December 6, 2014

1971: Chiefs Defeat 49ers to Move Into First Place in AFC West

Two teams vying for division titles, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, met up for a Monday night game on December 6, 1971. Head Coach Hank Stram’s Chiefs had won the Super Bowl two years earlier but missed the postseason in 1970 and were 7-3-1 and trying to get ahead of the Raiders in the AFC West. 36-year-old QB Len Dawson (pictured at right) was still a quality passer and had an outstanding target in WR Otis Taylor. HB Ed Podolak was a fine all-purpose back and paired well with FB Wendell Hayes. The defense was a good, solid unit.

The 49ers, coached by Dick Nolan, had advanced to the NFC Championship game in ’70 and were 7-4 and trying to stave off the Rams in the NFC West. They also had an established 36-year-old quarterback in John Brodie, who was prone to being erratic, and a fine running tandem in FB Ken Willard and rookie HB Vic Washington. WR Gene Washington was an excellent deep threat and TE Ted Kwalick among the NFL leaders in pass receptions. DE Cedrick Hardman, LB Dave Wilcox, and CB Jimmy Johnson were the biggest stars on an effective defense.

There were 45,306 fans in attendance at Candlestick Park for the nationally televised game. The Chiefs had the first possession and punted. San Francisco drove from its 20 to the KC 11 as Vic Washington had runs of 10 and 12 yards, John Brodie threw a screen pass to Ken Willard that picked up 16 yards, and a face mask penalty against the Chiefs converted a third down. The drive stalled and Bruce Gossett kicked an 18-yard field goal.

On a series highlighted by a throw from Len Dawson to WR Elmo Wright that was good for 31 yards, the Chiefs reached the San Francisco 26, but Jan Stenerud’s 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked by DB Johnny Fuller. Two plays later, Brodie fired a pass to Gene Washington that gained 53 yards to the KC 26, but the 49ers gained just two more yards and Gossett’s try for a field goal from 31 yards was close but no good.

As the game moved into the second quarter, the Chiefs moved effectively. A throw to TE Morris Stroud at the sideline gained 54 yards to the San Francisco four, but they lost four yards from there and settled for a 15-yard Stenerud field goal that tied the score at 3-3.

The 49ers punted following their next possession and, after passing to Stroud for 13 yards, Dawson went long for Otis Taylor (pictured at left), who went the distance for a 46-yard touchdown. Stenerud added the extra point and the visitors were up by 10-3.

Stuck deep in their own territory, the Niners again had to punt and gave Kansas City good field position at the San Francisco 40. However, the Chiefs lost six yards when Dave Wilcox tackled Ed Podolak behind the line of scrimmage, and two passes fell incompleted. They didn’t come up empty, though, as Stenerud booted a 54-yard field goal that put KC further ahead by 13-3.

The 49ers again had to punt but got the ball back when Podolak fumbled after being hit by Cedrick Hardman and LB Frank Nunley recovered at the Kansas City 45. It took five plays for the Niners to score as Brodie completed two passes to Ted Kwalick, the second for a 35-yard TD. Gossett converted and the home team was behind by just three points.

With a minute remaining in the first half, the Chiefs regained possession but were forced to punt. Jerrel Wilson avoided a strong rush to get away a 50-yard kick that CB Bruce Taylor returned 19 yards. On the next play, CB Emmitt Thomas intercepted Brodie’s pass and ran it back 36 yards to the San Francisco 17. The clock was down to 12 seconds as the Chiefs lined up for a field goal, but Dawson instead passed to OT Sid Smith, an eligible receiver, and on the last play of the half Stenerud kicked a field goal for real from 12 yards out to make the halftime score 16-10. Len Dawson had already passed for 198 yards.

The 49ers had the ball first in the third quarter and punted. Podolak picked up 27 yards on three straight carries for the Chiefs and Dawson passed to Taylor for 10 yards. Runs by Wendell Hayes and Podolak advanced the ball to the San Francisco 16, but Stenerud missed a 23-yard field goal attempt.

