December 28, 2014

1975: Raiders Defeat Late-Rallying Bengals in AFC Divisional Playoff Game

The AFC Divisional playoff game on December 28, 1975 featured the Oakland Raiders, champions of the AFC Western Division, against the Cincinnati Bengals, second place finishers in the AFC Central who secured a Wild Card spot. Both teams completed the regular season with 11-3 records.

The Raiders, coached by John Madden, were a highly talented team that had won the division for the third consecutive year. QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler (pictured above) had played with a knee injury all season and was not as successful as he had been in 1974, but still passed for 2296 yards and 16 touchdown, although with 24 interceptions. 32-year-old WR Fred Biletnikoff was showing signs of wear, but deep threat WR Cliff Branch was outstanding, while the running game featured a group of solid, if unspectacular, backs playing behind perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL. On defense, LB Ted Hendricks played out his option and joined the Raiders from Green Bay at the cost of a first draft choice and had been utilized as a reserve for much of the year, but was in the starting lineup against the Bengals, who had beaten Oakland during the regular season.

Cincinnati was coached by the legendary Paul Brown and had an outstanding passing offense directed by QB Ken Anderson, the NFL’s top-rated passer for the second straight year. The receiving corps, led by Pro Bowl WR Isaac Curtis, was a good one while the running game was far less impressive. The defense missed the presence of DT Mike Reid, who retired to pursue a music career, and MLB Bill Bergey, who was traded to Philadelphia, but the secondary had capable performers in CB Ken Riley and SS Tommy Casanova.

It was a clear day at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with 53,039 fans in attendance. The Raiders took the opening kickoff and drove into Cincinnati territory. Ken Stabler completed passes to WR Mike Siani for 15 yards and TE Bob Moore (pictured at left) for 11, but when the series stalled at the Cincinnati 24, George Blanda’s 41-yard field goal attempt was short.

The Bengals reached the Oakland 44 on their first possession and had to punt, and the Raiders, taking over at their 20, advanced quickly down the field as Stabler completed a pass to Cliff Branch for 36 yards and HB Clarence Davis ran around end for 18 yards to the Cincinnati 26. After getting inside the 20, Oakland’s drive stalled and Blanda kicked a 27-yard field goal.

The Bengals went three-and-out and punted, and in a series that extended into the second quarter, the Raiders, taking over at midfield, drove 50 yards in eight plays. In a third-and-five situation at the Cincinnati 34, Stabler connected with Davis for 10 yards and a personal foul on the Bengals moved the ball to the 12. A three-yard carry by FB Jess Phillips was followed by Siani catching a Stabler pass for a nine-yard touchdown. Blanda added the extra point and Oakland’s lead was extended to 10-0.

Once again the Bengals had to punt following a short possession, and Dave Green’s kick was partially blocked by Ted Hendricks and traveled only 21 yards. The Raiders had excellent starting field position at the Cincinnati 39, and after a loss on a running play, Stabler threw to Siani for 11 yards and Branch for 21 yards to reach the eight yard line. However, an end run by Davis resulted in a loss of six yards and Stabler’s next two passes were incomplete, setting up a 31-yard field goal attempt by Blanda that was blocked by DE Sherman White.

Having avoided another Oakland score, the Bengals came alive on offense and drove 65 yards in eight plays. It did not look promising when HB Essex Johnson lost six yards on first down, but Ken Anderson threw to WR Charlie Joiner for 28 yards and, after three running plays and a third down penalty on the Raiders gained 16 yards, Anderson passed to FB Boobie Clark for 26 yards to the Oakland one. Two plays later, HB Stan Fritts gained the last yard and a TD and, with Green’s conversion, the visitors had narrowed the score to 10-7.

Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Oakland 46 and the Raiders came back with a nine-play, 54-yard drive. Stabler completed two passes to Moore for seven and eight yards, and HB Pete Banaszak had an 18-yard run to the Cincinnati 11. The series concluded with Stabler throwing to Moore once again, this time for an eight-yard touchdown. Blanda’s PAT gave the home team a ten-point lead once more, and the score remained 17-7 at the half.

