime.

The Jets had the first possession in the third quarter and drove 70 yards in seven plays. Riggins ran for 11 yards and caught a pass from Namath for 22 to the Buffalo 34. Three plays later Namath threw long for Bell at the goal line and the diminutive receiver caught it for a 31-yard TD. Leahy’s conversion put the home team ahead by a 23-7 score.

The Bills responded with a series that started off with Ferguson throwing to Braxton for 21 yards and, after catching a short pass, Simpson ran for 18 to the New York 34. Ferguson connected with Chandler for 18 yards but, after advancing to the 11, a holding penalty pushed the Bills back and they ended up with a 40-yard field goal by Leypoldt.

Riggins and Boozer picked up 22 yards between them on the next series and Namath completed a pass to Rich Caster that gained 29 yards. But a Namath pass intended for Bell was intercepted by CB Tony Greene, who fell into the end zone for a touchback. The Bills then went 80 yards in eight plays. Ferguson passed to Hill in the corner of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown and, with Leypoldt’s PAT, the Bills were now down by just six points at 23-17.

New York was driving as the contest moved into the fourth quarter and reached the Buffalo 30 before a sack and holding penalty moved the ball back to the 45, from where the Jets had to punt. The Bills had to punt as well and the Jets took over at their 31. HB Carl Garrett ran for 11 yards but was twice stopped for no gain before Namath completed a pass to Barkum for 15 yards. Namath threw to Caster for 13 yards to reach the Buffalo 29 and Garrett ran twice to pick up another nine yards. However, Riggins was stopped for no gain on third-and-one and, going for it on fourth down, he was stopped short again as DE Earl Edwards slammed into him at the line.

Starting from their 20 with 5:19 left on the clock, the Bills picked up nine yards on a Ferguson pass to Braxton and then the quarterback ran the ball up the middle for another seven and a first down. After a pass fell incomplete, Ferguson threw across the middle to Simpson, who split the defenders and ran down the left sideline for a 64-yard touchdown. Leypoldt kicked the all-important extra point and, in electrifying fashion, the visitors were in front by one.

The Jets had two more shots in the time remaining but couldn’t get out of their end of the field. They punted from their own 24 after the first series and, regaining the ball at their 19 following a clipping penalty on Buffalo’s ensuing punt, Namath was sacked twice. The Bills held on to win by a final score of 24-23.

Buffalo had the edge in total yards (435 to 366) while the Jets had more first downs (25 to 22). New York also gained more yards on the ground (199 to 148). The Bills turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by the Jets, although they recorded four sacks, to one for New York.

O.J. Simpson was largely kept in check as he rushed for 94 yards on 21 carries, but his 66 yards on two catches included the game-deciding touchdown. Joe Ferguson completed 15 of 29 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, although he was intercepted twice. Jim Braxton ran for 43 yards on 10 attempts and pulled in four passes for 67 yards and a TD and J.D. Hill gained 88 yards on his four receptions that also included a score. Bob Chandler contributed five catches for 75 yards.

For the Jets, Joe Namath was successful on 16 of 31 throws for 208 yards and two TDs while giving up one interception. John Riggins (pictured at right) gained 108 yards on 24 carries, but it was the one yard he couldn’t get on fourth down that drew the most comment. Jerome Barkum had five catches for 44 yards, Rich Caster added four for 56 yards, while Eddie Bell topped the club with 60 yards on three receptions that included a touchdown.

“We only needed less than a yard,” explained Coach Charley Winner of the fateful decision to pass up a possible game-clinching field goal in the fourth quarter and try and convert a fourth down instead. “The players all thought they could make it. Who knows what the percentage is if you try to kick a field goal? We were making yardage all day long. We thought we could make one foot.”

The Bills lost their next two games on the way to a disappointing 8-6 record that placed third in the AFC East. Ultimately, offensive prowess couldn’t overcome defensive vulnerability. New York won only once more all year to end up at the bottom of the division along with the Patriots at 3-11. Coach Winner was gone after nine games and Ken Shipp finished up in the interim.

O.J. Simpson was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection for the fourth straight year as he led the league in rushing with 1817 yards, total yards with 2243, touchdowns with a then-record 23, and scoring with a total of 138 points. Joe Ferguson tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes with 25 along with Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton.

John Riggins became the first Jet to rush for a thousand yards with 1005 on 238 carries (4.2 avg.) and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Joe Namath passed for 2286 yards and 15 touchdowns, but led the league in interceptions for the second consecutive year with 28.

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