Week 1

San Francisco 21 at Miami Dolphins 20

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.

Stats:

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.

Defense:

49ERS: Interceptions Taylor (2), Simpson (2), Wilcox

DOLPHINS: Sacks: Stanfill, Interceptions: Stanfill, Anderson.

Cincinnati Bengals 26 at Denver Broncos 21

Ken Anderson would not let the Cincinnati Bengals lose despite his team’s best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Anderson was masterful against a strong Denver Broncos defense. He ended the game a stellar 23 for 28 with 292 yards and a touchdown, a five yard pass to Issac Curtis that gave the Bengals a lead they would never relinquish.

But it almost wasn’t to be. It was Denver starting off hot, confusing the Bengals between Floyd Little’s running and Charley Johnson’s smart passing. Little’s five yard scamper gave Denver an early 7-0 lead. After the Bengals’ Essex Johnson tied the game, the Broncos again marched effortlessly down the field scoring on a 14 yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Joe Dawkins.

But then Anderson went to work. First the Bengals closed the gap to 10-14 on a 43 yard Horst Muhlmann field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Cincinnati scored a safety when Otis Armstrong was tackled in the end zone after having to run back to retrieve a fumble. Anderson would hit Curtis on that five yard throw with just 20 seconds left in the half. Within five minutes, the Broncos’ stunned crowd saw the home team go from leading 14-7 to trailing 19-14 at halftime.

The Bengals kept the pressure up with Anderson driving the Bengals to start the second half before handing off to Johnson for his second touchdown run of the day. Down 26-14, the Broncos finally woke up thanks in art to the Bengals defense. Three times the Bengals defense extended a late Broncos drive due to penalties. In fact, the Bengals were their own worst enemies on the day, drawing 10 penalties to just one against Denver. Denver capped off the penalty plagued drive with another Johnson to Dawkins touchdown pass. With four minutes left, the Broncos kicked off. The Broncos managed to force the Bengals into a third and long only to commit their one penalty at the worst time. This allowed the Bengals to drain more clock. By the time the Broncos got the ball back, only seconds remained and a pressured Johnson’s dump off to Dawkins came up well short of the end zone.

Stats:

Passing:

BENGALS: K. Anderson 23-28 292 1-0; BRONCOS: C. Johnson 15-27192 2-0.

Rushing:

BENGALS: E. Johnson 18-74-2, B. Clark 14-17, L. Elliott 3-16; BRONCOS: Little 11-32-1, J. Dawkins 4-21, O. Ross 2-11, O. Armstrong 1-0, C. Johnson 1-(-1).

Receiving:

BENGALS: I. Curtis 7-101-1, C. Joiner 5-78, B. Clark 5-42, B. Trumpy 4-57, E. Johnson 2-14; BRONCOS: H. Moses 4-41, J. Dawkins 4-37-2, F. Little 3-41, R. Odoms 2-43, J. Simmons 1-17, G. Washington 1-13.

Defense:

BENGALS: Sacks: B. Bergey, R. Berry. Safety: K. Avery

BRONCOS: Sacks: L. Alzado

San Diego Chargers 36 at Washington Redskins 40

Billy Kilmer’s fourth and final touchdown pass helped the Redskins overcome a fourth quarter deficit to the upstart Chargers, allowing Washington to escape with wild 40-36 victory. The day started off well enough for Washington. They marched down the field on their opening drive before Kilmer capped it with a 34 yard strike to Roy Jefferson, but the the extra point snap was bobbled. The quirky play would be a foreshadowing of the day’s events. The Chargers rookie passer, Dan Fouts, answered very quickly. His first ever NFL pass went 79 yards and led to a Jerry LeVias touchdown and a surprise 7-6 lead. After a Redskin field goal, the Chargers were forced to punt, and it looked as if the Redskins could start creating separation. However, Coy Bacon tackled Kilmer in the end zone, tying the game at 9. Again, the Redskins shot out in front, with Kilmer hitting Charlie Taylor from 13 yards out. Fouts responded by tossing a 43 yard touchdown to Willie McGee.

“Everything we did, they had an answer for,” Washington’s George Allen told reporters.

The trend continued till halftime. The shockingly pass-happy Redskins scored again off Kilmer’s arm only to see the Chargers run a trick play and score from 65 yards out on a LeVias option to Gary Garrison. Redskins 18 yard field goal from Curt Knight as time expired gave Washington a 26-22 halftime lead.

The Chargers had to wait through the intermission to answer this time, but did they ever. Ron Smith caught the second half kickoff from his own five and raced 95 yards for a touchdown giving the Chargers their first lead. Kilmer’s lone mistake, a costly interception at the Washington 30, set up another Charger score. Cid Edwards’ 5 yard run gave the Chargers a 36-26 with just a few minutes left in the third. The upset was in the hand, but the Chargers suddenly crashed back down to Earth.

“We have a lot of new players on this team, and it’s going to take time to meld it altogether,” an upbeat Harland Svare said after the game. “You hate to see one slip away, but we will learn from that. We did a lot of good things out there today.”

The Chargers suffered from a lack of consistency. Their three offensive touchdowns resulted in 58% of their yardage. Needing to milk the clock, the Chargers managed a paltry 58 yards on just 20 carries for the afternoon.

Costly turnovers didn’t help. The first was the result of an overthrown screen pass from Fouts. Dave Robinson snagged it and ran 14 yards for a touchdown cutting the San Diego lead to 3. Just three plays later, Cid Edwards fumble ended a promising San Diego drive. This time, the Redskins couldn’t capitalize and were forced to punt. The Redskins dominated play, running 82 plays to the Chargers’ 49, but seven Washington drives ended in punts. After scoring 26 first half points, Washington managed just seven in the first 25 minutes of the second half.

But Kilmer wasn’t done. He lead a late drive using his arm to save the drive on three third down attempts before finally hitting Charlie Taylor again, this time from 21 yards out with just over five minutes left.

The Chargers twice had a chance to take the lead but both drives were stymied at midfield. In the end, it was Kilmer, the day’s hero, kneeling to seal the win.

Stats:

Passing:

WASH: Kilmer 22-34 279 4-1 SD: Fouts 11-29 266 2-3.

Rushing

WASH: Brown 25-65; Harroway 10-33; Thomas 2-9; Kilmer 1-(-1). SD: Edwards 12-41-1; Garrett 8-17.

Receiving:

WASH: Jefferson 7-126-1; Taylor 4-57-2; Brown 5-43; Harroway 2-6; Hancock 1-14; Reed 1-14; Grant 1-12; Smith 1-7. SD: Garrison 4-111-1; LeVias 2-87-1; Garrett 2-23; McGee 1-43-1; Holmes 1-4; Norman 1-4; Holliday 1-(-6).

Defense:

WASH: Interceptions: Robinson (TD), Bass, Fischer. Sacks: Sistrunk. Fumble Recoveries: Hanburgers, McLinton

SD: Interceptions: Smith. Sacks: Bacon.

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