The Bengals went three-and-out with the first possession of the third quarter, and the resulting punt was returned 20 yards to the Cincinnati 35 by CB Neal Colzie. It took the Raiders just four plays to score as FB Marv Hubbard gained 13 yards on two running plays, with a 16-yard carry by Davis in between. Banaszak finished off the series with a six-yard scoring run, Blanda kicked the point after, and Oakland’s lead was up to 24-7.

Cincinnati responded with an 11-play, 91-yard series that was helped along by three penalties on the Raiders, including a pass interference call on FS Jack Tatum that resulted in a 24-yard pickup. HB Lenvil Elliott and Boobie Clark ran effectively and Anderson completed two nine-yard passes. Facing fourth-and-one at the Oakland six, Elliott ran up the middle for a touchdown. Green’s conversion again made it a ten-point game at 24-14.

As the period wound down, the Raiders were advancing. Facing a third-and-12 situation at their own 43, Stabler once again threw to Moore, this time for a gain of 17 yards to keep the series going. A pass to Branch picked up 14 yards and, with Davis running for seven yards, the Raiders were at the Cincinnati 24 heading into the fourth quarter. Runs by Banaszak and Davis moved the ball to the two, and from there Stabler tossed a pass to backup TE Dave Casper for a TD. Blanda’s extra point widened Oakland’s lead to 31-14.

The Bengals again had to punt after a short possession and the Raiders appeared poised to finish the visitors off as they took over at their 49. But a Stabler pass was intercepted by Ken Riley, who returned it 34 yards to the Oakland 34, and two plays later Anderson (pictured at right) connected with Joiner for a 25-yard touchdown. Green converted to once more make it a ten-point contest with ten minutes left to play.

Now it was the Raiders going three-and-out as Stabler was sacked by DT Bob Brown for a 14-yard loss on third down, forcing Oakland’s first punt of the game. Starting at the Raiders’ 49, the Bengals moved themselves back with penalties, but on a second-and-20 play, Anderson threw to WR Chip Myers for 37 yards. Five plays later, Anderson completed a pass to Isaac Curtis for a 14-yard TD. Green kicked the PAT and the visitors were now behind by only three points with 5:44 remaining on the clock.

Stabler threw to Branch for 12 yards on Oakland’s first play following the kickoff, but two plays after that Banaszak fumbled and DT Ron Carpenter recovered at the Raiders’ 37. However, in a crucial defensive stand, Hendricks promptly sacked Anderson for a six-yard loss and, while a throw to TE Bruce Coslet regained five yards, the next two passes fell incomplete to return the ball to the Raiders.

Trying to run out the clock, Stabler converted a third-and-six play with a pass to Moore for the necessary yardage and the Raiders were able to maintain possession until there was under a minute remaining before lining up to punt. LB Chris Devlin of the Bengals was penalized for running into the kicker and that clinched the 31-28 win for Oakland.   

The Raiders topped Cincinnati in total yards (358 to 258) and first downs (27 to 17), with 173 yards of their total coming on the ground. Oakland also recorded five sacks, to one by the Bengals, but it was the two turnovers, to none by Cincinnati, that nearly proved fatal.

Ken Stabler completed 17 of 23 passes for three touchdowns while giving up one interception. Bob Moore, who had only 19 catches all season, had 6 for 57 yards and a TD and Cliff Branch gained 89 yards on five receptions. Clarence Davis led the Raiders with 63 rushing yards on 16 carries and Pete Banaszak was right behind with 62 yards on 17 attempts that included a score. On defense, Ted Hendricks (pictured at left) unofficially accounted for four sacks.

For the Bengals, Ken Anderson was successful on 17 of 27 throws for 201 yards and two TDs while not being intercepted. Chip Myers topped the club with 67 yards on three catches, followed closely by Charlie Joiner with his three receptions for 60 yards that included a touchdown. Boobie Clark rushed for 46 yards on 8 attempts and caught four passes for 38 yards.

The Raiders advanced to the AFC Championship game, where they lost a close contest to the Steelers. They would go on to a Super Bowl-winning season in 1976. Cincinnati’s playoff loss turned out to be the last game coached by Paul Brown. He announced his retirement a few days later, although he remained active in the front office. The Bengals were 10-4 under Brown’s successor, Bill Johnson, in 1976 but missed the postseason and wouldn’t return until 1981.