Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Slay Their Dragon

16 Sep

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders square off this Sunday in the second week of NFL action, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1976 season, played in Oakland on December 26th between those 2 franchises. They had become heated AFC rivals at this point, and this was to be the third consecutive year they would battle for the right to represent their conference in the Super Bowl. There were stark differences in the two teams’ histories. The Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, elevated by coach Chuck Noll to become solid playoff contenders in the 1970s, and had 2 straight Super Bowl titles in their resume from the previous 2 years. Oakland had the winningest record in all pro football for a decade, but had earned a dubious distinction of not being able to achieve the ultimate goal of winning it all.

The Raiders were dominant in the regular season, finishing 13-1 overall, while the Steelers wound up 10-4 and were hampered by injuries. In fact, with both of their starting running backs, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier out with injuries, Pittsburgh was at a distinct disadvantage going into the AFC title game. So this was going to be the best chance yet for coach John Madden’s Silver and Black troops to finally climb to the mountain top by slaying the dragon that had kept them out of the big game the last 2 seasons. As expected, the defenses of both teams dominated the game. Oakland scored the only first quarter points on an Erroll Mann field goal, then increased their lead to 10-0 in the second quarter when Raider linebacker Willie Hall intercepted a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it to the Steelers’ one yard line, with Clarence Davis bursting  into the end zone  for a touchdown.  The Steelers, knowing they needed to answer to not let the game get out of hand, did just that. Bradshaw rebounded from his miscue to engineer a 75 yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 3 yard touchdown run from Reggie Harrison, who was filling in for the injured starting backs.

Not to be outdone, Raider signal caller Ken Stabler guided his team on a long, time-consuming drive, and hit Warren Bankston from 4 yards out to give his club a 17-7 lead going into halftime. With the way the defenses were playing on this day, that lead could almost be considered insurmountable, and when Stabler found Pete Banaszak for a 5 yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, Oakland led 24-7 and was clearly in the driver’s seat. Both team’s defenses took over again after that and 24-7 turned out to be the final score. Oakland had cleared a huge hurdle in finally beating the Steelers, and they wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Madden’s forces went on to dominate Super Bowl XI, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 to capture their long-awaited first Lombardi Trophy.


Willie Hall tracks down Steeler WR John Stallworth

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Another Joe Cool Production

09 Sep

The 2021 NFL season begins this Thursday, which also means the return of our weekly Throwback Thursday feature on Rayonsports. When Tom Brady guided his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to a Super Bowl title in 2020 he cemented his place as a certified G.O.A.T., winning the coveted Lombardi trophy for the seventh time. For our opening TBT story of the new season, we’ll harken back to a divisional playoff matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, who meet on the opening’s week schedule on Sunday. This matchup, played on New Year’s Eve in 1983, featured a classic, but typical performance by another quarterback who is roundly thought of as the G.O.A.T., the one and only “Joe Cool”, 49er signal caller Joe Montana. Ironically, Brady grew up in the Bay Area and his football idol growing up was Montana.

The 49ers, in the 1983 season, had already won a Super Bowl in 1981, but regressed badly in the strike-shortened 1982 season, finishing with a dismal 3-6 record.  Coach Bill Walsh rallied the troops in ’83 and the team again qualified for the playoffs, meeting the Lions in this divisional round clash at Candlestick Park. The young, hungry Lions, who limped into the playoffs with a mediocre 9-7 mark, held their own with San Fran in the first half but could only muster 3 Eddie Murray field goals. The 49ers countered with a pair of short rushing touchdowns, from Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler, to hold a 14-9 edge at the half. The lead jumped to 17-9 on a third quarter field goal for the Niners, but the fireworks were just about to begin as the game entered the final stanza.

Billy Sims, the elusive Detroit running back who had been his team’s most potent offensive weapon all day, broke loose and finally found the end zone for his team. He rambled for touchdowns from 11 and 3 yards out, and suddenly, the favored club from the Bay found themselves trailing 23-17. So it appeared that the game was now squarely in the hands of Montana, who never saw a deficit he felt he couldn’t overcome. His statistics to this point in the game were very pedestrian, as it was the defense, which intercepted Detroit QB Gary Danielson 5 times, that had carried the 49ers. As he had done in the past and would continue to do throughout his career, Joe Cool calmly guided his team downfield and with a little under a minute and a half left, connected with Freddie Solomon for a 14 yard score that lifted the Niners to a 24-23 victory.

It was a noble effort in a losing cause for Sims, who rushed for 114 yards and the 2 TDs on 20 carries. San Francisco’s luck ran out the following week as they lost to Washington in the NFC Championship game,  but Montana would continue to collect Super Bowl titles in upcoming years.


Billy Sims sparkled in a losing cause for the Lions

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One Play For The Rest Of Your Lives

27 May

The following is a first-hand account of a football memory written by Rayonsports columnist Connor Pohlman:

On a brisk October day, I was packing up my books in my backpack, getting ready to leave my last class of the day. I was a junior then, and was anxiously waiting for my playoff football game later that night. Our team was undefeated that year, and since I was a junior, I had a small role on the team, only playing a limited amount of snaps, but still cherished every moment I was fortunate enough to experience. This game was important, as the winner would go on to play at the time, New Era Field, for a chance to win the Section VI Championship. If only I knew that the remaining hours of the day would be a rollercoaster of emotions. Driving to the school on that game day was a nerve-wracking experience. I felt a lot of pressure to perform well for my teammates and my school. The sight of the large W which represented West Seneca West that is posted on the wall near the sports entrance would always give me butterflies in my stomach. When I walked into the locker room, the smell is one that still sticks with me to this day… yes, the stink of it. Looking back to it, I get a sense of nostalgia thinking about it though. I put my equipment on, and looked around at the seniors, who were
contemplating the fact that this game could be their last. I wanted to do everything I could to assure they would live to fight another day. Once everyone was ready and warmups were done, we all waited in the locker room for our head coach, Mike Vastola, to give his pregame speech.
Something that the entire coaching staff preached was being a good man first, then a good player second. I as well as them, believe in and try to live this philosophy. While walking out of the locker room onto the path to the field, I could already hear the sounds of the game. Music was playing, fans were murmuring, and cheerleaders were practicing their routines. The sound of our cleats walking in unison on the stone path sounded like soldiers marching in formation. This experience was virtually new to me at the time, as I had only been a part of one other playoff game my first year on varsity football. Before I knew it, I was out on the field for the opening kickoff. Once the ball met the air, I along with my teammates chased after it down the field. The play always seems longer than it actually is. Adrenaline running through my body, I jogged back
to the sideline once kickoff was over with, now watching my team perform. We got off to an early start going up 7-0. In a blink of an eye it was then 14-0. They went back on offense, but our defense shut them down fairly quickly. I would play a few snaps every now and then, and when the adrenaline rush wore off, I started to tire. At that moment, nothing could’ve tasted better than the cold water stored in the Gatorade squirt bottles. When we got the ball back, we methodically drove down the field and punched in another touchdown. 21-0. A few more drives of no scores followed our fast start and at halftime, the score was 21-0 us. Some of us were riding high, but the team leaders drove home the message that we haven’t done anything yet, and that the job
wasn’t finished. Taking a knee in our end zone listening to our captains and coaches talk to us was always a learning experience for me, but especially on this night. It was important for me to keep my emotions in check and not get too excited, as the game certainly wasn’t over yet. The feeling of my gloves going back onto my hands never got old. The second half of the game was underway, and we were in for a rude awakening. Starpoint had the ball to start the half, so we went out on defense. Their offense found something that worked, so they kept going to it. They eventually found themselves in the end zone for the first time all game. 21-7 now. It was at this moment where I realized a victory wasn’t as assured as I thought it was going to be. The mood on our sideline shifted, and I noticed some of our players and coaches had a nervous aura about them. I wasn’t sure how to feel exactly. Throughout the year, almost every game seemed to come easily. But now was when we were going to be truly tested with adversity. Just like when we were scoring, it seemed like mere moments until they scored again and it was 21-14. Blink again and it was now 21-21. Everyone started to lose hope when they got the ball back and managed to quickly score again. In the span of mere moments, they were now leading 28-21.