A short San Francisco series that ended with a punt was followed by the Chiefs driving 61 yards in six plays, and this time not coming up empty. Podolak ran for 12 yards and Hayes for 22 and it was Taylor covering the final 25 yards on an end-around play. Stenerud converted and Kansas City’s lead was up to 13 points at 23-10.

San Francisco responded with an end-around of its own on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, and Kwalick (pictured below) raced 28 yards to the KC 43. Brodie passed the 49ers down to the eight as the period came to an end and, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Vic Washington ran three yards for a touchdown to conclude the seven-play, 71-yard drive. Gossett added the point after to narrow Kansas City’s lead to 23-17.

The Chiefs moved methodically down the field on their next series. Dawson threw to Taylor for 10 yards in a third-and-eight situation and Wright grabbed another pass that had been deflected to pick up 29 yards and convert another third down. Hayes rushed for 14 yards and Podolak for 12 to reach the San Francisco three, but three carries by Hayes picked up two yards and Stenerud kicked an eight-yard field goal that put Kansas City up by nine.

The teams traded punts and the 49ers started off from their 31 with under two minutes to play. Brodie connected with Vic Washington for 16 yards and Kwalick for 14, HB Larry Schreiber ran for six yards on a draw play, and Brodie threw to Vic Washington for nine to get to the KC 24. But that was as far as the Niners could get. Four passes fell incomplete, the last two into the end zone, and the Chiefs came away with a 26-17 win.     

Kansas City had the edge in total yards (427 to 331) and first downs (20 to 18), with both teams well balanced between running and passing yards. Each team turned the ball over once and recorded one sack apiece.

Len Dawson completed 16 of 28 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Otis Taylor had 5 catches for 81 yards and a TD and added another score on a 25-yard run. Elmo Wright gained 76 yards on four pass receptions and Morris Stroud 67 yards on just two. Ed Podolak led the KC ground game with 75 yards on 17 carries and Wendell Hayes also ran the ball 17 times, for 66 yards. Jan Stenerud kicked four field goals, although he also had two misses.

For the 49ers, John Brodie was successful on 20 of 32 throws for 229 yards and a TD while giving up one interception. Vic Washington (pictured below) rushed for 43 yards on 12 attempts that included a touchdown and also led the club with 7 catches, for 62 yards. Gene Washington gained 73 yards on three receptions and Ted Kwalick contributed 58 yards on 5 catches and had a 28-yard run.

“I thought we played a good game,” said John Brodie. “We didn’t play poorly. They’re just a good team…as good as any team we’ve played.”

The win put the Chiefs on top in the AFC West for the first time all season and that is where they finished, with a 10-3-1 record. Hopes of returning to the Super Bowl were dashed when they lost an overtime thriller to Miami in the Divisional playoff round. For San Francisco, the loss put them a half game behind the Rams in the NFC West, but the 49ers won their final two games and placed first at 9-5. They again made it to the NFC Championship game, and again lost to the Cowboys at that point.

Len Dawson led the AFC in passing yards per attempt (8.3) and yards per completion (15.0) and was second in the conference in passing yards (2504). He was a second-team All-AFC selection by UPI and was named to the Pro Bowl. Otis Taylor led the NFL with 1110 pass receiving yards while his 57 catches ranked third. He averaged 19.5 yards per reception, scored seven touchdowns, and was a consensus first-team All-NFL choice as well as Pro Bowl selection.

John Brodie led the NFC in passing yards (2642) and TD passes (18) but also interceptions (24). Vic Washington topped the NFL with 1986 all-purpose yards that included 811 rushing, 317 pass receiving, and 858 on kickoff returns. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl, as was Ted Kwalick, who ranked second in the conference in pass receiving (52 catches) while gaining 664 yards and scoring five TDs.