As the National Football League neared the end of its fifth straight record-breaking season (attendance is up 3% over 1955), the issue was clearly drawn in the West. In the East, the harum-scarum Washington Redskins contrived to keep the picture as muddy as the playing fields, with the unwilling help of the New York Giants. The Redskins squeezed by the Philadelphia Eagles 19-17, with a field goal by Sam Baker in the last 25 seconds; the Giants, needing only a win or a tie against the Cleveland Browns to insure an Eastern Conference title, lost 24-7. The Giants can still settle the issue this Saturday, when they meet the Eagles. Should they lose—a distinct possibility against the surging Philadelphia team—the decision in the East would be deferred at least until Dec. 23, a week after the regular season ends, when the Redskins play the Colts, and might even wait until Dec. 30. This Sunday the Redskins play Pittsburgh, probably the weakest team in either division. A win and a tie for the Redskins in their next two games, combined with a Giant loss to Philadelphia, would leave New York and Washington tied for the lead. Should the Giants lose and Washington win both its games, the Redskins would be the champions. In the event the teams tie, the playoff would be in New York Dec. 30, with the championship game between the East and West deferred to Jan. 6 in the Eastern Division city.
Detroit and Chicago will decide the western title in Chicago Sunday, with the Lions needing a tie or a win and the Bears needing a victory. Since the Lions demolished the Bears 42-10 in their last meeting in Detroit and have continued to pick up momentum since, the Bears, hampered by an epidemic of injuries to their left halfbacks, are faced with a tremendous task. Against the Chicago Cardinals, Coach Paddy Driscoll used J. C. Caroline, a defensive specialist, at left half. Caroline responded nobly.
The Cleveland Browns, using the draw play which made Marion Motley famous, thundered over and through the strong New York Giant defense for a 24-7 victory. Roosevelt Grier and Andy Robustelli, heretofore immovable bastions in the husky Giant defensive line, were moved out by the small, active Brown guards, and Tommy O'Connell, dropped after two games with the Chicago Bears early this season, proved a solid, intelligent quarterback for Cleveland. The Cleveland defense, as usual, was superb, and the team as a whole sounded an ominous warning of things to come in 1957.
The Chicago Cardinals, fighting for survival in the championship derby, lost to the Chicago Bears 10-3 in a game which must have set a league record in frustration for the loser. Twice Ollie Matson, the wonderful Cardinal back, broke away for long touchdown runs, and each time the play was called back for penalties. Then, in the closing seconds, Lamar McHan passed to Dick Lane, who raced to the Bear nine. J. C. Caroline, the Bear offensive star, overhauled Lane there and brought him down with a thumping tackle which shook Lane loose from the ball for a Bear recovery. Rick Casares, who has been dueling Mat-son for the league rushing championship, went well ahead with 111 yards on 24 carries to Matson's penalty-ridden 24 in 8.
The Washington Redskins' cliff-hanger 19-17 Conquest of the Philadelphia Eagles can be credited to the unpredictable Sam Baker and the very consistent Al Dorow. Dorow calmly marshaled the Redskin attack through the rain and the fading minutes to give Baker, who had missed an extra point try earlier, the opportunity to kick a 21-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
The Detroit Lions, a game away from being the first team in league history to bounce from last to first in one year, proved again that mistakes cost touchdowns in pro football. They drubbed the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-7, using two fumble recoveries and a pass interception to set up three scores. The crowd of 52,124 was the sixth straight sellout of the season for Detroit and brought the home attendance to 330,966, a new season record by 4,928.
The Los Angeles Rams, living up to their potential too late, waxed the Baltimore Colts 31-7, with Quarterback Norman Van Brocklin engineering three scoring excursions in the last period.