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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

26 Jan

In part 2 of our annual Bills’ season review, we look at the offensive side of the ball, and offer a position-by-position assessment of the team. Here are our thoughts on where the team stands:

 

Quarterbacks

Brandon Beane did his most remarkable work when he traded up to draft Josh Allen in 2018. Allen has cemented himself as not only the team’s unquestioned leader and franchise quarterback, but as one of the top signal callers in the NFL. He is going to be, and maybe already is, a perennial MVP candidate. The Bills signed an important insurance policy when they brought in Mitch Trubisky to back up Allen, but is questionable whether he’ll return after inking a one year deal. He’s still young and may want to pursue a starting opportunity. Davis Webb is a third option. He spent most of the year on the practice squad but was an important voice in the QB room. It’s very possible Buffalo will look to find another one year option to fill the backup role for 2022.

 

Running Backs

The running back position in general is a bit of an enigma in the Bills’ offense that relies so heavily on the pass. The club did see a need to add some semblance of a rushing attack as the season went on, and Devin Singletary answered the bell with a decent showing at the end of the year, as both an effective runner and a check down option for Allen in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the team now feels comfortable going forward with Singletary as the lead back, or if they feel the need to look for a better option. Zach Moss wasn’t much of a factor, and in fact regressed during his second year. The team normally doesn’t give up too early on their prospects and have had some players emerge in their third year, so he will likely be back, but in a dogfight for a roster spot, in 2022. Matt Breida was 2021’s version of T.J. Yeldon, an extra back who saw very little action. He made some minor contributions at times during the season, but is not a long term answer, and entering free agency, likely won’t be re-signed. It was telling that at season’s end and in the playoffs fullback Reggie Gilliam was seeing significant playing time in the backfield, as a blocker and a pass receiving outlet option. Taiwan Jones is another back on the roster, but is strictly a special teamer.

 

Receivers

This is the most important position group on the team as they employ a pass-heavy attack, and although his numbers slipped somewhat, Stefon Diggs is still Allen’s favorite, and most reliable target. Cole Beasley continues to be a beast playing out of the slot, and Emmanuel Sanders was a nice addition. The biggest revelation in 2021 was the stunning emergence as the season went on of Gabriel Davis. His playing time, when the season began, did not match what he was receiving last season as the team chose to feature Sanders more. But when Sanders missed some time, Davis stepped in and did what he almost always did last year – make incredibly timely catches in some big moments. His reemergence was topped off in the divisional round playoff game with a record-setting 201 yard performance in which he was on the receiving end of 4 Allen scoring throws. This guy was a fourth round crown jewel of Beane’s 2020 draft. Another top contributor is Swiss Army knife Isaiah McKenzie, who is adept at running jet sweeps, filling in when needed as a receiver and returning kicks. He is on a one year contract, so his return isn’t guaranteed. Jake Kumerow stuck on the roster mainly as a special teams player, and Marquez Stevenson got a few chances, mainly as a kick returner, but he’s still raw and at this point is an  interesting developmental project. His speed alone will give him a chance to stick around if he can refine his game. Like Singletary, Dawson Knox made tremendous strides in 2021, becoming a top target for Allen and one of the NFL’s bright prospects at the tight end position. Tommy Sweeney has been an up and down player so far, sometimes flashing ability and other times appearing to be prone to mistakes.

 

Offensive Line

It took until late in the season, but the Bills were finally able to identify the right combination of players along the line to increase production in the running game and protect Josh Allen in the pocket. Funny, but looking back at last season’s review, I made the same comment then. Obviously whatever stability they thought they found last year wasn’t the right answer. This season started out with a cluster at the guard positions and with starting right tackle Dion Dawkins dealing with Covid. As the season wore on, things gradually developed. Rookie Spencer Brown moved into the starting lineup at right tackle and Darryl Williams was moved inside to right guard. Dawkins came back with a vengeance, reclaiming his status as an elite left tackle and even being rewarded with his first Pro Bowl invite. When Ike Boettger’s season ended with an injury, Ryan Bates, a versatile backup, took over at left guard and solidified the line immensely. Another rookie, Tommy Doyle, took over an important role as a sixth offensive lineman in certain situations, a move that also helped to improve the run game. Center Mitch Morse, who at times in previous years had been benched, cemented himself as the starter and a leader of the unit. When the dust finally settled, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford were left out in the cold. They remained as backups, but depth on the O line could be an area the Bills try to improve next season. Ford has never been able to take advantage of the many opportunities he’s gotten to win a starting job, and has certainly not lived up to the expectations of a high round draft pick. Veteran Bobby Hart bounced between the active roster and practice squad, but is very unlikely seen as a future asset. Boettger, meanwhile, may have a hard time getting his job back when he returns from injury, if the team decides to re-sign the impending free agent. Bates is also due to enter free agency, and should be a much higher priority to sign. The emergence of Brown was a major plus this season, and it’s possible Doyle could develop into a future starter also.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

