The Miami Dolphins, fresh off their undefeated 1972 season, looked to begin the 1973 season where they left off as they hosted a subpar San Francisco team. Instead, they watched a 20 point lead evaporate in the game’s final 13 minutes to fall 21-20.
The game looked like the Dolphins would cruise to a victory after the picked off 49ers’ John Brodie’s first pass of the game. Moments later, Bob Griese hit Paul Warfield from five yards out to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead. Brodie was intercepted again, this time at the doorsteps of the Dolphin end zone. A long drive ended with a two yard dive by Larry Csonka and the rout looked on. A Gary Yepremian 20 yard field goal gave the Dolphins a 17-0 halftime lead, but in what became the game’s turning point, Bob Griese hobbled off with an injury and had to be replaced by Earl Morrall.
San Francisco continued to sputter as Brodie found passing lanes clogged by Dolphin defenders, but the Niners gained confidence as they started slowing down the Miami rushing attack. Trying to pass to keep the pressure on, Morrall couldn’t find the magic he had from ’72 off the bench.
Down 20, the Niners did the unexpected and started to run more instead of pass. The result was the normally stout Dolphin defense began to get gashed by the combo running of Vic Washington and Ken Willard. The two combined for 219 yards, and their big play ability acted almost like a short passing game. San Francisco finally got on the board early in the 4th quarter when Washington rushed in from four yards out.
With the run game stuffed, the Dolphins looked to Morrall to gain some ground, but even with the 49ers focused on the run, Morrall managed to throw three straight interceptions. One gave San Francisco a short field and Brodie hit his longest pass of the day, a 16 yard scoring play to Gene Washington.
With the ball and a chance to run more clock, the Dolphins spun their wheels with penalties and miscues. A short punt gave the 49ers to ball and a chance to win with just five minutes left. This time the Dolphins went after the run, but a key 27 yard scamper by Vic Washington gave San Francisco first and goal. Willard capped the drive with a six yard run and suddenly the Dolphins were down one.
Then, briefly, Morrall woke up and a 29 yard pass to Warfield looked to salvage the game. With a first down on the 49er 24 yard line, Morrall tried one more pass. This was tipped and landed in the hand of San Francisco linebacker Dave Wilcox. The interception, Morrall’s fifth of the half, sealed the epic collapse by Miami. The preseason favorites will have to rebound after a disappointing opener while a better than they look 49er team has a sudden boost of confidence.
Passing: 49ERS: Brodie 10-29 89 yards 1-2; DOLPHINS: Griese 4-7 33 1-0, Morrall 8-17 77 0-5.
Rushing: 49ERS: V Washington 21-155-1, Willard 15-64, Thomas 2-11, Brodie 4-2. DOLPHINS: Morris 11-108, Csonka 15-50-1, Leigh 1-9, Kiick 3-8, Morrall 3-(-3).
Receiving: 49ERS: G Washington 4-35, Abramowicz 3-33, Kwalick 2-15, Willard 1-6. DOLPHINS: Mandich 4-35, Warfield 3-47-1, Briscoe 3-24, Leigh 1-4, Csonka 1-0.
49ERS: Interceptions Taylor (2), Simpson (2), Wilcox
DOLPHINS: Sacks: Stanfill, Interceptions: Stanfill, Anderson.