1975–76 NFL playoffs

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The NFL playoffs following the 1975 NFL season led up to Super Bowl X. This was the first season in which the league used a seeding system in the playoffs. Thus, the surviving clubs with the higher seeds were made the home teams for each playoff round. The three division champions in each conference were seeded 1 through 3 based on their regular season won-lost-tied record, and the wild card qualifier in each conference became the 4 seed.

However, the league continued to prohibit meetings between two teams from the same division in the Divisional Playoffs. Thus, there would be times when the pairing in that round would be the 1 seed vs. the 3 seed and 2 vs. 4.

Playoff seeds
1 Pittsburgh Steelers (Central winner) Minnesota Vikings (Central winner)
2 Oakland Raiders (West winner) Los Angeles Rams (West winner)
3 Baltimore Colts (East winner) St. Louis Cardinals (East winner)
4 Cincinnati Bengals Dallas Cowboys

Note: The Pittsburgh Steelers (the AFC 1 seed) did not play the Cincinnati Bengals (the 4 seed) in the Divisional playoff round because both teams were in the same division.


*Note: Two teams from the same division were not allowed to play against each other in the Divisional playoff round.
Divisional Playoffs Conf. Championship Games Super Bowl X
December 28 – Metropolitan Stadium        
 4) Dallas Cowboys  17
January 4 – L.A. Memorial Coliseum
 1) Minnesota Vikings  14  
 4) Dallas Cowboys  37
December 27 – L.A. Memorial Coliseum
     2) Los Angeles Rams  7  
 3) St. Louis Cardinals  23
January 18 – Miami Orange Bowl
 2) Los Angeles Rams  35  
 N4) Dallas Cowboys  17
December 28 – Oakland Coliseum    
   A1) Pittsburgh Steelers  21
 4) Cincinnati Bengals  28
January 4 – Three Rivers Stadium
 2)* Oakland Raiders  31  
 2) Oakland Raiders  10
December 27 – Three Rivers Stadium
     1) Pittsburgh Steelers  16  
 3) Baltimore Colts  10
 1)* Pittsburgh Steelers  28  

Divisional playoffs[edit]

December 27, 1975[edit]

AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Baltimore Colts 10[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Colts 0 7 3 0 10
Steelers 7 0 7 14 28

at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Steelers defense forced 4 turnovers and held the Colts to 154 total yards of offense, while Pittsburgh's Franco Harris shreded Baltimore's defense with 153 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Steelers scored first after linebacker Jack Ham's interception set up running back Harris' 8-yard rushing touchdown. Baltimore responded when Lloyd Mumphord returned a 58-yard interception to set up Glenn Doughty's 5-yard touchdown reception. With the Colts leading 10–7 in the third quarter, Pittsburgh cornerback Mel Blount intercepted a pass and returned to the Baltimore 7-yard line. From there, Rocky Bleier scored on a 7-yard rushing touchdown. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw recorded a 2-yard touchdown run, and Andy Russell picked up a Colts fumble and returned it for an NFL playoff record 93 yards to the end zone. The play is claimed by some as the longest single football play in time duration.[1]

The game is also notable in that it was the debut game for the Terrible Towel.

NFC: Los Angeles Rams 35, St. Louis Cardinals 23[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Cardinals 0 9 7 7 23
Rams 14 14 0 7 35

at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

The Rams defense scored 2 touchdowns in the first half while running back Lawrence McCutcheon ran for an NFL playoff record 202 yards on 37 carries. Los Angeles started the game off with a 79-yard scoring drive, 51 of them from McCutcheon, on the way to a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ron Jaworski. Then on the first Cardinals play, Rams linebacker Jack Youngblood intercepted a pass from Jim Hart and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. St. Louis returner Terry Metcalf gave his team a chance to get back in the game with a 67-yard kickoff return, but they lost the ball again when Youngblood forced a fumble from Jim Otis that Rams lineman Fred Dryer recovered. Later on, Los Angeles defensive back Bill Simpson intercepted a pass from Hart on the first play of the second quarter and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown, making the score 21–0.

