1971–72 NFL playoffs
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|Dates||December 25, 1971–January 16, 1972|
|Super Bowl VI site|
|Defending champions||Baltimore Colts|
The National Football League playoffs for the 1971 season began on December 25, 1971. The postseason tournament concluded with the Dallas Cowboys defeating the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24–3, on January 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Like the previous NFL seasons, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams which would always play on the road. It was the first time that the NFL scheduled games on Christmas Day, a decision that drew considerable criticism.
Within each conference, the three division winners and one wild card team (the non-division winner with the best overall regular season record of all remaining teams in the conference) qualified for the playoffs. The NFL did not use a seeding system until the 1975 season, and instead home teams during the first two rounds of the playoffs alternated by division. Thus, it is possible that a team could host another club with a better regular season record. For the Super Bowl, the championship round played at a neutral site, the designated home team was based on an annual rotation by conference.
|East winner||Miami Dolphins||Dallas Cowboys|
|Central winner||Cleveland Browns||Minnesota Vikings|
|West winner||Kansas City Chiefs||San Francisco 49ers|
|Wild card||Baltimore Colts||Washington Redskins|
- Note: Prior to the 1975 season, the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly rotation of division winners. Had the playoffs been seeded, the divisional round matchups would have been #3 Cleveland at #2 Miami and #4 wild card Baltimore at #1 Kansas City in the AFC; #4 wild card Washington at #1 Minnesota and #3 San Francisco at #2 Dallas in the NFC.
|Dec 26 – Candlestick Park|
|Jan 2 – Texas Stadium|
|Dec 25 – Metropolitan Stadium|
|Jan 16 – Tulane Stadium|
|Dec 26 – Cleveland Stadium|
|Super Bowl VI|
|Jan 2 – Miami Orange Bowl|
|Dec 25 – Municipal Stadium|
|Away team||Score||Home team||Date||Kickoff |
(ET / UTC–5)
|Dallas Cowboys||20–12||Minnesota Vikings||December 25, 1971||1:00 p.m.||CBS|
|Miami Dolphins||27–24 (2OT)||Kansas City Chiefs||December 25, 1971||4:00 p.m.||NBC|
|Baltimore Colts||20–3||Cleveland Browns||December 26, 1971||1:00 p.m.||NBC|
|Washington Redskins||20–24||San Francisco 49ers||December 26, 1971||4:00 p.m.||CBS|
|San Francisco 49ers||3–14||Dallas Cowboys||January 2, 1972||1:30 p.m.||CBS|
|Baltimore Colts||0–21||Miami Dolphins||January 2, 1972||4:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Super Bowl VI|
Tulane Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana
|Dallas Cowboys||24–3||Miami Dolphins||January 16, 1972||2:30 p.m.||CBS|
Saturday, December 25, 1971
NFC: Dallas Cowboys 20, Minnesota Vikings 12
Although the Vikings outgained the Cowboys in total yards 311–183, Dallas forced 5 turnovers and converted some of them into 13 points en route to a 20–12 win.
Early in the first quarter, Larry Cole forced a fumble from Dave Osborn that was recovered by fellow lineman Jethro Pugh on the Vikings 36-yard line. Dallas then drove to the Minnesota 19, mainly on the strength of an 18-yard completion from Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes, before defensive tackle Alan Page's 3rd down sack forced them to settle for Mike Clark's 26-yard field goal that gave them a 3–0 lead. The Vikings responded with a 27-yard field goal by Fred Cox that tied the score.
In the second quarter, the Vikings got a big chance to take the lead when quarterback Bob Lee completed a 49-yard pass to Bob Grim on the Dallas 29-yard line. But linebacker Chuck Howley ended the drive with an interception, returning the ball 26 yards to the Vikings 37, and the Cowboys drove to a 44-yard Clark field goal that put them up 6–3. Minnesota had another chance to score as Clint Jones returned the kickoff 61 yards, but all this would result in was 3 incomplete passes and a missed 41-yard field goal attempt by Cox.
