December 6, 1970
The Raiders celebrate their last-second win over the Jets in December of 1970. AP Photo.
It was the Oakland Raiders first game in December of 1970 and the race towards the first post-merger postseason was in full swing. While the Jets were out of the hunt, the Raiders were deadlocked with their division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Both the Raiders and the Chiefs sported identical 6-3-2 records. As for this match up, the New York squad wearing the green and white was looking to play the role of spoiler to the Raiders playoff hopes.
A game time temperature of 33 degrees with a wind chill well below freezing certainly set the stage for a classic dead of winter game at Shea Stadium. Matters of comfort, however, were nowhere near the minds of the Raiders players with all that was on the line. With the vaunted Jets defense ranked second in the NFL, the Raiders focused on exploiting the opponent’s passing defense. Their second-best passing offense led by Daryle Lamonica put them in position to do so.
Scoring in this game though, would be at a premium. So were pass completions for that matter.
After winning the opening coin toss, the Raiders elected to receive the 1:00 p.m. kickoff. A nine-yard throw and catch to TE Raymond Chester on second down, followed by a four-yard smash up the middle by Hewritt Dixon made for a promising opening possession. Unfortunately, forward progress stopped there as a result of a holding penalty and five incompletions by Lamonica. Incomplete passes would be a reoccurring theme in this defense-oriented game.
A 33-yard punt by Mike Eischeid pinned the Jets back at their own 29. After a quick three-and-out, the Raiders staged nearly an identical series with runs on the first two downs followed by an incompletion on third and short.
The next four possessions featured more of the same with sweeps left, runs over left tackle and failed pass plays as the game progressed into the second quarter. The Jets finally got something going on their fourth offensive series. A 31-yard completion from Al Woodall to WR Rich Caster on 3rd and 10 was the first significant play of the afternoon. Two subsequent 1st down runs by Emerson Boozer, who carried the ball 26 times for 115 yards on the day,, helped advance the Jets to the Raiders 26-yard line. At this point the Silver and Black held their ground. They forced the Jets into a 4th and 2 and a chip shot field goal attempt by Jim Turner careened off the left upright.
On a less than favorable 3rd and 12 in the next series, Lamonica completed his longest pass of the day to Raiders legend Fred Biletnikoff for 15 yards over the middle. WR Warren Wells was unable to corral a pass along the left sideline on the next 3rd down. The drive stalled.
Three more punts by Eischeid and another missed field goal by Turner kept the score at a less than thrilling 0-0 tie with under 90 seconds to go in the 1st half. On 2nd and 26 at their own 44, the Jets offensive play callers got crafty. Super Bowl winning head coach Weeb Ewbank and his 17 years of coaching experience evidently taught him a thing or two. He called in a Statue of Liberty around right end, which Boozer executed masterfully for a 27-yard gain, breaking tackles along the way. The Raiders defense maintained their focus and prevented the Jets from gaining any more meaningful yardage. A successful 32-yard Jim Turner field goal with four seconds to play in the half finally put points on the board.
Safety George Atkinson returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Jets 40 as time expired. The Raiders went into the locker room down 3-0, dismayed by their offensive performance, but certainly proud of holding the home team to a mere three points.
Lamonica completed just 7 of 22 passes for 59 yards, but Woodall didn’t fare much better, going 5 for 13 for only 57 yards.
Both teams provided entertainment value for the fans by exchanging TD drives in the 3rd quarter, a dramatic improvement to the scoring output in the first half. The Jets first drive included successive 14-yard completions from Woodall to WRs George Sauer and Rich Caster. The next two passes fell incomplete with the help of the great Dave Grayson. He showed off his range in his final year in the league by tipping away the second pass intended for Caster.
Lamonica could not maintain the momentum as his second pass of the next series was intercepted by W.K. Hicks and returned 19 yards to the Raiders 16-yard line. Two plays later the Jets struck for six when Pete Lammons hauled in a pass at the goal line five minutes into the quarter. Jets 10, Raiders 0.
Reflecting the identity of the organization, Hewritt Dixon and the Raiders would not be pushed around. A set of bruising runs straight into the heart of the Jets defense appeared to return some swagger to the team. It showcased itself shortly thereafter with a gutsy call by the Raiders coaching staff for a 4th and 1 conversion attempt via a run up the middle at the Jets 38, the perceivable no man’s land on an NFL football field. The outcome of the decision to go for it instead of attempting a long field goal did not result in the visiting team’s favor. They would have to employ that courageous effort in the next offensive series.
Much to the chagrin of the home team’s fans, the Silver and Black held the Jets to a three-and-out in just over a minute in time of possession. Atkinson displayed his defensive prowess by breaking up a 3rd down pass. The offense returned to the field with 5:34 left to go in the 3rd.