The Cardinals came back to score on a rushing touchdown by running back Jim Otis, who had already gained 21 yards on a short reception earlier in the drive. But the extra point was blocked and the Rams responded on the first play of their next drive with Jaworski's 66-yard touchdown pass to Harold Jackson, making the score 28–6 at the end of the half.

In the third quarter, a 19-yard completion from Hart to Metcalf set up his 11-yard touchdown pass to Mel Gray. But after St. Louis cut it to 28–16 with a field goal, Simpson intercepted another pass to set up the Rams final touchdown when receiver Ron Jessie recovered a fumble from McCutcheon and ran it into the end zone. By the time Cardinals running back Steve Jones scored the final points of the game on a 3-yard touchdown run, the game was well out of reach.

Youngblood had an outstanding performance. In addition to his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown, he also recorded a sack, blocked an extra point, and forced a fumble.

This was the Cardinals' last playoff game until 1982, and their last in a non-strike season until 1998, a decade after the franchise moved to Arizona.

December 28, 1975[edit]

AFC: Oakland Raiders 31, Cincinnati Bengals 28[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Bengals 0 7 7 14 28
Raiders 3 14 7 7 31

at Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California

The Raiders outgained Cincinnati in total yards 358–258, rushing yards 173–97, and first downs 27–17, while also recording five sacks, jumping to a 31–14 lead, and holding off a frantic Bengals comeback in the final period.

Oakland kicker George Blanda made a 31-yard field goal, while quarterback Ken Stabler threw two touchdown passes in the first half, one for 9 yards to Mike Siani and an 8 yard one to Bob Moore. Cincinnati's lone score in the first was a 1-yard run by running back Stan Fritts. The Raiders then scored on their first drive of the second half with running back Pete Banaszak's 6-yard touchdown run to take a 24–7 lead. Then after the Bengals marched 91 yards to cut the lead, 24–14, with Lenvil Elliott's 6-yard touchdown run, Stabler threw his third touchdown pass of the game, this time a 2-yard pass to tight end Dave Casper.

Trailing 31–14 in the fourth quarter, the Bengals managed to come back with two unanswered touchdowns. First, Cincinnati defensive back Ken Riley intercepted a pass from Stabler and returned it 34 yards to the Raiders 34-yard line, setting up Ken Anderson's 25-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Joiner. Then the Bengals defense forced Oakland to punt for the first time in the game, and Ray Guy's kick went just 38 yards. Three minutes later, Anderson's 14-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Curtis cut the score to 31–28. With 4:19 left in the game, Bengals defensive lineman Ron Carpenter recovered a Banaszak fumble on the Raiders 37-yard line. But on the next play, linebacker Ted Hendricks sacked Anderson for an 8-yard loss, pushing the Bengals out of field goal range. Two plays later, the Raiders stopped the Cincinnati offense on fourth down and got the ball back. The Bengals managed to force a punt with 50 seconds left, but on a desperate attempt to block the kick that narrowly missed, linebacker Chris Devlin ran into punter Ray Guy, drawing a penalty that gave the Raiders a first down and let them run out the clock.

Stabler threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns, with 1 interception. Anderson threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

NFC: Dallas Cowboys 17, Minnesota Vikings 14[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 0 0 7 10 17
Vikings 0 7 0 7 14

at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota

With 24 seconds left in the game, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach threw the 50-yard winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson on a play that became known as the Hail Mary pass. Pearson's last minute touchdown reception remains a strong part of Cowboys lore. To many Minnesota fans, however, Pearson's touchdown should have never counted because of an alleged offensive pass interference penalty that was not called by game officials.

The first half was dominated by the defenses of both teams. The Vikings longest gain in it would be a 16-yard run by quarterback Fran Tarkenton early in the second quarter. The Vikings were eventually forced to punt, and the ball hit the ground near returner Cliff Harris. Thinking the ball had been touched by Harris, Dallas' Pat Donovan desperately tried to dive on it, but the ball slipped away from him and was recovered by Fred McNeill for Minnesota on the Cowboys 4-yard line. Chuck Foreman eventually took the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard score to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead. The Cowboys had some success moving the ball on their next two drives, but the first ended with a missed field goal, and after a Mel Renfro interception sparked a drive to the Vikings 24, the team failed to covert a 4th and inches situation and the score would remain 7-0 going into halftime.

Dallas mounted the first sustained scoring drive of the game with their first possession of the second half. A late hit by Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg turned Preston Pearson's 14-yard reception into a 29-yard gain. Then Staubach hit tight end Billy Joe Dupree for a 17-yard completion to the Vikings 19. Doug Dennison then rumbled downfield for a 10-yard carry, and two plays later he tied the game on a 4-yard scoring run.

Early in the fourth quarter, Dallas took a 10-7 lead on a 24-yard field goal by Toni Fritsch. Following an exchange of punts, Tarkenton completed 4/6 passes for 37 yards on a 70 yard, 11-play drive, which included a 13-yard run on a reverse by Brent McClanahan. McClanahan eventually finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Vikings a 14-10 lead with 5:24 left in the game. Dallas went three and out on their ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Minnesota with 3:12 left and a giving the team a great chance to run out the clock. They managed to force Dallas to use up all their timeouts, but on a 3rd and 2 situation, Cowboys safety Charlie Waters broke through Foreman's block attempt and tackled Tarkenton for a 3-yard loss as time ran down to the two minute warning. "That play cost us the game," Tarkenton later said. "It wasn't the Hail Mary pass. We had the game in control but didn't make the play."[2]

The Cowboys got the ball back on their own 15-yard line with only 1:51 left. Staubach started the drive with a pair of completions to Pearson, who had not yet caught a pass in the game, moving the ball to the Dallas 31. However, on the next play, Staubach fumbled a low snap in shotgun formation and was downed for an 8-yard loss. A few plays later, facing 4th down and 16, he threw a 25-yard completion to Pearson to set up the winning "Hail Mary pass." The fourth and 16 completion proved to be a foreshadowing of events to come, as this play had its own minor controversy. Minnesota argued that Pearson was out of bounds when he made this catch. The official ruled that he was forced out by Nate Wright, which replay appeared to confirm.

These two would of course participate in a more controversial play two plays later. After Preston Pearson dropped a wide open pass in the middle of the field with 32 seconds left, Staubach launched a deep bomb to Drew Pearson, who caught the ball through tight coverage by Wright at the 4 and took into the end zone for a 50-yard scoring reception that Staubach called (in the postgame interview) a "Hail Mary" pass, the first time that term was used to describe such a play. Wright fell down as the ball came down, and the Vikings argued that Pearson pushed off and should have been flagged for offensive interference. The play drew the ire of Minnesota's Alan Page, who was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, a 15-yard penalty that allowed Dallas to kick off from the 50, and ejected. Tarkenton then vehemently argued with the referees, inspiring fans to throw objects onto the field, one of which was a liquor bottle that struck official Armen Terzian in the head, creating a large forehead gash and rendering him unconscious. Terzian had to wear a bandage, later requiring 11 stitches, as he walked off the field and replaced by substitute official Charley Musser for the final two plays. The NFL later banned glass bottles from being sold at stadiums. The fan who threw the glass bottle at Terzian was eventually found by police, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, and was sentenced to a 100 dollar fine.[3] Meanwhile, the Cowboys "doomsday defense" put the finishing touches on the team's victory by sacking Tarkenton twice on the final two plays of the game.

It was another disappointing end to a spectacular season for the Vikings. They had finished the season with an NFC best 12–2 record and quarterback Fran Tarkenton won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award, and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award, while Foreman amassed 1,761 all-purpose yards and 22 touchdowns. The day only got worse for Tarkenton, as he soon learned his father had died of a heart attack while watching the game. The upstart and youthful Cowboys, not expected to do much after an 8–6 season in 1974 and the loss of several key veterans, would go on to defeat the Rams and lose to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

Staubach finished the game 17/29 for 246 yards and a touchdown, along with 24 rushing yards. Pearson was the top receiver with 4 receptions for 91 yards, all on Dallas' final game winning drive. Foreman was the top rusher of the game with 56 yards and a touchdown, and caught 4 receptions for 42 yards. Dallas outgained Minnesota in total yards 356–215.