25 Jan

The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 season ended abruptly on Sunday in a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City. The game was an all-time classic, a duel between 2 young quarterbacks that ended with the Bills being eliminated for the second straight year at Arrowhead Stadium, this time one round earlier than last season. With the season now over, it’s time for our annual four-part review of what the team accomplished and what needs to be done to continue the climb to the final destination that they seek – a Lombardi Trophy to display at One Bills Drive. Part one, as is the case every year, looks at the front office and coaching aspects of the team. General Manager Brandon Beane and his staff deserve kudos for the job they have done building a contending roster, and Head Coach Sean McDermott and his staff have now steered the team to the playoffs in 4 of the 5 years they’ve been in charge. The recent hiring of assistant GM Joe Shoen to the New York Giants’ GM position shows that the organization is perceived as a model franchise around the league. The 2021 draft produced some good future prospects, including a couple of edge rushers and an offensive line starter. Other clubs pilfered 3 of the team’s later round picks from the last 2 years off their practice squad during the season, so the talent they have been mining has been NFL caliber. Some of the players picked in previous years had breakout seasons in 2021 also, as we will note in the other 3 sections of this review.

As for the coaching, McDermott deserves credit for righting the ship when things didn’t go according to plan at various times during the year. The Bills lost 3 more games this season than last, but managed to recapture the AFC East title for the second year after being unceremoniously dumped from the top spot by New England in a chilly Monday Night contest. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll directed a high scoring attack and is likely to get head coaching opportunities. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier guided a unit that led the NFL in most categories, and should also attract attention for some of the head coach jobs around the league. Frazier’s defense was open to question after getting skewered by the Chiefs in the playoffs, a problem they have now encountered 2 years in a row.

Some historical perspective here, and anyone who reads most of the posts on this site realizes I’m all about history. In 1969, one of the NFL’s most notoriously bad franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers, hired Chuck Noll as their head coach. Noll is a Hall of Famer who is regarded as one of the all time greatest coaches. Looking back at Noll’s first 3 seasons, the Steelers went 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8. They spent those years assembling talent, adding Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Ron Shanklin, Frank Lewis, Glen Edwards and L.C. Greenwood among others. Finally, in his fourth year, Noll found some success. The Steelers won the AFC Central Division with an 11-3 mark. The team advanced to the AFC Championship but fell short to the Miami Dolphins, who finished undefeated that year. Miami repeated as champs the next year and the Steelers won their division again at 10-4. One more loss than the previous year, and eliminated from the playoffs in the divisional round by John Madden’s Oakland Raiders this time. Still, the talent accumulation continued. Franco Harris and Jack Ham were added. Then, in the 1974 draft and despite drafting low due to their winning record, the Steelers picked 4 future Hall of Famers (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster) and added a fifth in undrafted free agent Donnie Shell. Finally, in his sixth year at the helm, Noll won the Super Bowl, then proceeded to dominate the rest of the decade with 3 more Lombardi trophies. Not only did those previous 5 years lead to that unprecedented success, but it set up the franchise as one of the best in the NFL with a legacy that continues to this day.

The point of that historical stroll through yesteryear is that the Bills are still in the early part of the process of constructing a team and a culture that will be built to last. And they are ahead of the game as far as the success they have achieved compared to what Pittsburgh built. Beane still has work to do, and it’s safe to say that if and when the Bills finally reach the mountain top, a lot of the pieces that help get them there are either still developing or not even on the roster yet.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Alley Oop Is Born

06 Jan

It’s the final week of the NFL regular season, which is a sad time for me since it means the final Throwback Thursday feature of the season. Two old western rivals, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, close out the year with a game against each other. For the final TBT post of 2021, we’ll look back on a game from October 6, 1957 played between these 2 clubs that became the birthplace of a play from those early years of the NFL, the “Alley Oop” pass. Both the Rams and 49ers boasted exciting offensive clubs in the 1950s. The Rams featured a future Hall of Fame coach in Sid Gillman and a pair of Hall of Famers in Norm Van Brocklin and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, while San Fran’s attack came courtesy of their “Million Dollar Backfield” combination of QB Y.A. Tittle, halfbacks Hugh McElhenny and Joe Perry and fullback John Henry Johnson, all future Hall of Famers.

Despite already being the first week of October, this was only the second game of the season for these California rivals. The NFL played a 12 game schedule in those days, and the season started later. The 49ers were coming off an opening week loss while the Rams had won their first game. Rams’ running back Tommy Wilson quieted the boisterous Kezar Stadium crowd with a 21 yard touchdown run, the only scoring in the first quarter. San Francisco grabbed the momentum back when they pinned the Rams on their own goal line, and Leo Nomellini burst through and tackled Wilson in the end zone for a safety. Tittle then took charge, leading a pair of scoring drives which he topped off with touchdown throws of 23 yards to Billy Wilson and 46 yards to R.C. Owens, his favorite target. That gave the Niners a 16-7 halftime lead, but Tittle and the offense went cold in the second half. Van Brocklin, the proud warrior, connected with Leon Clarke on a 70 yard touchdown bomb, and while the San Francisco offense continued to sputter, the Rams added a pair of Paige Cothren field goals to open up a 20-16 lead.

49er coach Frankie Albert, in an attempt to light a fire under his struggling offense, decided to attempt a trick play when Tittle drove the club into the red zone as the game clock wound down. It had been dubbed the “Alley Oop” pass, and it entailed Owens running to a spot in the end zone and Tittle lofting the ball high to a spot where the athletic Owens would outleap any defender and come down with a completion. The play worked, as Owens snagged the pass for an 11 yard game-winning touchdown in a 23-20 49er win.

 

R.C. Owens demonstrates the “Alley Oop” at practice

 

In today’s NFL, that play is commonplace and known as “high-pointing” the ball or perhaps as the “back shoulder” throw, or “Hail Mary” pass. Tall, athletic receivers and tight ends are all used as “red zone” targets, plus today’s players are making amazing athletic plays every week. But in 1957, the play was a big deal. It was named after a comic strip caveman of that name and of that era. There was also a novelty pop song about the caveman, recorded by The Hollywood Argyles, being played on pop radio stations at the time. The term has long vanished from football jargon today, but is still used in basketball to define an above-the-rim pass to a teammate to set up a dunk. Owens made enough of an impression in San Francisco to earn a place in the team’s Hall of Fame, and he also can make a claim to fame for changing the rules of the game. He used his jumping abilities in a game once to bat away a field goal attempt by leaping up over the crossbar and knocking it away. The NFL outlawed “goaltending” the next season.

 

Alley Oop, the cartoon caveman

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Prodigal Son Returns

30 Dec

The Green Bay Packers will try to hold on to their top seed in the NFC this week when they take on the Minnesota Vikings in a week 17 matchup on the schedule. We’ll throw it back a decade or so for our Throwback Thursday feature, to November 1, 2009. That’s the day when the Packers’ prodigal son, Brett Favre, returned to Lambeau Field as a member of the enemy squad, the Vikings, to try to extract some revenge on his former team. Favre, a Packer legend who had guided the team to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one, was unceremoniously traded to the New York Jets in 2008. Coach Mike McCarthy made the decision to move on from him at that time and hand the quarterback reins to young Aaron Rodgers, who had sat patiently for 3 seasons behind Favre waiting for his opportunity. So this was billed as a showdown between the old hero turned villain and the fresh new young gun. Favre had already beaten the Packers earlier in the season in Minnesota in a game in which he threw 3 touchdown passes, and the Vikings entered this rematch at 6-1 and leading the NFC North, with Green Bay right behind them at 4-2.

Packer fans booed their former idol heartily when he came out of the tunnel and throughout the game. After all, playing for the Jets was acceptable, but Favre had retired, then came out of retirement to sign with the Packers’ hated division rival. Mason Crosby opened the scoring with a field goal for Green Bay, but the Vikings, behind Favre, took control after that. Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 97 yards on the day, scored from a yard out. Favre followed that up with a 12 yard TD toss to Visanthe Shiancoe, and when Ryan Longwell booted a 41 yard field goal, Minnesota went into the half with a 17-3 lead. Favre continued the onslaught with a 51 yard heave to Percy Harvin to extend the Viking lead to 24-3, but the Packers and Rodgers gathered themselves and began to close the gap. Crosby hit another three pointer, then Rodgers connected twice with his tight end, Spencer Havner, on short scoring throws. Green Bay had now shortened the lead to 24-20 going into the final quarter.

The two gunslinging signal callers continued their battle as the game wound down. Favre flipped a short 2 yard touchdown toss to Jeff Dugan, and Rodgers matched that by finding Greg Jennings for six from 10 yards out. Green Bay failed on a two point attempt, so the Vikings now led 31-26. It was a valiant comeback, but Favre and his new team would have the last laugh. Green Bay’s prodigal son hit Bernard Berrian with a 16 yard throw for his fourth touchdown pass of the day, cementing Minnesota’s 38-26 win. The Viking defense, and their offensive line, were the difference in the game. Favre threw from a clean pocket all day, while Rodgers, despite passing for more yardage than Favre, was sacked 6 times. It turned out to be a pretty good move by Minnesota in signing the aging Favre. The club continued on it’s winning ways, clinching the division title with a 12-4 record and advancing all the way to the NFC Championship, where they lost a heartbreaker 31-28 to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

 

 

Brett Favre celebrates beating his old team

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Juice Is Loose!

23 Dec

A pair of AFC East contenders square off for the second time in a month this Sunday on the NFL’s schedule – the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. Our Throwback Thursday feature this week highlights a game played between these 2 teams on opening day of the 1973 season. It was played at New England’s old Shaefer Stadium on September 16 of that year. Both clubs had shown promise in the 1972 season that they might be able to find the promised land of fielding winning teams in this new year. The Bills brought back their old coach from the AFL days, Lou Saban, in ’72 to try to salvage the career of young running back O.J. Simpson, who had languished in his first couple of seasons under coach John Rauch. Rauch came up with the foolish idea of using Simpson as a decoy instead of featuring his talent in the offensive scheme, and even toyed with the idea of switching him to wide receiver. Saban changed all that, building the club around Simpson’s talent to feature the running game. The Bills were also set to move out of their old stadium, the decrepit War Memorial Stadium, into their shiny new home, Rich Stadium.

The Patriots also entered the ’73 season with high hopes, as new coach Chuck Fairbanks attempted to improve the club with young quarterback Jim Plunkett being fortified with an influx of new talent that included Sam Cunningham, Darryl Stingley, John Hannah and Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton. That new talent paid immediate dividends as Cunningham scored the game’s first touchdown on a 7 yard run. The Pats missed the extra point, taking a 6-0 lead. It didn’t last long, as a portent of things to come was about to happen. The Bills took the field with a revamped offense designed to feature Simpson’s ability. Three draft picks became immediate starters. A pair of first rounders, Paul Seymour and Joe DeLamielleure, manned the tight end and guard spots, and Joe Ferguson took over for Dennis Shaw at quarterback. Seymour’s role was basically an extra tackle on the line to help Simpson, and when “The Juice” broke off an 80 yard touchdown run to give the Bills a 7-6 lead, Buffalo was off and literally running. Buffalo’s rebuilt line also added center Mike Montler in a trade to go with Reggie McKenzie, Donnie Green and Dave Foley, forming what would be nicknamed the “Electric Company” as they turned on “The Juice”. John Leypoldt added a field goal and Larry Watkins, O.J.’s backfield mate, scored on a 4 yard run to boost the Bills to a 17-6 lead before New England pulled to within 17-13 on a 10 yard Mack Herron run. Then Simpson scored again on a 22 yard scamper. Watkins again joined in the fun, rambling 15 yards to close out the scoring and give Buffalo a resounding 31-13 victory.

When the final gun sounded, Simpson had accumulated 250 yards rushing on 29 carries with his pair of touchdowns, setting a new single-game record for ground yards. Watkins added another 105 yards on 18 carries and his 2 TDs as the Bills racked up an impressive 360 yards on the ground in the game. Simpson’s performance wasn’t a one time deal. He would go on to break Jim Brown’s single season rushing yards record and become the first player in history to break the 2,000 yard barrier as he finished with 2,003 for the year. He is still the only back to achieve the feat in 14 games. Simpson’s personal life has turned tragic and he has frittered away any good will he may have earned in his playing days and broadcasting and acting careers afterwards, but he was a dynamic athlete at one time.

 

 

O.J. Simpson shredded the Pats for 250 yards on opening day

 

 

 

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Gateway To A Victory

16 Dec

We’re headed into the home stretch of the NFL season, and one of this week’s games matches the team with the best record, the Arizona Cardinals, against the club with the worst mark, the Detroit Lions. These 2 teams met in a game played on October 1, 1967 at St.Louis’ Busch Stadium, when the Cardinals were located in the Gateway To The West city. Both of these teams were perennial also-rans in the 1960s, but it didn’t keep them from providing fans with some exciting games during the decade. This game veered from the usual “three yards and a cloud of dust” style of 1960s NFL football. It turned into what qualified as a shootout in that era between Detroit veteran signal caller Milt Plum and the Cardinals’ young second year gunslinger, Jim Hart.

The Lions came out swinging and took an early 7-0 lead with a drive that ended on a one yard scoring plunge by Mel Farr. Detroit then pinned the Cards deep in their own territory, and when Hart tried to throw out of his own end zone Larry Hand picked it off at the 2 yard line and walked into the end zone to up the lead to 14-0. St. Louis finally found their bearings in the second quarter and Hart guided them to a couple of scores, with halfback Johnny Roland finding paydirt from a yard out and Jim Bakken booting a 39 yard field goal to put the game within striking distance at 14-10. Plum took to the air and found his favorite target, Pat Studstill, on a 37 yard touchdown throw to extend the lead to 21-10. When Roland found the end zone again for the Cards, on another 1 yard run, the gap was closed to 21-17 at the half.

The Cardinals came out of the locker room rejuvenated in the second half, and took the lead when Hart hit his tight end, Jackie Smith, with a 57 yard touchdown bomb. Roland scored his third rushing touchdown, from 6 yards out, to end the third quarter scoring, and St. Louis suddenly found themselves up 28-17. The Lions fought back in the final quarter, and Plum and Studstill connected again, on a 23 yard scoring pass. Plum finished with 206 yards passing for the day, a sizable amount for a game in those days, with Studstill amassing 107 of those yards on 5 catches. Hart had a favorite target that day also in split end Billy Gambrell, who also had 5 receptions, for 117 yards. The biggest of the connections for the Cardinal duo resulted in a 48 yard touchdown that completed the scoring. When the final gun sounded, St. Louis had themselves a hard-fought 38-28 victory.

 

Johnny Roland stopped by the Lions’ defense

 

Both clubs settled into their usual mediocrity as the season wore on, with the Cardinals finishing third in the league’s Century Division at 6-7-1, and Detroit also winding up third in the Central Division at 5-7-2. There was at least a hint of hope in Detroit in the ’67 season as the Lions boasted both the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of The Year in Farr and Lem Barney.

 

Cards vs. Lions game program

 

 

 

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Enigma Quarterback

09 Dec

The oldest rivalry in pro football gets renewed this week on the NFL schedule as the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to November 4, 1973 for a matchup between these 2 historic franchises. By the ’73 season, the Packers were long past the Vince Lombardi dynasty years, and the Bears’ founder, owner and coach George “Papa Bear” Halas had moved from the sideline into the front office to run the club. The teams were now coached by a couple of forgettable names – Dan Devine with Green Bay and the large, jovial Abe Gibron for the Bears. Both teams were foundering, with the Packers at 2-3-2 and Chicago a lowly 2-5, entering the game.

 

Bears’ coach Abe Gibron, large and in charge

The Bears’ quarterback at the time was an NFL enigma. A novelty in 1973 but perhaps a player well ahead of his time, he was Bobby Douglass, a 6’4″ 225 lb. corn-fed Kansas boy. Douglass was a couple of things that didn’t mesh with NFL football quarterbacks at the time. He was left-handed, and he was a runner rather than an effective passer. His career passing statistics are cringe-worthy – in 10 seasons, he threw for 36 touchdowns and 64 interceptions and had a career QB rating of 48.5. Nevertheless, he paved the way for southpaw throwers like Ken Stabler and later Steve Young to be accepted despite being lefty and having run game skills. It could be argued that Douglass was the original lab experiment and Young the perfected final product.

Back to the November 1973 game. It was at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, an intimidating place for visiting teams in the Lombardi era but not so much now. This was a matchup between Douglass and the heir apparent to Bart Starr, a not-so-legendary signal caller named Scott Hunter. The pair traded first quarter touchdowns as Douglass opened the scoring on a 1 yard run, with Hunter answering on a 5 yard scoring toss to MacArthur Lane. In the second stanza Hunter ran in from a yard out and the clubs traded field goals, putting Green Bay ahead 17-10 at the half. The second half turned out to be the Bobby Douglass show. He accounted for all the scoring with 3 more short TD runs, giving him a total of 4 six-pointers on the day as he amassed an even 100 yards rushing on 18 carries. His passing stats were unspectacular but efficient, as he hit on 10 of 15 throws for 118 yards in his team’s 31-17 victory. In all the Bears rushed for 230 yards while their defense made life miserable for Hunter. He completed only 3 of 15 passes for a meager 17 yards. The only offensive bright spot for the Packers was the 119 yards gained on the ground by Lane and John Brockington, who was a very underrated running back in the post-Lombardi Packer era. Unfortunately for the Bears, this would be the last game they won in the ’73 season as they finished 3-11 for last place in the NFC Central Division. Green Bay managed a bit more success, but not much more as they wound up just ahead of the Bears in the standings at 5-7-2.

 

 

Packer defenders spent the day chasing Douglass

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Archie Has A Day

02 Dec

This week on the NFL schedule, the Dallas Cowboys meet the New Orleans Saints, and we’ll feature these 2 teams as our Throwback Thursday game. They met on October 17, 1971 at Tulane Stadium, the Saints’ home field at the time. The Saints, who entered the league as an expansion team in 1967, hadn’t gotten off the ground in the first 4 years of their existence, but in 1971 were ready to finally find some success behind their shiny new rookie quarterback, Archie Manning. The ’71 season started slowly for the Saints, as they entered this contest with a 1-2-1 mark, while Dallas, having endured a crushing last-second Super Bowl loss in 1970, won 3 of their first 4 games. Cowboys’ coach Tom Landry, trying to get his club past the “can’t win the big one” curse, brought in seasoned veterans for the ’71 campaign who had won titles with other clubs, players like Mike Ditka, Herb Adderley, Lance Alworth and Gloster Richardson. New Orleans had at least shown some respectability and competitiveness so far this season, but this was a chance to show they were ready to emerge as a rising team.

They did just that as they came out playing inspired football, dominating the first half. Manning threw a 29 yard touchdown pass to Tony Baker for the only scoring in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Charlie Durkee connected on a field goal and Manning finished a drive by taking matters into his own hands, scrambling 13 yards for a score to give his team a shocking 17-0 lead at halftime over the defending NFC champs.  Landry made the decision at the half to replace ineffective starter Craig Morton, who had been intercepted twice, at QB with the dangerous Roger Staubach, who was a scrambler that could create some offense. The move worked, as Staubach fired a 41 yard touchdown pass to Richardson for the only score of the third quarter, then hit “Bullet” Bob Hayes  from 16 yards out to bring the Cowboys to within 3 at 17-14. However, when Manning ran in from 2 yards out for another score, the Saints secured a 24-14 win and sent their fans home happy and with hope for a winning season.

It didn’t work out that way, as New Orleans stumbled to a last place 4-8-2 record. Dallas, on the other hand, took some positives from the loss. Landry, who had foolishly entered the year with a plan of alternating quarterbacks with Morton and Staubach, eventually settled on Roger the Dodger as the starter, and he led the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl title that season, a resounding victory over the young Miami Dolphins. The club’s first championship win, exorcising the losing demons at last, took place right back at the site of this game, Tulane Stadium.

 

 

Saints’ Archie Manning challenges the Doomsday Defense

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tragedy In Detroit

25 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving week, and the NFL celebrates the holiday with a trio of games. However, this week’s Throwback Thursday feature is a somber one. It involves an event that happened on October 24, 1971 in a game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, who clash this week on the 2021 NFL schedule. The game was basically just your average NFL contest of the era, although both clubs were off to good starts for the season, with the Lions a game ahead of Chicago in the standings after 5 weeks of play. Don Shy’s 21 yard touchdown run for the Bears was sandwiched between a pair of Errol Mann field goals in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-6 lead. In the second stanza Bobby Douglass completed a 54 yard scoring pass to George Farmer to add to Chicago’s lead, but when Ron Jessie returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, the momentum swung back to Detroit. Greg Landry then led the Lions on another scoring drive that he completed with a 16 yard TD throw to Larry Walton, giving the Motor City club the lead for the first time at 20-14. Douglass hit Bob Wallace from 15 yards out to finish the first half scoring, and Chicago went into halftime back in the lead at 21-20.

Both defenses stiffened in the third quarter, with the only scoring coming on another Mann field goal for Detroit, giving the Lions the lead back. Douglass, a swashbuckler of a signal caller, rallied his team to another score and did the honors himself by plunging in for the touchdown to put the Bears back ahead 28-23. Landry and the Lions didn’t give up the fight. With under 2 minutes to play, Detroit began a drive to retake the lead. The Lions’ QB found receiver Chuck Hughes for a 32 yard gain. Hughes jumped up and raced back to the huddle, knowing time was working against his club. That reception was the 15th and final catch for Hughes. A couple of plays later, both of which were incompletions, Hughes grabbed his chest and fell to the ground. In the confusion, the Bears’ bench thought he was faking an injury to get the clock stopped, and the Lions thought Bears’ linebacker Dick Butkus had leveled Hughes with a dirty hit. But when Butkus, who noticed the fallen player was convulsing, began frantically waving to the Lions’ bench for the trainers to come out, it became obvious there was a problem. Detroit’s team doctors worked to try to revive the Lions’ player, and an ambulance was brought out, transporting him to the hospital. It wasn’t known to anyone in the stadium at the time, but Hughes was already dead from a heart attack. The last minute of the game was played in a hushed silence as the stunned crowd looked on. Chicago hung on to win but almost nobody cared. The tragedy of this day remains the only time a player has died on the field in an NFL game, and Hughes left behind a wife and a not-quite 2 year old son. Ironically, earlier in the season Hughes had complained of chest pains, and was checked out by doctors and eventually cleared to play. The Detroit franchise to this day does not issue Hughes’ number 85 jersey to any player unless permission is given by the Hughes family.

 

 

Lions’ Chuck Hughes lies prone on the field

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Snow Globe Game

18 Nov

It’s time for another Throwback Thursday feature, and this week we’ll look back on a game from just a few years ago, played in a blizzard in Orchard Park, NY between 2 teams that meet this week on the NFL schedule, the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. It was December 10, 2017 when this contest for the ages took place, and the weather conditions were indeed blizzard-like, leading it to be dubbed “The Snow Globe Game”. In all, 17 inches of lake effect snow fell during the day, including 8 inches while the game was played. The Colts were dressed in their all-white uniforms and were barely visible on the field or on television, while the Bills stood out in their all-red alternate “color rush” uniforms.

 

Hearty Bills Mafia fans enjoying the weather

 

Obviously, the conditions were not conducive to either offense, and the first quarter went scoreless as both teams tried to establish some sort of footing on the snow covered field. Bills’ quarterback Nathan Peterman finally was able to steer his club to the end zone in the second stanza, finding Kelvin Benjamin on an 8 yard scoring toss to put his team ahead. The third quarter was scoreless also. Despite rushing attacks dominating the day for both teams due to the weather and lack of visibility, the Colts managed to tie the game in the final quarter just as the Bills had scored the game’s first TD, on a short pass. Jacoby Brissett found his tight end, Jack Doyle, from 3 yards out and kicker Adam Vinatieri booted the extra point. In the third quarter, Peterman had left the game with a concussion, leaving the Bills’ fate in the hands of little-used backup Joe Webb III, who was on the roster mainly as a special teams contributor. Buffalo struggled to mount any attack with Webb as their signal caller, and late in the final period the Colts intercepted him to set up a potential game winning field goal from Vinatieri. He missed the kick in the swirling winds, however, and the Bills had life as the contest went into overtime.

In the extra session neither team could find any footing, and they traded punts until Webb suddenly completed an improbable pass of 34 yards to Deonte Thompson, setting up a 25 yard scamper to the end zone by LeSean McCoy to win the game for Buffalo 13-7. McCoy, a notorious bad weather runner who had excelled in similar conditions while playing for Philadelphia, wound up with an incredible 156 yards on 32 carries for the day. Similarly, the Colts’ offense was almost exclusively rushing yards from their workhorse back, Frank Gore. He dashed his way through the snow for 130 yards on 36 carries. It turned out to be an important win for Buffalo, as they snuck into the playoffs a few weeks later on the season’s final day, ending a 17 year postseason drought. The feat would not have happened without this hard-fought winter battle victory.

 

LeSean McCoy rambles to the winning TD in overtime