Following the merger of the AFL and NFL, two seperate conferences were established for the former individual leagues. The American Football Conference, formerly the AFL, was comprised of each of the ten AFL franchises, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts. Although only one of those teams would make an impact in 1970, harmony seemed to finally have been reached in professional football.
AFC Divisional Playoffs
Baltimore Colts (11-2-1)
vs. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Memorial Stadium, Baltimore, MD
The surprising Cincinnati Bengals, who turned a 1-6 start into an 8-6 final record and an AFC Central Division title, took their act on the road for their first ever playoff game against the well established Baltimore Colts. For many, Paul Brown's Bengals were an afterthought, a team not worthy of even belonging in the same stadium as the mighty Colts. After this playoff game, however, the Colts would certainly like to argue that statement.
At the start of the game, it certainly looked as if the Colts would run up and down the field all day on the Bengals. On Cincinnati's second drive, quarterback Virgil Carter's pass was intercepted by the Colts. Seven plays and 48 yards later, the ageless Johnny Unitas found Norm Bulaich in the end zone for a four yard touchdown that put the Colts ahead 7-0. It would not take long for the Bengals to wake up following that initial shock. On their very next drive, Cincinnati took their game into the teeth of Baltimore's defense, gaining large portions of yards with running backs Jess Phillips and Paul Robinson. On the second play of the second quarter, Robinson took a pitch and ran 28 yards to the end zone, tying the game and putting most people in Memorial Stadium into a state of shock.
The next Baltimore drive did little to calm the nerves of the fans. The Colts lost 17 yards on the drive, and when their punt was returned to their own 36 yard line, it was now the Bengals who had a chance to break the game open. Fortunately for the Colts, Cincinnati could not get a first down, and had to settle for a Horst Muhlmann field goal and a three point lead. Rookie kicker Jim O'Brien finally gave the Colts something to be excited about when he tied the game with a 35 yard kick on Baltimore's next possession that ended the scoring in the first half. As the teams walked off the field, Cincinnati was feeling as if they had already shocked the world, while the Colts could not believe what had happened.
Whatever was said in the locker room at halftime must have worked for the Colts, because they came right out with the football on their opening drive and took the lead with another O'Brien field goal. They then switched their focus over to their running game, in order to run large chunks of time off the clock. Their defense also stepped up in the second half, holding the Bengals to only two first downs in the third quarter. As the fourth quarter started, the Bengals still could not get their offense back to where it was in the first half. Virgil Carter was ineffective in the pocket, and their once stellar running game had stalled out. Cincinnati had two final chances to score in the fourth, but Carter was intercepted to end one drive and receiver Speedy Thomas fumbled on Cincinnati's last offensive play. The Colts were able to run out the clock and headed to their first AFC Championship.
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Oakland Raiders (8-4-2)
vs. Miami Dolphins (10-3-1)
Oakland-Alameda Stadium, Oakland, CA
For a team making their very first playoff appearance, the Miami Dolphins certainly had the look of a much more experienced team. Quarterback Bob Griese had been battle tested in many losing seasons with the Dolphins, while running backs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris formed a tandem that very few teams could best. Wide receiver Paul Warfield, in his first season in Miami, gave the Dolphins a deep receiving threat. However, they were facing the veteran Oakland Raiders, and many of their players had already been to two Super Bowls. With playoff experience against relative newcomers, the battle lines were drawn.
The first quarter of the game was defined by defense. Neither team could score on their opening possessions, both of which were long, time consuming drives that faltered just out of field goal range. The second time they had the football, the Dolphins were able to move into range before stalling, and kicker Garo Yepremian booted a 26 yard field goal to put Miami on top. Oakland tied the game midway through the second with a George Blanda field goal and after a Bob Griese interception, they took the lead on a Daryle Lamonica touchdown pass to Herwitt Dixon. Neither team could break through for the rest of the half, and the Raiders went into the locker room with a touchdown lead.
Oakland came out after the half with a confident attitude, and it showed on their first possession. The Raiders drove the length of the field against the Dolphins, and Lamonica found Fred Biletnikoff from one yard out to give the Raiders a 17-3 lead. Miami was able to get another Yepremian field goal on their next drive, but heading into the fourth quarter, they found themselves down 17-6 and in need of a miracle to even make the game competitive.
What they got was just that. On their first possession of the quarter, Larry Csonka rumbled his way into the end zone from six yards away, but Yepremian missed the extra point. Oakland had trouble fielding the kickoff, and the Raiders started their drive inside their own five. The Dolphins were able to take advantage, dropping Lamonica in the end zone for a safety, making the Oakland lead only three points. After a quick punt by the Dolphins, the Raiders made another costly mistake. This time, Lamonica's pass was intercepted by Lloyd Mumphord, who returned it 54 yards for a touchdown and the lead. Down now to their last chance, Lamonica took the Raiders on an almost eight minute drive, converting a fourth and nine at one point, to put the Raiders in position to score. With just under two minutes remaining, he found Fred Biletnikoff in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Raiders up 24-21.
With the lead once again, Oakland's defense was able to step up, stopping Griese's passing attacks with ease and getting the ball away from Miami after just five plays. The Raiders were then able to run out the clock, and Oakland was headed for their fourth consecutive AFC Championship.
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AFC Championship Game
Baltimore Colts (11-2-1)
Memorial Stadium, Baltimore, MD
vs. Oakland Raiders (8-4-2)
The 1970 AFC Championship game was between two of the most powerful teams in professional football over the past half decade. Of course, the Baltimore Colts were doing their work in the NFL, while the Oakland Raiders became one of the best teams in the AFL. In their first ever meeting, the Colts and Raiders would put on a show worthy of the new merged league, with a winner not decided until the final minute of play.
On the first play from scrimmage, Daryle Lamonica's pass was intercepted by the Colts and returned to Oakland's 33 yard line. Although the Colts could only get a Jim O'Brien field goal out of the early turnover, momentum had been claimed for the first quarter. Batlimore's defense pushed the Raiders around, stopping them from moving past the 50 yard line on any drive. While the Colts could do no better until the end of the quarter, their defense was doing more than enough to make sure the Colts had the lead.
On the first play of the second quarter, Johnny Unitas found Roy Jefferson, who walked into the end zone untouched for a four yard touchdown that put the Colts up 10-0. Oakland was finally able to move on offense on their second possession of the quarter, getting down to Baltimore's 12 yard line before stalling and having to settle for a George Blanda field goal. Just one offensive play later, the tide of the game would turn completely.
Unitas' first pass on Baltimore's next possession was intercepted by Oakland's Nemiah Wilson. With nothing but open field in front of him, Wilson was able to run 20 yards untouched for the game tying touchdown. All of a sudden, Baltimore's momentum was in Oakland's hands, but if one man could take it back, it was Johnny Unitas. The old quarterback led the Colts right back down the field, mixing run and pass together to confuse Oakland's defense. On fourth and goal from Oakland's one yard line, fullback Tom Nowatzke pounded the ball into the end zone, giving the Colts the lead back with just a minute and a half to go in the half.
Oakland would not waste that minute and half as Lamonica lived up to his "Mad Bomber" nickname. He guided the Raiders down towards Baltimore's end zone, keeping his passes near the sideline so Oakland could stop the clock. Finally, with five seconds left in the half, he found Warren Wells for the tying touchdown. At the half, neither team was sure who would win, but everyone was certain that the next 30 minutes of football would be some of the most intense of the entire season.
For just the second time in the game, it appeared as if Oakland had momentum on their side, as they marched down the field with the opening possession of the second half to Baltimore's eight yard line. Though they could not get it into the end zone, Blanda was able to make the field goal, giving the Raiders a 20-17 lead. With just under five minutes to play in the third, Unitas struck again on a quick drive, finding Eddie Hinton open in the middle of the field. Hinton did the rest, charging 43 yards for the go ahead score. As the game reached its final quarter, the stands were literally shaking in their foundations.
While Baltimore's defense was stopping Oakland for the most part at the start of the fourth quarter, the Colts could get nothing done on offense either. The first two times they had the ball, they were driven backwards, and Oakland continued to get better and better field position. When Blanda missed a 47 yard field goal attempt with 5:30 left in the game, things looked bleak for the Raiders. However, their defense once again stepped up, stopping the Colts on three plays and forcing a punt. On their next possession, Lamonica found Rod Sherman streaking down the sideline and hit him in stride, but just eight yards from the goal line, he fumbled the football and a trailing Baltimore defender was able to recover.
With almost no chance left, Oakland's defense pinned its ears back and came after Unitas and the Colts. What they ended up doing was force them back to their own goaline, where they had to punt. Baltimore's punt was off the side of their punter's foot and and got caught in the wind, finally coming to a stop at their own 26 yard line. With just 1:21 remaining, the Raiders would have one last shot. After two running plays that gained 20 yards, Oakland found themselves just six yards away from a victory, but time was running out, and they were out of timeouts. Marv Hubbard was stopped after a one yard run in an attempt to catch the Colts off guard. On second down, with 40 seconds remaining and the clock running, Lamonica managed to squeeze a pass in between two Baltimore defenders to Raymond Chester for a touchdown and the lead.
Now down 27-24, Unitas tried all that he could, but his old knees were not able to stand up to the intense Oakland pass rush. There was not enough time left for the Colts, and the Raiders had won one of the more amazing title games in history after losing under similar cirumstances the year before.
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