SI Vault
Ron Reid
December 17, 1973
Playoffs mean payoffs and as the NFL games dwindled down to a precious few, contenders were pitted against contenders. In these cases, the winner really made a score
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December 17, 1973

Three For The Money

Playoffs mean payoffs and as the NFL games dwindled down to a precious few, contenders were pitted against contenders. In these cases, the winner really made a score

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"We thought we saw Clark's potential early," Brown says, "but sometimes things just seem too good to be true. He showed so much poise and so much maturity in camp this summer that one night when we were sitting around the coaches' room talking, one of us said, 'Hey, do you suppose this guy might be 30 years old and we don't know it?' "

Curtis, Brown's other prize rookie, fled through the Cleveland secondary like a man who has spent 10 years in the NFL and as great as his speed is—he ran the 100 in 9.3 for Cal—his hands have accounted for most of his 43 catches. "It is a little unusual to have youngsters come into the league and show that much maturity," Brown says, "but there was a reason for it. We had to play them because there wasn't any other choice. In the first Cleveland game we lost Chip Myers with a hamstring while he was warming up. Then Charlie Joiner got a broken collarbone on the first play of the game. We've also lost Doug Dressier, our fullback, with a knee injury and Carter, our other quarterback, with a broken collarbone. But we have worn well in the face of all that's happened to us."

Indeed, one more victory and the Bengals will have their opposition worn out.

So will the Raiders, who outclassed the Chiefs 37-7 on Oakland's home turf—or what's left of it. "We go to war" read the Raiders' itinerary, and when they did they went overland, breaking the team record for rushing attempts by 11 with 61 carries good for 259 yards. They steered their running attack away from Middle Linebacker Willie Lanier and Defensive Tackle Curley Culp by having both wide receivers lined up on one flank, creating a strong side without a tight end. The Chiefs overshifted to that side, putting Culp over the center and Lanier opposite the strong-side guard. Oakland then ran most of its plays back to the weak side where Guard Gene Upshaw was head up on Linebacker Jim Lynch and where Tight End Bob Moore could help block.

Kansas City lacked energy all week. All Hank Stram's scheming and all Lamar Hunt's wealth couldn't fly the team to the Coast a few days early, as had been its practice before previous Raider games, because no airline had enough gas for such a charter. And as if fuel shortages weren't frustrating enough, one of his own backs shorted Stram's brain power. Kansas City won the toss and surprised everyone by electing to defend the south goal rather than to receive. An hour before game time Stram had made an inspection of the damp, poorly sodded playing surface. Noting that the footing was particularly bad at the north end, he reasoned that a team receiving there, since it would also have the sun in its eyes, would fail to move the ball and would surrender field position on a punt. The Raiders played right into the Chiefs' hands, managing only four yards on three downs before punting. Ed Podolak returned the kick to the Kansas City 46 but there the ball played right out of his hands. Oakland's Pete Banaszak recovered Podolak's fumble and the lights went out for Kansas City.

The Raiders scored nine plays later on a nine-yard bullet to Fred Biletnikoff from Ken Stabler, the lefthander who took over for Daryle Lamonica after Oakland failed to produce an offensive touchdown in its first three games, and has become the AFC's leading passer. At the end of the first quarter Oakland got field position at its 46 when an exchange of punts between the league's two best kickers, the Raiders' Ray Guy and the Chiefs' Jerrel Wilson, netted Oakland 24 yards. Five plays later Marv Hubbard (see cover), who led all rushers with 115 yards, burst through the left side of a drawn-up defense on third and four and went 31 yards for the touchdown. That marked the first time this season that a back has made a run of over 20 yards on the uncertain Coliseum footing.

By halftime it was 20-0 and at the start of the second half Stram's mighty bit of pregame strategy came back to haunt him further. Since the Raiders had lost the toss, they got the choice in the second half and received again. They used up over 5� minutes, marching 50 yards before George Blanda increased their margin to more than three touchdowns with a 27-yard field goal. At that point the Raiders had recorded 18 first downs to the Chiefs' one, had amassed 251 yards to the Chiefs' 22 and had held the ball for 27 minutes and six seconds while Kansas City had only had possession for 8� minutes. From then on Kansas City played a frantic game of catch-up while Oakland played roll-up, turning two fourth-quarter interceptions into touchdowns.

Kansas City's collapse seems less surprising in view of the fact that this season the Chiefs have not beaten a team that had a winning record when it played them. The Chiefs have not replenished themselves as well as the Raiders. Perhaps most indicative of the divergent paths the two teams now seem to be taking are their quarterbacks. Saturday's contest marked the first time since 1966 that a Chief-Raider game has not matched Len Dawson against Lamonica, and Stabler, the Raider quarterback of the future, clearly outplayed Mike Livingston, the Chiefs' heir apparent.

For once, a win over Kansas City did not clinch the West for Oakland, which holds a half-game lead over Denver, whom it plays in Oakland Sunday for their division's lone playoff spot. The two teams tied in their first meeting and, based on recent performances, the Broncos pose a bigger problem for Oakland than the Chiefs. Indeed, Oakland-Denver may present as clear a picture of the AFC West's future as Kansas City- Oakland did of its past.

The present is still the future in the NFC East. Given some early, footling assistance by the most inept Knight since Don Quixote, Dallas took over the lead in that division by clobbering archrival Washington 27-7.

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