Early in the second half, Cliff Harris intercepted a pass from Lee and returned it 30 yards to the Vikings 13-yard line, setting up Duane Thomas' 13-yard touchdown run to give Dallas a 13–3 lead. Minnesota had a big chance to get back in the game when Charlie West returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards, but this merely resulted in another missed field goal try by Cox, this one a 46-yard attempt. Late the third quarter, Dallas safety Charlie Waters returned a punt 24 yards to the Cowboys 48, sparking their only sustained drive of the second half. Moving the ball 52 yards, including a 30-yard completion from Staubach to Lance Alworth on 3rd and 15, Dallas went up 20–3 on Staubach's 9-yard touchdown pass to Hayes.
Still, Minnesota was not quite out of the game. Early in the 4th quarter, Paige sacked Staubach in the end zone for a safety. Then Vikings coach Bud Grant replaced Lee with Gary Cuozzo, who led the team to the Dallas 19 after the free kick. But Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan made a clutch interception that essentially put the game away. Cuozzo did manage to lead the team to a touchdown on a 6-yard pass to tight end Stu Voigt, making the score 20–12, but by then barely more than 2 minutes remained on the clock.
This was the first postseason meeting between the Cowboys and Vikings.
AFC: Miami Dolphins 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24 (2OT)
In the longest NFL game played to date at 82 minutes, 40 seconds (in game time) (and the Chiefs' last game at Municipal Stadium), Miami kicker Garo Yepremian kicked the winning 37-yard field goal after 7:40 of the second overtime period.
The Chiefs opened up the scoring with Jan Stenerud's 24-yard field goal. Willie Lanier intercepted a pass from Bob Griese and returned it 17 yards to set up Len Dawson's 7-yard touchdown pass to Ed Podolak, increasing the lead to 10–0. However, Griese rallied the Dolphins back on their next drive, completing a 23-yard pass to Paul Warfield and a 16-yarder to tight end Marv Fleming on the way to Larry Csonka's 1-yard touchdown run. Shortly before halftime, the Dolphins defense recovered a fumble from Podolak deep in Chiefs territory, enabling Garo Yepremian to kick a 14-yard field goal to tie the game, 10-10.
Kansas City retook the lead in the third quarter, on a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took 10 minutes off the clock and ended with Jim Otis' 1-yard score. Miami responded quickly though, storming right back to tie the game with a 1-yard touchdown run from Jim Kiick.
In the fourth quarter, Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti recovered a fumble to give his team a big scoring opportunity. But Kansas City took the ball right back when linebacker Jim Lynch intercepted Griese's pass on the Chiefs 9-yard line. Kansas City then stormed 91 yards, including a 63-yard completion from Dawson to rookie receiver Elmo Wright, to retake the lead, 24–17, with Podolak's 3-yard touchdown run. Miami struck right back as Griese completed passes to Warfield for gains of 17 and 26 yards before finishing the 71-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Fleming, tying the game at 24 with 1:25 left in regulation. Podolak returned the ensuing kickoff 78 yards to the Dolphins 22-yard line before being shoved out of bounds by Miami's Curtis Johnson, giving Stenerud a chance to win the game for the Chiefs in the final minute of regulation. But he missed the field goal attempt from 32 yards wide right, and Miami regained the ball for their final possession in regulation. The Dolphins were unable to move the ball, and Larry Seiple punted back to the Chiefs. Podolak signaled for a fair catch, but Dennis Homan caught the punt as time expired in regulation. Chiefs Coach Hank Stram mistakenly thought his team had an opportunity for a free kick from 68 yards, which, if good, would have resulted in a game-winning field goal (according to the rules, there is no option for a free kick if the player signaling for a fair catch does not catch the ball). Fearing a return by Miami speedster Mercury Morris if Stenerud's kick fell short, Kansas City declined, and the game went to overtime.
