October 4, 2016

1964: Third Quarter Surge Lifts Colts to Win Against Rams

The Baltimore Colts had a 2-1 record and were nine-point favorites as they hosted the Los Angeles Rams on October 4, 1964. The Colts were a revitalized team in their second season under Head Coach Don Shula. The key to the offense was 31-year-old QB Johnny Unitas (pictured above), generally recognized as the best in the league. Versatile HB Lenny Moore, trade bait during the previous offseason after a disappointing year in ’63, was again making big plays as a runner and receiver out of the backfield, and there were capable receivers in split end Raymond Berry and flanker Jimmy Orr, although Orr was nursing a muscle pull and was nearly pulled from the lineup for the LA game. The defense was showing signs of age but was still formidable. Baltimore was coming off of a 52-0 pounding of the Bears the previous week.

The Rams had not enjoyed a winning season since 1958 but were at 2-0-1 coming up against the Colts. They were coached by Harland Svare and had lots of young talent on the roster, including QB Bill Munson, the first round pick out of Utah State who was starting in place of the injured Roman Gabriel. FB Dick Bass, their top runner, was suffering the effects of a shoulder injury and while available against the Colts was not nearly up to form. The defensive line was impressive but the Rams were still very much in rebuilding mode.

There were 56,537 fans in attendance on an overcast day at Memorial Stadium. Baltimore struck first when, on its second play from scrimmage, Johnny Unitas ran out of the pocket to avoid DT Merlin Olsen and threw long to Jimmy Orr (pictured at right), who was covered by rookie CB Jerry Richardson, for a 46-yard touchdown. Lou Michaels added the extra point for the early 7-0 lead.

The Rams came right back following a 56-yard kickoff return by DB Bobby Smith that had them starting at the Baltimore 44. Bill Munson converted two third downs, one with an 18-yard pass to flanker Jim Phillips in a third-and-nine situation. FB Ben Wilson plunged the last yard for a touchdown and Bruce Gossett added the game-tying extra point.

The Colts again reached LA territory, but a 31-yard field goal attempt by Michaels was blocked by LB Jack Pardee. The game settled into a defensive battle from that point, with the Colts running only six plays in the second quarter. Los Angeles had a 53-yard drive that ended with Gossett kicking a 35-yard field goal and, with time running out just before the end of the first half, Munson threw to split end Carroll Dale to set up another Gossett field goal, this time from 32 yards. The visitors took a 13-7 lead into halftime.

In the third quarter, the Rams hurt themselves with a clipping penalty on a punt return and, forced to punt in return, gave the Colts favorable field position at their 44. Baltimore took advantage, scoring four plays later when Unitas again connected with Orr, who had gotten open along the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown. Michaels converted and Baltimore was ahead by 14-13.

Down by a point, it got worse for the Rams when a Munson pass was intercepted by CB Bob Boyd, who returned it 47 yards to the LA 12. The result, on the next play, was Lenny Moore running for a 12-yard TD and, with the successful Michaels point after, a 21-13 lead.

Baltimore’s defense shut the Rams down on their next series and, getting the ball back, Unitas went long to Orr deep in the end zone for a third touchdown, this time covering 35 yards. Michaels converted and, after being held largely in check in the first half, the Colts were ahead by 28-13 after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, the Colts helped themselves by keeping the ball away from LA with a long drive that ran more than six minutes off of the clock. With less than five minutes remaining, the Rams finally scored again when Munson connected with Phillips for a 14-yard TD. Gossett’s point after narrowed the Baltimore lead to 28-20. But the Colts responded with a 66-yard series that concluded with Moore breaking away for a 32-yard touchdown, and that sealed the win by a final score of 35-20.

Baltimore led in total yards (389 to 257) and first downs (18 to 17). While the most spectacular plays were made through the air, the Colts also were far more successful at running the ball, outgaining Los Angeles by 160 yards to 52 on the ground. The Baltimore defense also recorded six sacks, while the Rams got to Unitas only once. LA gave up the game’s only turnover and it set up a score by the Colts during the crucial third quarter.

Johnny Unitas completed only 10 of 18 passes, but they were good for 232 yards and three touchdowns with none intercepted. Jimmy Orr, despite playing hurt, had 5 catches for 145 yards and all three TDs. Lenny Moore had one 46-yard pass reception and led the Colts in rushing with 86 yards on 13 carries that included two touchdowns.

For the Rams, Bill Munson (pictured at left) was successful on 18 of 32 throws for 256 yards and a TD as well as an interception. Jim Phillips caught 6 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown and TE Marlin McKeever gained 103 yards on his four pass receptions. Ben Wilson led what there was of a ground game with 25 yards on 16 attempts that included a short TD.

“Unitas killed us with the bomb,” summed up Coach Harland Svare for the Rams. “He always takes advantage of the breaks and that’s what makes him a great quarterback.”

The win put the Colts in first place in the Western Conference, and that is where they stayed. Baltimore reeled off eleven straight wins on the way to a 12-2 record. However, they were upset by the Cleveland Browns for the NFL Championship. The Rams slumped during the second half of the season and ended up at 5-7-2 for a fifth place finish in the conference.

Johnny Unitas passed for 2824 yards and 19 touchdowns with just six interceptions and led the NFL by averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. He was the consensus league MVP as well as a first-team All-NFL selection and was named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth straight year. Lenny Moore made good on his comeback by setting a NFL record with 20 touchdowns scored, 16 of them among his 157 carries for 584 yards, three while catching 21 passes for 472 yards (22.5 avg.), and one more on a fumble recovery. He also was a consensus first-team All-NFL choice and Pro Bowl selection.  Jimmy Orr caught 40 passes for 867 yards (21.7 avg.) and scored six TDs.

Bill Munson started eight games and threw for 1533 yards and 9 TDs while giving up 15 interceptions. He spent four seasons with the Rams but the last two were strictly as a backup to the more talented Roman Gabriel. Munson did have a long NFL career, spending significant time with the Lions as well as the Seahawks, Chargers, and Bills over the course of 16 seasons.