What I remember most about standing on the sideline was just taking in everyone’s attitude and demeanor about the situation. Many were disheartened, but our resilient guys never lost hope. “Just take it one play at a time boys. Just focus on the now, don’t worry about the score” Coach Vastola told my group of receivers I was standing with. When we got the ball back, we stayed hopeful and found the end zone again finally, evening the score at 28. From then on, the field became a western shootout, constantly going back and forth. 35-28, 35-35, 41-35, 42-41. The score would’ve been tied at 42 at this point, but Starpoint had a failed 2-point conversion. There was less than 3 minutes now in the game. The moment when Starpoint scored once more, and
had a successful 2-point conversion is when I could hear my heartbeats every thump. 49-42 with 2:11 to go. I didn’t take any moment for granted, appreciating every second and every little detail of my surroundings. My teammates are like brothers to me and I didn’t want it to end so soon. As our offense took the field for the final drive I just kept remembering, “come on guys, one play for the rest of your lives.” All we needed was one big play to secure a victory. Our offense drove down the field play by play, clock running still. I remember the time exactly. 47 seconds. That’s how much time was left when we scored a touchdown. The score was 49-48. Instead of going for the tie, our coach made the bold decision of going for 2 and the lead. When the ball was snapped, it seemed as if everyone at the field took one collective breath and held it. Everything happening on the field was in slow motion for me. I watched as our running back made one cut, and muscle his way into the end zone to take the lead. That moment of relief as we watched the clock run out with our team having one more point could not be understated. I ran into multiple teammates hugging them and jumping up and down.
I believe that football represents what America should look like. People from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, coming together to achieve one goal. That’s what I loved about playing football, and what I still love about the game today. From this game, I learned so much about appreciating every little moment of life, and everything I’m blessed to have in it. Never take anything for granted, enjoy the moment, and don’t worry about the future. This game taught me more about life and about myself than I could have ever imagined, and that is why I believe this moment made me grow not only as a football player, but as a man.

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Breaking The Moulds

31 Dec

The NFL regular season of 2020 wraps up this weekend, and a pair of old AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, square off with both having positive seasons. Both made the playoffs in 1998 also, and our final Throwback Thursday feature will go back to that season, and a wild card playoff game held at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium on January 2, 1999. The teams had identical 10-6 records for the year but the Dolphins won the division based on tiebreakers. The Bills were already a couple of years removed from the Jim Kelly era, and were quarterbacked by Doug Flutie, who they signed after he had an illustrious career in the Canadian League. Dan Marino was still leading the Dolphins’ passing attack, but was past his prime and nearing the end of his long career.

The first half was relatively quiet offensively as far as scoring went. Olindo Mare kicked a pair of field goals for an early Miami lead, then Flutie led a drive that culminated in a 1 yard rushing touchdown by veteran Thurman Thomas to put the Bills up 7-6. In the third quarter the Dolphins regained the lead at 14-7 when Karim Abdul-Jabbar scored on a short run and Stanley Pritchett ran in for a successful 2 point conversion. Throughout the game, Flutie enjoyed tremendous success hooking up with his favorite target, wide receiver Eric Moulds, to highlight Buffalo’s offensive attack. Moulds, who had a record-setting day with 9 receptions for 240 yards, hauled in a Flutie aerial and turned it into a 32 yard touchdown to tie the game after 3 quarters. Miami took control in the final stanza by scoring twice, on another Mare field goal and a 12 yard touchdown toss from Marino to Lamar Thomas. The Bills could only muster a late Steve Christie field goal and fell to their AFC East rivals, 24-17. Buffalo was done in by their own mistakes in the contest. Despite the success with Moulds and throwing for 360 yards overall, Flutie had 3 turnovers, an interception and a pair of fumbles. Moulds also had a black mark on his day as he fumbled once, as did long-time Bills’ legend and future Hall of Famer Andre Reed. Those 5 turnovers were the death knell for Buffalo in the game.

In some ways this game was the beginning of the end of the Bills’ dominant run in the AFC in the 1990s. After one more season of playing together, on February 10, 2000, Buffalo released 3 of their star performers from that era, all on the same day – Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith. The franchise was about to enter a 17 year drought of missing the playoffs after the 1999 season.


Bills’ WR Eric Moulds has a record-setting day in a losing cause

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Growing Pains

24 Dec

It’s week 16 for the NFL season and the battle for playoff positioning is on. One of the important matchups with playoff implications is between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. We’ll feature these 2 franchises in this week’s Throwback Thursday post. The game chosen was played on Halloween, October 31, 1971. It was played at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, where the Colts were located at the time. Baltimore was enjoying another fine season after having won the Super Bowl the previous year, while the Steelers, perennial losers in the 1960s, were in their third season under coach Chuck Noll. The team would gradually be built into the dominant force in the NFL in the 1970s, but at this point were still suffering some growing pains, and were a couple years, plus a couple more excellent drafts, from reaching that status.

The Colts opened the scoring on a 1 yard plunge by Norm Bulaich, then added a pair of field goals by their Super Bowl hero of the previous season, kicker Jim O’Brien, to go up 13-0. A young Terry Bradshaw engineered a drive that he climaxed himself with a short touchdown run to get Pittsburgh on the board. The Colts proceeded to own the rest of the first half as their veteran quarterback, Earl Morrall, connected with Willie Richardson on a pair of touchdown throws of 19 and 49 yards. Morrall continued Baltimore’s dominance in the third quarter as he hit Ray Perkins for a 60 yard touchdown. The Steelers now found themselves in a 34-7 hole that they weren’t capable of digging their way out of. In a sign of things to come in the future, Bradshaw showed some growth in his game as he continued to fight the battle against heavy odds. He found Ron Shanklin for a 31 yard touchdown, then scored on a short run by himself for the only score of the final quarter to make the final score a somewhat more respectable 34-21 margin for the Colts.

A look back at that season finds that the outcome of this game was fairly predictable. Baltimore was a seasoned veteran team, with players like Morrall, John Unitas, Tom Matte, John Mackey, Mike Curtis, Rick Volk and Bubba Smith to lean on. Pittsburgh’s future dynasty was still in its infancy. Bradshaw’s offensive options were backs Frenchy Fuqua and Preston Pearson, and his receivers the likes of Shanklin, Jon Staggers and Frank Lewis. Super Bowl stalwarts like Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were still a few years away.


A young Terry Bradshaw leads his Steelers against the Colts




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NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Century Shootout

17 Dec

The Cleveland Browns and New York Giants clash on this week’s NFL schedule, so for the Throwback Thursday feature we’ll explore a game played on October 29, 1967 between these 2 franchises, back when they were bitter rivals in the league. They had long been Eastern Conference opponents who battled each other for supremacy, but things were slightly different in the ’67 season. The NFL had merged with the American Football League the prior year, with the 2 leagues becoming one starting in 1970. With that being the case, along with the addition of Atlanta and New Orleans as expansion franchises, the league split their 16 teams into 4 divisions with names that all began with the letter “C” – Century, Capitol, Central and Coastal. The Browns and Giants, and also the Cardinals and Steelers, were assigned to the Century. The Cardinals were on the decline and the Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, so it was left to the Browns and Giants to renew their rivalry, now as Century Division opponents.

The Browns came into Yankee Stadium sporting a 4-2 record while the G-men were right behind them at 3-3. Cleveland, with most of their championship club intact from a few years earlier, came in as the favorites. Jim Brown had been retired for a full year, but the Browns replaced him with another future Hall of Famer in Leroy Kelly. The Giants were in the midst of a dismal period, but made a bold attempt to improve their standing in the off-season by trading for scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton. The Browns owned the opening quarter. With New York’s defense concentrating on stopping Kelly and the ground attack, Cleveland quarterback Frank Ryan went to the air, connecting with flanker Gary Collins for a 14 yard touchdown. Lou “The Toe” Groza, the Browns’ aging placekicker, added a short field goal to put his club up 10-0. Tarkenton and the Giants’ offense came to life in the second quarter. The mad scrambler ran 15 yards for his team’s first score, and Tucker Frederickson scored from 3 yards out to give New York a 14-10 lead. Kelly’s 8 yard touchdown run put Cleveland back on top, but Tarkenton was just getting warmed up.

He found his tight end, Aaron Thomas, open for a 32 yard touchdown and a 21-17 Giant halftime lead. Tarkenton never missed a beat as the second half unfolded. He threw a pair of touchdown passes, of 30 and 12 yards, to Joe Morrison and, now holding a 35-17 lead, it looked like a New York rout was on. The Browns were a proud club in those days, and they were far from finished. Groza cut into the lead with another field goal, then Ryan turned to his other receiving threat, Paul Warfield. The cerebral Cleveland signal caller hit the future Hall of Fame wideout on consecutive scoring throws of 33 and 32 yards, and suddenly the Giants’ lead was cut to a single point at 35-34. New York’s defense stiffened after that, and Pete Gogolak added a late field goal to secure a 38-34 win. The victory moved the Giants into a tie in the standings with Cleveland at 4-3, and celebrated contributions from Thomas, who snagged 5 Tarkenton aerials for 110 yards, and their ground game, with Tarkenton’s scrambles and hard running from Frederickson and Ernie Koy totaling 137 yards on the ground. Cleveland got a huge game from Warfield, who burned the Giants’ secondary for 126 yards on 5 receptions, but bemoaned the fact that 4 turnovers had likely cost them the game.

The Browns extracted revenge later in the year with a 24-14 win over New York on their way to the Century Division crown, while New York fell to 7-7 and a second place finish. Still, it was a major improvement from their 1-12-1 mark of the previous year, and the acquisition of Tarkenton was a major impetus for that.


Tarkenton upgraded the Giants in 1967


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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Coaching Legends Collide

10 Dec

On this week’s NFL schedule the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Football Team face each other. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll highlight the NFC Championship game for the 1983 season, played between these 2 teams on January 8, 1984 that was a matching of wits between a pair of future Hall of Fame coaching legends – Bill Walsh of the 49ers and Washington’s Joe Gibbs. The Redskins entered the title game as the class of the NFC for the ’83 season, winning the NFC East title with a stellar 14-2 record. The Niners, on the other hand, had gone through a stretch where they lost 4 of 5 games, then rebounded to win their final 3 to clinch the NFC West crown at 10-6. A one point 24-23 win over Detroit advanced San Fran to the title game, while Washington had destroyed the Los Angeles Rams 51-7 to earn their title game berth.

The Redskins were heavy favorites, and played like it for the first three quarters of the contest. John Riggins, Washington’s hard-nosed back who would grind out 123 yards rushing on 36 carries for the day, scored a pair of touchdowns from 4 and 1 yard out to put the ‘Skins ahead 14-0. When Joe Theisman connected with Charlie Brown on a 70 yard touchdown pass to up the lead to 21-0 after 3 quarters, it looked like it would be smooth sailing to the Super Bowl for Washington. The 49ers were a proud franchise and weren’t about to go down quietly. They had won the Super Bowl just 2 years prior and although this was the pre-Jerry Rice, John Taylor, etc. era, Walsh had one potent weapon at his disposal, his unflappable quarterback, Joe Montana.

