WhatIfSports Duel to the Death Season: Week 3 (Part 1)

Through two weeks of the simulated Greatest of All Time season, we’ve had some big surprises (the ’08 Cardinals going 2-0 and the ’89 49ers going winless in their first two home games) and some not-so-startling developments (the ’62 Packers and ’07 Patriots starting out undefeated). Today, we’ve got the desperate ’72 Dolphins trying to avoid an 0-3 start at the hands of the 1990 Bills; the ’76 Raiders heading into Lambeau to face the ’62 Packers; the ’08 Cardinals and ’91 Oilers both trying to extend their undefeated starts; and a battle of AFC East unbeatens in Foxborough. Let’s rev WhatIfSports up and see what happens this week…

1991 Washington Redskins (2-1) 20, 1952 Detroit Lions (1-2) 17

The Redskins took advantage of a questionable late-game decision from Lions coach Buddy Parker to kick a 24-yard Chip Lohmiller field goal and ice a victory that sent them to 2-1. Down 17-10 with a little over three minutes left and all three timeouts remaining, Parker decided to go for it on 4th-and-3 from the Lions’ own 23-yard-line; when Wilber Marshall subsequently sacked Bobby Layne to turn the ball over on downs, the Redskins were essentially handed the field position needed to kick an easy field goal and put the game out of reach. Washington had taken the lead early in the fourth quarter on 25 yard touchdown pass from Mark Rypien (11-of-17, 140 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) to Gary Clark. Layne was extremely hit-or-miss, going only 5-of-13 but gaining 149 yards on those five completions, two of which went to the immortal Cloyce Box (what a name!)

1975 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) 42, 2008 Arizona Cardinals (2-1) 17

The Steelers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and racked up nearly 500 yards of offense to hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season. Both Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris rushed for over 100 yards (Harris scoring two touchdowns on the ground and Bleier adding two as a receiver) and Terry Bradshaw was superb, going 17-of-24 for 222 yards and four touchdowns. Kurt Warner had his first off game of the year, going only 12-of-27 for 134 yards and an interception, in large part because Larry Fitzgerald was held to a single catch for 19 yards.

1999 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) 37, 1991 Houston Oilers (2-1) 7

Jacksonville harassed Oilers quarterback Warren Moon, sacking him eight times and forcing two interceptions and the Jaguars romped over one of the two previously unbeaten teams in the AFC South. Renaldo Wynn had two of Jacksonville’s eight sacks and Tony Brackens added another in addition to an interception that set up a Mike Hollis field goal. Offensively, Mark Brunell was solid, going 16-of-26 for 213 yards and a touchdown and Fred Taylor added two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to firmly put the game out of reach.

1962 Green Bay Packers (3-0) 27, 1976 Oakland Raiders (1-2) 3

The Packers limited the Raiders to ten first downs and became the first team to achieve a 3-0 record by romping over Oakland at Lambeau Field. Bart Starr went 10-of-19 for 181 yards and the Packers scored three touchdowns in a ten-minute span in the second quarter to put up an ultimately insurmountable advantage. Paul Hornung scored two touchdowns on the ground.

1990 Buffalo Bills (3-0) 23, 1972 Miami Dolphins (0-3) 20 (OT)

For the second week in a row, the Dolphins blew a fourth-quarter lead at home and after missing his first attempt in overtime, Scott Norwood made the second from 52 yards away to send the Bills to 3-0 and the Dolphins, shockingly, to 0-3. Jim Kelly (20-of-32 for 261 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT) threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Andre Reed with 3:19 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game up. After the Dolphins were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, the Bills actually drove deep into Miami territory with seconds remaining but Thurman Thomas fumbled at the Dolphins’ 9-yard-line with 15 seconds remaining and the game went into overtime. There, after missing a 51-yard attempt to cap Buffalo’s first possession, Norwood hit his second attempt to win the game for the Bills. The comeback spoiled a great rushing performance from Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka, who combined for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts. Earl Morrall went only 8-of-20 for 129 yards for the Dolphins, however, and with Bob Griese waiting in the wings, we can only assume a virtual quarterback controversy is taking shape.

1989 San Francisco 49ers (1-1-1) 21, 2005 Carolina Panthers (1-2) 7

Joe Montana went 16-of-22 for 214 yards and the 49ers scored nine points in a twenty-four second span in the fourth quarter to earn their first victory of the year. With the score just 12-7 early in the fourth quarter, Kevin Fagan sacked Jake Delhomme in the end zone for a safety. Then, following a great return on the free kick back to the Panthers’ 6-yard line, Roger Craig scored his second touchdown of the game on the very next play to give the Niners a comfortable two-score advantage that they would not relinquish. Jerry Rice was held in check (only 36 yards on three catches), so the bulk of the San Francisco offensive attack shifted to…Tom Rathman? Rathman had 107 combined rushing and receiving yards, including a 41-yard catch.

2007 New England Patriots (3-0) 20, 1968 New York Jets (2-1) 0

The Jets held the prolific Patriots offense to one offensive touchdown but couldn’t muster any offense of their own and were shut out in a battle of previously 2-0 teams. Tom Brady was a solid 20-of-29 for 213 yards (145 of those going to Randy Moss and Wes Welker), but the game was still just 13-0 midway through the third quarter when Randall Gay intercepted Joe Namath’s pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. From there, Namath (12-of-24 for 200 yards and that pick-six) was able to lead the Jets into the Patriots’ red zone twice but failed on two different fourth down conversions and came away with no points.

2005 Seattle Seahawks (1-1-1) 27, 1964 Cleveland Browns (0-3) 21

Aided by two Frank Ryan interceptions deep in his own territory, the Seahawks scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and withstood a furious Cleveland rally in the fourth quarter to send the 1964 league champions to 0-3. The Browns led 7-6 at halftime, but two quick Ryan interceptions to Kelly Herndon and Jordan Babineaux set the Seahawks up at the Cleveland 22 and 27-yard lines, respectively, and paved the way for two Shaun Alexander touchdowns – one as a rusher, another as a receiver. Alexander capped an eleven play, 69-yard Seahawks touchdown drive later in the third quarter with a one-yard touchdown run to push the Seahawks’ lead to 27-7. But an 11-yard touchdown run by Jim Brown (107 yards on 22 carries) and a 44-yard touchdown throw from Ryan to Gary Collins gave the Browns new life and they actually drove to the Seahawks’ 8-yard line with 1:35 remaining in the game. Then, facing a 4th-and-5, Ryan thought it would be wise to run out of bounds after gaining a single yard. Even Matt Schaub is shaking his head at you right now, Frank! From there, the Seahawks just ran the clock out.

Tomorrow: Week 3 wraps up with ’92 Cowboys vs. ’85 Bears, ’73 Vikings vs. ’98 Broncos, ’58 Colts vs. ’99 Rams, and the ’06 Colts going up against the ’09 Saints in a battle to see who can be more virtually disappointing.

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