Kansas City took the opening kickoff of the first overtime period, and Podolak returned it to the 46-yard line. Kansas City then drove into scoring range, but Stenerud's 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Yepremian also attempted a 52-yard field goal later in the period, but it was short. As the first overtime period came to an end, Dolphins safety Jake Scott intercepted a pass from Dawson on the Chiefs 46. But the team was unable to move the ball and had to punt. Following a Kansas City punt, Csonka's 29-yard run set up Yepremian's game-winning score.
Podolak's 350 all-purpose yards (8 receptions for 110 yards, 17 carries for 85 yards, 3 kickoff returns for 154 yards, two punt returns for one yard) in this game remain an NFL playoff record, and is still the fourth highest total in NFL history. "I don't think any one player in a big game, a monumental game like that, had a day like Eddie Podolak had," said Stram after the game. Chiefs running back Wendell Hayes added 100 rushing yards, while Wright caught 3 passes for 104 yards. Dolphins receiver Paul Warfield finished with 7 receptions for a career postseason high 140 yards, while Csonka rushed 24 times for 86 yards and linebacker Nick Buoniconti racked up 20 tackles.
This was the first postseason meeting between the Dolphins and Chiefs.
Sunday, December 26, 1971
AFC: Baltimore Colts 20, Cleveland Browns 3
Don Nottingham scored two touchdowns for the Colts, while their defense limited the Browns to only 165 yards, 11 first downs, and 3 points.
However, the Browns had plenty of scoring chances early in the game. On their first series, quarterback Bill Nelsen completed a 39-yard pass to Fair Hooker, but Rex Kern forced and recovered a fumble from him on the Colts 12-yard line. Baltimore had to punt on their ensuing drive, and Leroy Kelly's 48-yard return gave the Browns a first down on the Colts 4. All the Browns got from this field position though, was a 16-yard field goal attempt from Don Cockroft that was blocked by defensive tackle Bubba Smith (who would also block another field goal later on.)
After the blocked field goal, the Colts drove 93 yards in 17 plays, including a 7-yard run by Nottingham on 4th and inches, to score on Nottingham's 1-yard touchdown run. Later in the second quarter, Baltimore safety Rick Volk intercepted a pass from Nelsen and returned it 37 yards to the Browns 15-yard line, setting up Nottingham's second touchdown run on a 7-yard burst.
After three consecutive drives in the third quarter ended in turnovers, Cleveland finally got on the board with a 14-yard field goal by Cockroft. But Baltimore stormed right back on 74-yard drive to go up 17–3 on a field goal by Jim O'Brien. O'Brien added a 14-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to finish off the scoring.
Nottingham was the sole offensive star for either team with 92 rushing yards, 5 receiving yards, and two scores.
This was third postseason meeting between the Colts and Browns. Both teams split their previous two meetings.
|Tied 1–1 in all-time playoff games|
NFC: San Francisco 49ers 24, Washington Redskins 20
The 49ers defense made key plays to lead San Francisco to a 24–20 victory over the Redskins after trailing 10–3 at the end of the half.
Washington scored first after Jon Jaqua blocked a punt from Steve Spurrier, enabling his team to take over on the 49ers 28. This set up quarterback Billy Kilmer's 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jerry Smith. San Francisco responded with a 23-yard field goal from Bruce Gossett, but Speedy Duncan returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to set up a field goal for the Redskins, a 40-yard kick by Curt Knight. With the score at 10–3 and time running out in the half, Ted Vactor returned a punt 48 yards to the 49ers 11-yard line. But with 32 seconds left, receiver Roy Jefferson was dropped for a 13-yard loss by defensive end Cedrick Hardman on an end around play, and Knight's ensuing field goal attempt was blocked by linebacker Frank Nunley
Duncan returned the second half kickoff 66 yards to the San Francisco 34, but the 49ers made a key defensive stand, stopping Washington on the 12 when Nunley tackled Larry Brown for a 2-yard loss on 4th and inches. Three plays later, facing 3rd down and 1, quarterback John Brodie threw a deep pass that went just over the outstretched arms of defensive back Pat Fischer and into the arms of receiver Gene Washington, who caught the ball in stride at the 40 and took off for a 78-yard touchdown reception. Then on the next series, Roosevelt Taylor's interception set up Bob Windsor's 2-yard touchdown reception to give San Francisco a 17–10 lead.