Joe Cool proceeded to mount a furious fourth quarter comeback. He guided 3 touchdown drives which he ended with scoring passes. A 76 yard hookup with his favorite target of that season, Freddie Solomon (4 catches for 106 yards on the day), was sandwiched between short scoring tosses to Mike Wilson. The stunned Redskins now found themselves in a 21-21 deadlock. With time running out, Theisman engineered a drive downfield, helped by some questionable penalty calls against the Niner secondary, the most costly being a defensive holding call against Ronnie Lott that prolonged the drive, cost San Francisco precious time when they got the ball back, and set up the game winning points. They were provided by the Redskins’ Mark Moseley, one of the last of the NFL’s straight-away kickers. Moseley, who had missed 4 field goal attempts in the game already, knocked a 25 yarder through the uprights to give his team a 24-21 win.

The 49ers felt they were robbed by the dubious penalties, but nevertheless Washington earned their second straight Super Bowl appearance. The defending champs may have been better off not advancing, as they were throttled 38-9 by the Raiders on Super Sunday.


John Riggins eyes the end zone vs. 49ers (Sports Illustrated photo)

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Payback For Lombardi

03 Dec

The Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles square off this week on the NFL schedule, so we’ll highlight a game between these 2 franchises played on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1962. It was the first time the clubs matched up since the Eagles handed Packer coach Vince Lombardi his only post-season loss in the 1960 NFL Championship game. Played at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, this game was hardly the same contest that was played 2 years earlier for the league title. Green Bay entered the game undefeated at 8-0 while the Eagles, who were considered a bit of a one-hit wonder when they won the crown in 1960, had fallen on hard times. Their record was a lowly 1-6-1 and they were slogging their way through a dreadful season. Now Lombardi was a devout Catholic and never known to be a vengeful person, but he was also a fierce competitor who blamed that 1960 defeat largely on himself. He also vowed to his players that it would never happen again and true to his word the Packers never lost another postseason game in his tenure as coach.

The first quarter was relatively quiet, with Green Bay taking a 7-0 lead on a short touchdown run by backup halfback Tom Moore. The flood gates opened in the second quarter, however, as the Packers racked up 28 unanswered points to lead 35-0 at the half. Fullback Jim Taylor scored twice on runs of 5 and 1 yard, while Moore remained a factor as he scored on a 7 yard run and threw a 25 yard halfback option pass touchdown to Boyd Dowler. Lombardi pretty much emptied the Packer playbook in this game, and his club threw a total of 5 of those HB option tosses in the game, 3 by Moore and 2 by the player usually tabbed to run the play, Paul Hornung. Taylor, who rushed for 141 yards on 25 carries for the day, finished the scoring in the third quarter by rushing 4 and 5 yards for TDs, as he found paydirt 4 times on the day. Packer quarterback Bart Starr cruised through the game, hitting timely passes to go with Taylor’s ground assault. Dowler and Max McGee both had over 100 receiving yards.

With a 49-0 lead now built up, Lombardi called off the dogs in the final period but his defense continued to manhandle  Eagle QBs Sonny Jurgensen and King Hill. Philly only totaled 86 yards of offense and 3 first downs the entire game on their way to the 49-0 shutout embarrassment. In contrast, Green Bay rolled up 624 yards of offense and a record 37 first downs in the totally one-sided contest. The Packers went on to win their second straight NFL title that season, while the Eagles finished 3-10-1 as they continued a downward spiral for several losing seasons afterwards.


Packers’ Jim Taylor (31) dominates the Eagles’ defense



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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Fergy’s Sore Ankle

26 Nov

One of this week’s matchups on the NFL schedule pits the Buffalo Bills against the Los Angeles Chargers, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll highlight a divisional playoff game played between these 2 teams on January 3, 1981. The game was played at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, where the Chargers were then located, and was a contest between 2 strong division champions. The Chargers were one of the NFL’s most potent offensive machines, with quarterback Dan Fouts guiding coach Don Coryell’s “Air Coryell” attack to the AFC West crown with an 11-5 record. The Bills were in their third season under coach Chuck Knox, who had built them into AFC East champs at 11-5 by making shrewd personnel moves that included trading away an aging O.J. Simpson and prying receiver Frank Lewis away from Pittsburgh.

