The Oakland Raiders, one of 2016’s surprise teams, host the Buffalo Bills this Sunday in a game with massive playoff implications for both teams. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature game, we’ll travel back to opening weekend of the 1974 season for a matchup between these two old AFL clubs. Played on September 16, 1974, it was the opening Monday Night Football game of that season, and featured the powerhouse Raider club of coach John Madden against the Bills and their record-breaking running back, O.J. Simpson, who had eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark the previous season. “The Juice” was the featured player in the Bills’ offense, which was a classic ground and pound rushing attack that relied on the elusive running style of Simpson and the blocking and bruising running style of his backfield mate, fullback Jim Braxton. The other member of Buffalo’s backfield was a young second year quarterback, Joe Ferguson, who had been a rookie third round draft pick out of Arkansas in 1973 and was coach Lou Saban’s choice to become the team’s starter in his rookie campaign. Despite being an inexperienced first year player, Ferguson didn’t have to worry much about carrying his team on his shoulders in ’73, as his main job was to turn around and hand the ball off to Simpson, and occasionally Braxton. The plan entering the ’74 campaign was pretty much the same, and on this opening nationally televised Monday Night game, the Bills attacked the rough and tumble Raider defense with a steady diet of their running backs. Ferguson completed a short scoring pass to J.D. Hill for the only touchdown of the first half, with the Raiders countering with a George Blanda field goal.
The Bills entered halftime with a 7-3 lead, but shortly before the mid-game break, something happened that changed the course of this contest – O.J. suffered a sprained ankle and would not return in the second half, putting a ton of unexpected pressure on Ferguson’s shoulders to produce some offense with his arm in the second half. Getting an obvious lift from Simpson’s absence, the Raiders scored on a 15 yard Clarence Davis run and added another Blanda field goal to surge ahead 17-13 going into the final quarter. Ferguson came of age in that final stanza, however. He drove his club downfield and hit wideout Ahmad Rashad with an eight yard TD toss to regain the lead. Then Oakland’s Art Thoms picked up a Buffalo fumble and ran 29 yards to paydirt to give the Raiders a 20-14 lead. Fergy responded again, driving the Bills downfield, without the aid of Simpson’s running, and capping the drive with another scoring pass to Rashad, this time from 13 yards out, as the Bills captured a hard-fought 21-20 win. Ferguson would go on to prove his worth as a solid NFL signal caller, playing 12 seasons with Buffalo and 17 total years in the league.
Buffalo Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson