Up in rowdy old Foxboro last Sunday afternoon, the most glamorous quarterback in professional football, Bert Jones, got himself knocked out of the running for Mr. Universe, bumped off assorted magazine covers, jarred away from any number of deodorant commercials and just shabbily treated all around by a New England team that finally may have found itself. In fact, the Patriots plain mistreated the previously undefeated Baltimore Colts 17-3 and turned the AFC East into a three-team race that probably won't be decided until Santa Claus suits up. Miami and Baltimore share the lead with 5-1 records, but the Patriots are only one game back at 4-2.
Jones had the worst day of his career, or at least since he emerged a couple of years back as a combination of Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh and Jesus of Nazareth. The inflamed defense of the Patriots hounded Jones, confused him and put him flat on his No. 7 so often that he began to resemble a white bouquet mysteriously sprouting up through Schaefer Stadium's artificial turf.
Jones' negative statistics were more important than the positive numbers of New England's Steve Grogan, who was transformed into one of the great throwers by a couple of receivers named Russ Francis and Darryl Stingley. High, low, one-handed, falling, diving, Francis and Stingley somehow caught the balls Grogan fired. Meanwhile, Jones was looking like anything but himself.
Jones was sacked five times—he had been sacked only six times in the Colts' first five games—as Baltimore failed to score a touchdown for the first time in Coach Ted Marchibroda's 36-game regime. Five is not a sack record, but they did add up to a loss of 53 yards, or about as many as Jones gained with his six completions in 18 throws. Considering that two of Jones' completions occurred at the very end of the game when the Patriots were mostly interested in leading their home crowd in cheers, he actually lost more yardage while getting trapped behind the line than he gained through the air when it meant something.
Jones also spent a good deal of time running around trying not to get sacked, as the Patriots' 3-4 defense, with its many scheming variations, applied relentless pressure. Five times Jones had to scramble when he wanted to pass. Unbelievably, he did not complete his third pass until there was just 3:40 left to play in the game.
The Patriots' sackers were a combination of knowns and unknowns—Sugar Bear Hamilton, Mel Lunsford and Pete Barnes from the starting unit, and Tony McGee and Richard Bishop from the reserves. As McGee so aptly put it, "We was comin' from everywhere."
Bishop phrased it another way. "Their line couldn't pick up our schemes."
But at least Jones was nice about it. According to Steve Nelson, one of the New England linebackers, Jones frequently would say "Good play" or "You're doing a good job" after being molested by the Patriots.
And then there was the New England offense. It may well be that the only thing wrong with the Patriots earlier in the season when they lost back-to-back three-point games to Cleveland and the New York Jets was that agent fellow, Howard Slusher, who convinced New England's two best offensive linemen, Guard John Hannah and Tackle Leon Gray, to walk out on the Patriots before the last exhibition game, not to return until after New England had lost those two games. Patriot Coach Chuck Fairbanks admits, "Having John and Leon out put us in a situation where we were not only without a couple of All-Pros, we were also without two guys who have a lot of very close friends on this team. It had an unsettling effect. We had the best training camp we've had since I've been here [five wins, one loss], but after Hannah and Gray walked out we weren't getting the kind of concentration we needed in practice. We were making mental errors, and it upset our preparation."
An echo came from Grogan, who with his thin blond mustache looks a bit like the host on Fernwood 2 Night and until lately was thought to have nothing in common with Jones except the fact that he also enjoys putting a little Copenhagen or Skoal under his lower lip.