Duncan returned the next kickoff 67 yards to set up a 35-yard Knight field goal, making the score 17–13. But with 3:20 left in the game, San Francisco put the game away when defensive tackle Bob Hoskins recovered a bad snap on a Washington punt attempt in the end zone for a touchdown. After this, the Redskins managed to cut the final score to 24–20 on Kilmer's 16-yard pass to Brown in the game's closing seconds.
Brown rushed for 84 yards, while also catching 6 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Kilmer completed 11 of 26 passes for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Duncan set a franchise playoff record with 170 yards on 3 kickoff returns. Brodie finished with 10/19 completions for 176 yards and two touchdowns.
This was the first postseason meeting between the Redskins and 49ers.
Sunday, January 2, 1972
NFC: Dallas Cowboys 14, San Francisco 49ers 3
This was a rematch of the first NFC Championship Game played the previous season in San Francisco. Prior to 1975, the NFL rotated hosting rights of playoff games between divisions, and the NFC East champion Cowboys had the right to host the 1971 title game. It was the fourth title game played by the Cowboys,[a] and the 49ers' second title game appearance as an NFL team after the preceding season's game.[b]
Dallas won the NFC East with an 11–3 record and defeated the NFC Central champion Minnesota Vikings 20–12 at Metropolitan Stadium in the Divisional Round to advance to the NFC Championship game. San Francisco won the NFC West with a 9–5 record and defeated the NFC East runner-up Washington Redskins 24–20 at Candlestick Park in the Divisional Round to reach the NFC title game. This was also the Cowboys' first season at the brand new Texas Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Since the Cowboys were on the road for the Divisional Round, the title game in San Francisco was the first NFL playoff game at Texas Stadium. Both teams played on artificial turf in their home stadiums. The 49ers moved to an expanded Candlestick Park in 1971, which had artificial turf from 1970 through 1978.
As was the case in 1970, the teams did not meet in the regular season, thus their most recent game was Dallas' win in the 1970 NFC title game, the final NFL game at Kezar Stadium. Their most recent regular season game, in 1969 on Thanksgiving at the Cotton Bowl, ended in a 24–24 tie.
In the first playoff game at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys' defense dominated the 49ers' offense, allowing only 61 rushing yards, nine first downs, and forcing three interceptions.
Scoreless into the second quarter, veteran Dallas defensive end George Andrie intercepted a screen pass from John Brodie and returned it seven yards to the 49ers' two to set up Calvin Hill's one-yard touchdown run. This was the only score of the game until the middle of the third quarter, when Brodie's 24-yard completion to tight end Ted Kwalick set up Bruce Gossett's 28-yard field goal.
Following a missed 47-yard field goal by Gossett on San Francisco's next drive, Dallas QB Roger Staubach finished the quarter with a 17-yard completion to halfback Dan Reeves. Then he started off the fourth with a 23-yard pass to tight end Billy Truax. Duane Thomas completed the 14-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run for a 14–3 lead, and the final score.
With nine minutes left in regulation, the Dallas defense took over the rest of the game, forcing turnovers on San Francisco's last three drives. First, linebacker Chuck Howley broke up a 4th down pass. Then on San Francisco's next possession, Brodie was intercepted by linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. Finally, after Mike Clark's 24-yard field goal attempt was blocked by 49ers linebacker Frank Nunley, safety Cliff Harris picked off a pass from Brodie that enabled Dallas to run out the clock.
This was the second postseason meeting between the 49ers and Cowboys, with Dallas winning both.
The NFC champion Cowboys made their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Dallas defeated the Miami Dolphins of the American Football Conference 24–3 in Super Bowl VI at New Orleans to win their first Super Bowl.
The Cowboys made two more consecutive appearances in the NFC title game, but lost both, to the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. After a one-year absence from the title game (and playoffs), the Cowboys captured their second NFC championship in 1975.
The 49ers lost again to the Cowboys the following year in the playoffs, this time in the Divisional Round. San Francisco did not return to the postseason until 1981, when they finally beat Dallas in the NFC title game en route to their first Super Bowl appearance and victory.
- First quarter
- no scoring
- Second quarter
- DAL – Hill 1 run (Clark kick) DAL 7–0
- Third quarter
- SF – field goal Gossett 28 DAL 7–3
- Fourth quarter
- DAL – Thomas 2 run (Clark kick) DAL 14–3
|Dallas leads 1–0 in all-time playoff games|
AFC: Miami Dolphins 21, Baltimore Colts 0
The Dolphins reached the AFC title game in their sixth season, thus becoming the first of the then-four NFL teams which had commenced play after the start of the Super Bowl era to play in a title game. This made them the youngest franchise to make it to a Super Bowl era title game up to that point.[c] Miami won the AFC East with a 10–3–1 regular season record and defeated the AFC Central champion Kansas City Chiefs in the longest NFL game in history, (27–24 in double overtime) at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium in the Divisional Round to advance to the AFC Championship game.
This was the second consecutive AFC Championship Game contested by the Colts, their third title game in the past four seasons,[d] and their sixth title game appearance overall.[e] While the defending AFC and Super Bowl champions failed to repeat as AFC East champions, their 10–4 regular season record was good enough for the then-one AFC wild card berth. Baltimore defeated the AFC Central champion Cleveland Browns 20–3 at Cleveland Stadium in the Divisional Round to reach the AFC title game.
In addition to being the first playoff meeting between these teams, the AFC title game was the Dolphins' first playoff game at home. Their only previous playoff game had been in the 1970–71 NFL playoffs when they were the AFC wild card. Just as significantly, it pitted Dolphins coach Don Shula against his former team, which he had left for Miami in acrimonious circumstances prior to the 1970 season.
This was the first post-merger conference championship game contested between division rivals, and also the first in either conference to not feature a West Division team. Miami and Baltimore split their two regular season games in the 1971 season, with the Dolphins winning 17–14 at the Orange Bowl while the Colts won 14–3 at Memorial Stadium.
Although Miami quarterback Bob Griese completed only 4 passes, the Dolphins defense shut out the Colts. Defensive back Dick Anderson intercepted Johnny Unitas three times, returning one of them 62 yards for a touchdown.
Paul Warfield recorded a 75-yard touchdown reception midway through the first quarter on the Dolphins second drive. Meanwhile, the Colts managed to move the ball close enough for Jim O'Brien to twice attempt field goals, but he missed both times. In the second quarter, the Colts drove from their own 18 to the Dolphins 9-yard line, featuring a 28-yard reception by Don Nottingham, but on 4th down and 1, Nottingham was stuffed by a gang of Dolphins defenders just inches short of the first down marker.
In the third quarter, Unitas threw a pass that was deflected by cornerback Curtis Johnson into the hands of Anderson, who took off for a 62-yard scoring return. Then in the fourth quarter, Griese's 50-yard pass to Warfield set up Larry Csonka's 5-yard touchdown run.
This was the first postseason meeting between the Colts and Dolphins.
This was the first of three consecutive AFC titles for the Dolphins, who would go on to win two consecutive Super Bowls with their first such championship being the only perfect NFL season in the modern era.
This was the last AFC Championship Game appearance by the Colts while they were based in Baltimore. The Colts relocated to Indianapolis in 1984, but did not return to the AFC Championship Game until the 1995 season which incidentally was the last season of the NFL's absence from Baltimore. A Baltimore-based team would finally return to the AFC Championship Game in 2000, which Baltimore's current team (the Ravens) won en route to their first Super Bowl championship.
Six NFL teams have been enfranchised since 1971, four of which reached a title game (two in each conference) in less than the six seasons it took Miami to do so.[f] Of those four clubs, the only team to win their first title game was the aforementioned Ravens in their fifth season. The Ravens, upon their enfranchisement, acquired the roster of the Cleveland Browns, who suspended operations for three seasons. The Ravens were not a 1996 expansion team from a football operations perspective.
- First quarter
- MIA – Warfield 75 pass from Griese (Yepremian kick) MIA 7–0
- Second quarter
- no scoring
- Third quarter
- MIA – Anderson 62 interception return (Yepremian kick) MIA 14–0
- Fourth quarter
- MIA – Csonka 5 run (Yepremian kick) MIA 21–0
Super Bowl VI: Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 3
This is the only Super Bowl meeting between the Cowboys and Dolphins.
- In addition to the 1970 NFC Championship Game, the Cowboys had previously appeared in the first two NFL title games of the Super Bowl era, losing both times to the Green Bay Packers.
- The San Francisco 49ers appeared in (and lost) the final championship game of the All-America Football Conference, which San Francisco played in from 1946-49 prior to joining the NFL. The NFL does not recognize AAFC records as part of its own.
- The Super Bowl era began with the 1966 season, the AFL's seventh, which was the same year Miami joined the AFL. The Dolphins were the first AFL expansion team to join after the eight charter AFL franchises. The first NFL Championship Game of the Super Bowl era included the Dallas Cowboys, who also commenced play the same year as the AFL teams.
- The Colts had previously appeared in and won the 1968 NFL Championship Game prior to completion of the AFL-NFL merger.
- Prior to the Super Bowl era, the Colts appeared in three NFL Championship Games, of which they won two.
- The six teams that have joined the NFL since 1971 are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who commenced play in 1976 and reached the NFC title game in their fourth season, the Seattle Seahawks who also commenced play in 1976 and reached the AFC title game in their eighth season, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, who commenced play in 1995 and reached the NFC and AFC title games respectively in their second seasons, the Baltimore Ravens who joined the NFL in 1996 (although they acquired the roster of the Cleveland Browns) and won the AFC title and Super Bowl in their fifth season, and the Houston Texans who commenced play in 2002 and have yet to play in a title game. Also notable is that the Browns were restocked by an expansion draft upon their 1999 re-activation, and have also not appeared in a title game since.
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- The Sporting News Complete Super Bowl Book 1995 (ISBN 0-89204-523-X)
- Yowell, Keith (December 25, 2014). "Today in Pro Football History: 1971: Cowboys Defeat Turnover-Prone Vikings in NFC Divisional Playoff Game". fs64sports.blogspot.com. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- "Team Matchup History". www.footballdb.com.
- "Kansas City Chiefs – CHIEFS VS DOLPHINS – GAME 6". kcchiefs.com. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- McDonough, John; Owens, Paul T. (1978). Don't Hit Him, He's Dead. Millbrae, California, USA: Celestial Arts. pp. 168–169. ISBN 9780890872192.
- Yowell, Keith (December 25, 2009). "Today in Pro Football History: 1971: Dolphins Defeat Chiefs in Longest NFL Game". fs64sports.blogspot.com. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- "ESPN Page 2 Best NFL Playoff Performances". espn.
- "Divisional Round - Miami at Kansas City - 1971 Full Play by Play". Pro Football Reference.
- "FS64 Today in Pro Football History 1971 Miami at Kansas City". blogger.
- "Chicago Tribune - Historical Newspapers". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
- McHugh, Roy (January 3, 1972). "Cowboys' Andrie gets in way of Forty Niners' Super bid". Pittsburgh Press. p. 26.
- Bernstein, Ralph (January 3, 1972). "Andrie saw the screen, Brodie didn't see him". Reading Eagle. Associated Press. p. 24.
- Lyndon B. Johnson