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We ripped 'em apart," said Art Donovan, a very wide, strong man who plays defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts. "Yessir," he said with a vast satisfaction, "that great offense. We ripped it apart."
Donovan was sitting, oaklike legs spread wide, savoring the savage 45-14 defeat the Colts had just inflicted on the San Francisco 49ers. As a member of the Baltimore defensive platoon, the victory was especially sweet to him. Most of the criticism of the somewhat languid play of the Colts this season has been aimed at the defenders, who have been variously described as too old, too fat and too lazy. They were none of these against the 49ers in the game which placed Baltimore in a first-place tie with the 49ers in the West and which, more importantly, showed that Baltimore still has the ability to be the best in football.
"We were cohesive for the first time this season," Coach Weeb Ewbank said. "I can't tell you what was wrong before. Little things you can't put your finger on. Maybe the boys were counting the money they made last year. Maybe they thought they always had time to win the next game. But they were cohesive today. And hungry. That's the difference."
Whether it was cohesion or hunger or a combination of the two which ignited the Colts, it resulted in an awesome explosion. The much-maligned Colt defense limited what had been regarded as a very strong 49er offense to three first downs. They did it with no special legerdemain but with pure brute strength which turned aside the 49er attack as easily as a man defending himself against a small child. Y. A. Tittle, the bald 49er quarterback, never had time to find his receivers, finally retired with an injured calf after a crushing three-man tackle.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense was superb. During the dog days, the Colts depended heavily on the passing of Johnny Unitas, their all-pro quarterback. Unitas threw as well as ever, but the Colt running attack was also a big factor, giving Baltimore control all afternoon.
Mike Sommer, a castoff halfback from the Washington Redskins, accounts in part for the rebirth of the Baltimore ground game. When L. G. Dupre was injured several weeks ago, it meant that the Colts had no strong outside threat, since they were using Lenny Moore as a flanker. Sommer took a while to grow accustomed to his new duties. He is, like Dupre, a quick, fairly fast runner who finds daylight well and strikes through it intelligently. Unitas used him perfectly to complement the tremendous straight-ahead power of Fullback Alan Ameche. When the 49er defense closed up the middle of the line against Ameche, Unitas sent him into the middle on a fake, then handed off to Sommer, who would slide outside the pinching tackles.
Raymond Berry and Moore broke free in the 49er secondary time and again against the man-on-man defense of Abe Woodson and Jerry Mertens. Each caught a touchdown pass, and, had not Unitas been content to stick with his effective running attack, might have caught more.
"We took what we could get from them," Unitas explained later. "We went with what was working." What he got was very likely the Western Division championship. The 49ers, tired and battered after successive losses to the Chicago Bears and the Colts, next face the Cleveland Browns, and without the services of Tittle, whose calf injury will sideline him. Then they return to San Francisco for a second game with the Colts. The Colts have never had much luck in their invasions of the West Coast—they have lost seven straight in San Francisco's Kezar Stadium, six of seven against the Los Angeles Rams—but this sleepy giant appears wide-awake now. And wide-awake this is the best team in football.
The team the Colts beat for the championship last year provided itself with a much-needed cushion against the drive of the Cleveland Browns. The New York Giants, with old pro Charlie Conerly back at quarterback, beat the Chicago Cardinals 30 20, getting their first touchdown in three games in the process. The Browns lost a squeaker to Pittsburgh's perennially late-firing Steelers 21-20. They dropped into a tie with the exuberant Philadelphia Eagles, who beat Los Angeles 23-20 with a 14-yard field goal. The Browns catch the crippled 49ers Sunday while the Giants are playing the Washington Redskins, so that the two teams should reach their December 6 meeting in Yankee Stadium still a game apart, with the conference title in the balance. A Cleveland victory could mean a tie in the East involving the Browns, Giants and Eagles, with the Browns favored on over-all balance.
While the Colts and the 49ers are tied for first in the West, the Chicago Bears are lying just off the pace, a fair long-shot bet to win or tie for the conference title. Their remaining schedule—the Cardinals, the Steelers and the Detroit Lions, in that order—is probably an easier one than either Baltimore or San Francisco faces. The Colts meet the Rams, the 49ers and the Rams, and the 49ers have the hardest row of all to hoe. They play the Browns, Colts and Packers. San Franciscans, just recovering from the frustration of watching the baseball Giants die in the stretch, may easily find their sorrow renewed by the 49ers.