Lamonica immediately got into a rhythm with pass completions of 11, 27 and 7 yards, two of which landing in the hands of Biletnikoff. Said wide receiver was the intended recipient of the next pass, but the ball ended up in the possession of a Jets defensive back. Hold the phone: interception negated by a penalty on the home team. Regrettably, retaining possession proved costly for the Raiders, as Lamonica was shaken up by the right tackle Elliot on the roughing the passer infraction and had to leave the game.
In came the legendary kicker-quarterback extraordinaire, George Blanda. Playing in his remarkable 22nd season, he had experienced nearly all conceivable scenarios in an NFL game. Being forced to come off the bench cold with his team down 10 and needing to score in the red zone on the opposition’s 13-yard line may or may not have been one of those scenarios. Fans would certainly go with the former: his pass on 3rd and 10 ended with Warren Wells crossing the goal line at 12:36. Honoring his special teams duties, Blanda executed a successful extra point.
The Raiders were very much back into contention for the win, doing so in compelling and dramatic fashion. Jets 10, Raiders 7.
The 4th and final quarter was underway. The Jets were driving steadily up the field. On a 3rd and 13 in the visiting team’s territory, the Silver and Black struck back with an interception by the legendary Willie Brown at the 15-yard line.
A shift in momentum seemed to be swinging towards the Raiders. The suddenly revived Daryle Lamonica hooked up with WR Rod Sherman for successive completions of 12 and 32 yards. Facing a 3rd and 15 at the Jets 43 two plays later, middle linebacker Al Atkinson took the momentum right back with an interception and returned it 32 yards to the Raiders 40. The Jets were just a handful of yards away from being in field goal range. They capitalized with a 32-yard field goal, extending their lead to 13-7 with 4:40 left to play.
The great field position attained as a result of a stellar George Atkinson kickoff return of 44 yards combined with a 15-yard Jets penalty proved short-lived. RB Charlie H. Smith fumbled the ball on the very next play. Jets CB Mark Lomas recovered the fumble at his own 41-yard line with 4:04 left in the game.
Luckily, the Silver and Black recovered a fumble of their own, as Emerson Boozer coughed up the ball to second-year DT Art Thoms. Unfortunately, the Raiders failed another 4th down conversion attempt in Jets territory a mere four plays later.
The drama of this consistently back and forth game escalated. It was absolutely imperative that the Raiders make a defensive stand with just 1:40 to go. Playoff aspirations were at stake. With just one, maybe two 1st downs by the Jets, the game would effectively be over…and perhaps the season for the Silver and Black.
On 1st down for the Jets at their own 31, Boozer ran over left guard and gained 15. A collective gasp could be heard from Raiders fans the world over. Boozer then ran around left end for a yard. Timeout Oakland, 1:03 remaining. Future Hall of Fame head coach John Madden had diligently saved all three of the team’s timeouts.
On 2nd and 9 at the Jets 47 hope remained. Cool and confident, the Raiders used sheer will and determination and stopped Boozer in his tracks the next two run plays. After a Steve O’Neal punt and Atkinson return, the Raiders had the ball at their 30-yard line with only 0:38 remaining.
Tension was at its absolute peak when a Lamonica pass to Wells down the left sideline fell incomplete and a penalty flag reared it’s potentially ugly face. Would the refs call offensive pass interference?
As fate would have it, the veteran wideout got the best of the rookie cornerback Earlie Thomas, a 37-yard defensive pass interference call in favor of the Raiders with 22 ticks still on the clock.
An overthrown pass by Lamonica followed by a near interception by Blanda to the recently penalized Thomas put the Raiders in dire straits down by 6 with 14 seconds to go. Touchdown or bust, the postseason future hung in the balance.
WR Warren Wells (81) comes down with a tipped pass with 8 seconds left to play. AP Photo.
On 3rd and 10 on the 33 of the Jets, Lamonica dropped back to pass. What happened next is what Pop Warner and seasoned NFL quarterbacks alike can only dream of -a Hail Mary pass to the left side of the endzone was batted away by Thomas only to be snagged out of midair by a diving Wells for the game-tying touchdown. The Earlie Thomas-Warren Wells on the field battle ended with Wells victorious. Lamonica made his 13th completion of the day count. After yet another successful extra point by the multi-talented George Blanda, the Raiders were eight seconds away from victory. After an unsuccessful multi-lateral return by the Jets following the kickoff, the Silver and Black were indeed victorious.
With a 7-3-2 record, the Raiders kept pace with the Chiefs after they had shutout the Broncos earlier in the day, also boosting their record to 7-3-2. A victory the following week against Kansas City secured the AFC West crown and playoff berth for the mighty Silver and Black. They handled their business two weeks in a row when it mattered the most. While not quite reaching the Super Bowl that year, the Raiders did earn a victory in the divisional round against the Miami Dolphins. A goal accomplished. A reason to be proud.