Rolf Benirschke opened the scoring with a first quarter field goal for the Chargers, but Buffalo’s defense proved to be pretty stingy, as that was the only scoring San Diego could muster in the first half. Meanwhile, Bills’ signal caller Joe Ferguson, playing on an injured ankle, engineered a pair of scoring drives. Fullback Roosevelt Leaks ran in from a yard out for the first score, and Ferguson found Lewis open for a 9 yard touchdown pass. Surprisingly, Buffalo went into the locker room at halftime with a 14-3 lead. The Chargers came to life in the third quarter. Riding the strong running of Chuck Muncie and pinpoint passing by Fouts, they took the second half kickoff and drove for a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-10. Fouts connected with Charlie Joiner for a 45 yard gain, then hit Joiner again from 9 yards out for the score.

Unfortunately, Ferguson’s injured ankle began to stiffen, and his play suffered as he was sacked 3 times and intercepted 3 times on inaccurate throws caused by the bad ankle, which later was determined to be a hairline fracture. Safety Glen Edwards had 2 of the picks. The Charger offense never came close to their usual production, but got another Benirschke field goal and sealed a 20-14 victory when WR Ron Smith got behind the Bills’ secondary and hauled in a 50 yard scoring toss from Fouts. Although he didn’t reach the end zone at all, John Jefferson was the most productive Charger receiver in the game, catching 7 passes for 102 yards. Workhorse back Muncie gained 80 tough yards rushing and added 53 more on 6 receptions.

The win sent San Diego to the AFC Championship game the following week, but their Super Bowl hopes died there as they lost to their AFC West arch-rivals, the Oakland Raiders, who were in the process of making an improbable run as a wild card team to an NFL title.



Chargers’ Chuck Muncie gains some hard-earned yards




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NFL – Throwback Thursday: An NFC South Shootout

19 Nov

It’s time for another Throwback Thursday feature, and on this week’s NFL schedule, a pair of NFC South rivals, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, go head to head. We’ll go back a relatively short period of time, only 6 years, to a matchup of these clubs that was a high-scoring affair. It happened on September 7, 2014, on opening day, at the Georgia Dome. The opposing quarterbacks were the same pair of signal callers who lead their teams today – Drew Brees of the Saints and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.

The Saints jumped out early, with Shayne Graham booting a pair of field goals and Khiry Robinson scoring on a short run. Ryan found Roddy White on a 2 yard scoring pass, but Brees matched that when he hooked up with Brandin Cooks for a 3 yard score, giving New Orleans a 20-7 lead. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant cut the lead to 20-10 with a three-pointer just before halftime. The third quarter belonged to Ryan and the Falcons. The Falcon field general threw a pair of touchdown passes, a short 1 yarder to Levine Toilolo and a 54 yarder to Antone Smith, and suddenly Atlanta was in control with a 24-20 lead. The final quarter was a real roller coaster. First Brees engineered a drive that ended with power back Mark Ingram scoring from 3 yards out to regain the lead for the Saints. The Falcons answered that with a drive of their own, and Jacquizz Rodgers finished it off with a 17 yard rushing touchdown to put Atlanta back up, 31-27.

The roller coaster ride continued as Brees marched the Saints downfield again, and Ingram again scored from 3 yards out to put New Orleans up 34-31 with only slightly over a minute left to play. Ryan answered back, driving his troops down the field to set up a game-tying 51 yard field goal by Bryant as time expired in regulation. The Saints won the toss and received the OT kickoff, and that’s when disaster struck and the roller coaster derailed on the club from The Big Easy. Marques Colston, Saints’ wide receiver and Brees’ favorite target who had racked up 110 yards receiving on 5 catches for the day, caught a pass but promptly put the ball on the ground, fumbling to set up a 52 yard game-winning attempt for Bryant. The veteran kicker split the uprights and Atlanta escaped with a 37-34 win. The Falcons had a little easier time knocking off New Orleans in their second meeting that year, winning 30-14. However, 2014 wasn’t a very successful season for either club. The Saints finished 7-9 and the Falcons were even worse, with a 6-10 mark.



Marques Colston fumbles to set up winning Atlanta field goal

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