Conference championships[edit]

January 4, 1976[edit]

AFC Championship: Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Oakland Raiders 10[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Raiders 0 0 0 10 10
Steelers 0 3 0 13 16

at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A defensive struggle in which both teams combined for 12 turnovers (7 for Pittsburgh, 5 for Oakland) turned into an offensive battle as the Steelers managed to stop the Raiders' final drive for the winning score as time ran out.

As the two dominant teams of the era in the AFC, Oakland and Pittsburgh would eventually face in five consecutive playoff games from 1972-1976. The Raiders and Steelers also played in three consecutive AFC Championship games from 1974-1976.[4]

Already bitter rivals dating back to the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff game (see: the Immaculate Reception ), Raiders' officials, including team owner Al Davis and head coach John Madden, accused the Steelers and Three Rivers Stadium groundskeepers of intentionally allowing the artificial playing surface to ice over, in an effort to slow Oakland's propensity for using a wide-open aerial attack as part of its offensive game plan.[5]

The game started out ugly, as Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw was picked off twice in the first quarter. However, Oakland fared no better, as George Blanda's missed 38-yard field goal attempt after Bradshaw's second interception was the closest they would get to scoring in the first half. In the second quarter, Steelers safety Mike Wagner intercepted a pass from Ken Stabler to set up Roy Gerela's 36-yard field goal. This would be the only score of the first three quarters.

Late in the third period, however, Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert recovered a fumble at the Pittsburgh 30-yard line. The turnover set up running back Franco Harris' 25-yard touchdown run to give the Steelers a 10–0 lead. Oakland responded with Mike Siani's 14-yard touchdown reception, but was countered by John Stallworth's 20-yard touchdown catch.

Gerela missed the ensuing extra point, and with the score 16–7, the Raiders found themselves at the Pittsburgh 24-yard line, third down and 2 yards to go, with 18 seconds left in the game. They opted to have George Blanda kick a 41-yard field goal to pull the deficit to 6 points. Then Marv Hubbard recovered the ensuing onside kick with 9 seconds remaining to give Oakland one last attempt to win the game. Cliff Branch then caught a 37-yard reception, but he was stopped at the Pittsburgh 15-yard line before he could get out of bounds and the clock ran out. Harris had a superb performance, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 5 passes for 58 yards.

Raiders defender George Atkinson knocks Steelers receiver Lynn Swann into a severe concussion that has him hospitalized for 2 days before he goes on to win the Super Bowl MVP with yardage records.

NFC Championship: Dallas Cowboys 37, Los Angeles Rams 7[edit]

Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys 7 14 13 3 37
Rams 0 0 0 7 7

at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

Quarterback Roger Staubach threw for 220 yards and 4 touchdown passes while also rushing for 54 yards as the Cowboys upset the favored Rams. The first passing attempt by Los Angeles quarterback James Harris, who was coming off an injury and making his first start since the 13th game of the season, was intercepted by Dallas linebacker D.D. Lewis. This set up Staubach's first touchdown pass, a screen to running back Preston Pearson for 18 yards. A 4-yard touchdown reception by Golden Richards and a diving catch in the end zone by Preston Pearson put the Cowboys up 21–0 by halftime. Dallas scored again on their first drive of the second half on a shovel pass to Preston Pearson for his third touchdown reception of the game. Toni Fritsch later added three field goals. Harris gave way to backup Ron Jaworski, but only John Cappelletti's 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter prevented the Rams from being shut out. Pearson finished the game with 7 receptions for 123 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 20 rushing yards. The Dallas defense allowed only 118 yards, a mere 22 on the ground, and sacked Jaworski 5 times.

Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17[edit]

Further information: Super Bowl X
Game summary
1 2 3 4 Total
Cowboys (NFC) 7 3 0 7 17
Steelers (AFC) 7 0 0 14 21

at Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida