As Lovie Smith might say, we’re entering the first quarter of the fourth quarter of the WhatIfSports Greatest of All Time season. We like our teams. Norm Van Brocklin is our quarterback. We still got a lot of football left to play. Let’s light this candle…
Walter Payton rushed for 248 yards and four touchdowns (all in the first half) on 20 attempts as the Bears scored the first 34 points of the game and remained in the lead for the final NFC wild-card spot with a trouncing of the hapless Eagles at Franklin Field. Payton scored on the first play from scrimmage on a 74-yard run and added touchdown runs of 1, 4 and 9 yards in the second quarter to help stake the Bears to a 31-0 halftime lead. Jim McMahon was an efficient 10-of-14 for 133 yards for Chicago and Wilber Marshall added two sacks of Norm Van Brocklin, who otherwise had a pretty good day (14-of-23 for 241 yards, a touchdown and an interception).
Jerry Rice caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana with 1:51 remaining and the 49ers came from behind to win the battle of historically great quarterbacks and deal the Colts a possible death blow to their playoff chances. Rice finished with 116 yards on five catches; Montana was excellent as well, going 13-of-17 for 184 yards and that game-winning touchdown. Johnny Unitas threw touchdown passes to Jim Mutscheller and Alan Ameche but otherwise could only manage 118 yards on 28 attempts.
Mark Rypien threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns on 27 attempts and the Redskins finished off a season sweep of the Giants, eliminating their division rival from the playoffs in the process. Ricky Sanders, Art Monk and Terry Orr all caught touchdown passes from Rypien and Gary Clark finished with a team-leading 87 receiving yards. The Giants kept things close by hitting on a number of big plays – Phil Simms went 7-of-13 for 155 yards and two touchdowns and Joe Morris had a 56-yard run on his way to finishing with 128 yards on just 16 carries. However, the Giants only picked up nine total first downs compared to Washington’s 21 and possessed the ball for ten fewer minutes as a result.
Troy Aikman threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 24 attempts and the Cowboys also scored on an interception return for a touchdown on their way to a dominant win over the Lions and another week as the leader in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC. Thomas Everett scored on a 20-yard interception return early in the third quarter to put the Cowboys up 17-7 and that proved to be the game-winning points for Dallas. Emmitt Smith also rushed for 136 yards on 26 carries and Michael Irvin had 93 yards on six catches.
Rolf Benirschke’s 37-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining lifted the Chargers to their eleventh win in a row and kept them in great position for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Dan Fouts went 18-of-27 for 257 yards and a touchdown and it was Fouts’ 22-yard pass to Charlie Joiner with 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter that put Benirschke in position to win the game. The Packers had one more chance after that, but Bart Starr threw four straight incompletions and Green Bay turned the ball over on downs. Had Jerry Kramer not missed an extra point in the first quarter, the Packers may have been able to look at overtime – as it was, after Starr’s 66-yard pass to Ron Kramer gave the Packers the lead at 25-24 midway through the fourth quarter, Green Bay was compelled to go for two to gain a three-point lead back but were unsuccessful. Starr had a boom-or-bust day, going 9-of-28 but netting 202 yards and two touchdowns. Jim Taylor rushed for 118 yards and Tom Moore added a 36-yard touchdown run.
Eddie George rushed for 162 yards on 25 carries and Samari Rolle had two interceptions of Brad Johnson, as the Titans limited Tampa Bay to 204 yards of offense and kept pace with San Diego in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC. Steve McNair was an efficient 12-of-17 for 132 yards and Rodney Thomas scored the lone touchdown of the game on a 10-yard run early in the second quarter. Simeon Rice netted a couple sacks for the Bucs but Johnson’s two interceptions plus a lost Mike Alstott fumble doomed Tampa Bay’s offensive output from the start.
Jim Kelly threw for 190 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts and Scott Norwood kicked two more field goals than Jim Turner as the Bills moved back above .500 and kept themselves in the AFC wild-card conversation while likely removing the Jets from serious consideration. Thurman Thomas added 101 yards rushing on 23 attempts, much of which came on a clock-draining 11-play, 53-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that culminated with Norwood’s third field goal and gave the Jets only 22 seconds with which to mount a comeback. Joe Namath (17-of-25 for 243 yards and a touchdown) subsequently hit Don Maynard with a 28-yard gain down to the Bills 40-yard line but with the defense having exhausted all their timeouts on the previous possession, Namath only had time to run up to the line and spike the ball as time expired.
Larry Csonka rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts and Bob Griese threw three touchdown passes as the Dolphins won their sixth game out of seven and remained very alive in the AFC playoff picture. Mercury Morris added 86 rushing yards on 16 attempts and Paul Warfield had 78 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Jim Brown had a big game in defeat for Cleveland, rushing for 194 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts but, as usual, Frank Ryan’s struggles kept the Browns from winning (two touchdown passes, but only 81 yards on 20 attempts).
Tomorrow: Two expansion-era wild-card hopefuls meet in Jacksonville (the ’05 Panthers and the ’99 Jaguars); two Kurt Warners meet in St. Louis (the ’08 Cardinals and the ’99 Rams); and two AFC West rivals meet in Kansas City with playoff implications on the line (the ’98 Broncos and ’69 Chiefs).