They all may sniff snuff, pick guitars, own ranches, wear pointed boots and forget to shave, but there is one thing you must like about these boy quarterbacks from Louisiana—they do know how to win football games. There was scraggly bearded Bert Jones, a neighbor of Terry Bradshaw, looking absolutely lost for one moment in the pea-soup fog enshrouding his own end zone at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. And, well, there was Bert Jones, riverboat gambler, brilliantly piloting the Baltimore Colts 82 yards through the murk and setting up Toni Linhart for the 31-yard chip-shot field goal that beat the Miami Dolphins 10-7 after 12 minutes and 44 seconds of sudden-victory overtime late last Sunday afternoon.
Barring an upset loss to the bedraggled New England Patriots this week, Jones and the unbridled young Colts now will charge into the AFC playoffs against Bradshaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers on the Saturday after Christmas. "If we beat Denver next week and either Baltimore loses to New England or Cincinnati loses to San Diego, we get into the playoffs," Miami Coach Don Shula said, trying to sound hopeful. Then he admitted, "I've never been much of a back-door guy, though. I like to do things myself. We had the chance to control our own destiny. All we had to do was beat the Colts. We didn't. And now I don't see Baltimore or Cincinnati losing next week."
Before Linhart, a former Austrian soccer player with a history of the shanks, could deliver the ultimate kick for the Colts, Jones, playing with a plastic shield over his bruised ribs, had to scramble them into the overtime period with an excruciating 86-yard march for the tying touchdown, which they scored with 5:30 to play in the fourth quarter. Until then, the Colts and the Dolphins, as predicted, had spent most of the afternoon slugging it out in the trenches, with Miami's veteran offensive line befuddling Baltimore's young "Looney Tunes" front four that had entered the game with 55 quarterback sacks, an NFL high.
"The Baltimore kids are really enthusiastic," said Miami Center Jim Langer on Saturday. "They remind me of our guys when we were becoming a good team several years ago. These kids play games like crazy, crisscrossing all over the place and trying to confuse the offensive linemen. They like to work basketball picks, too, where one guy picks two of us and opens a hole for another guy to stunt through. It's no accident that they've sacked quarterbacks so many times. Hell, they got our guys four times a couple of weeks ago."
Langer was angry, though, about all the verbiage that some of the Tunes had been spouting, particularly Defensive End Freddy Cook's boast that "there's no one in football who can handle me one-on-one."
"The way the Baltimore line is playing," Langer said, "the guys don't have to tell people they're the greatest. In this game when you start shooting your mouth off people make a special effort to close it for you." He laughed. "We can handle them," he concluded.
Sure enough, on Sunday the Tunes did not sack Don Strock, Miami's substitute substitute quarterback, until the last minute of regulation time. "The Miami line conducted a clinic out there," said Baltimore Defensive End John Dutton, who played as if he had been caught in a revolving door. "I never knew where their blockers were coming from next—or how many of them there would be. It was a learning experience." While agreeing with Dutton, Tackle Joe Ehrmann also insisted that the Looney Tunes had forced Shula to alter Miami's attack plan by eliminating the drop-back pass from Strock's ready list.
"We screwed up their game plan because we limited what they could do," Ehrmann said. "They didn't drop back at all. In fact, Strock usually got his passes off in less than two seconds. We're not going to hit any quarterback who gets rid of the ball that fast but, then again, when you do throw that quickly, you throw short things, like screens and flares, and you're not going to beat us like that. Put it this way—we had too much going for us. When we saw that Strock wasn't dropping back, we were able to jam up the middle more than we had expected and they had to run a lot of wiggles and waggles. The fear of the sack did it for us."
Strock did not agree with one word of Ehrmann's analysis. "We take what the other club gives us," he said. "If you can't stand back against a team, you don't. The best way to attack the Baltimore front is to tease them with short stuff and try to get them mad." But Strock completed only seven of his 18 passes against the Colts for a mere 90 yards. The only time he dropped back, Dutton hit him as he released the ball, and Lloyd Mumphord intercepted it in the end zone.
The first half was scoreless. Then late in the third quarter Nat Moore gave Strock solid field position at the Baltimore 27 with a sinuous return of one of David Lee's low, wobbling punts. On third-and-seven Strock hit Larry Seiple for a first down at the 17, and alternated Norm Bulaich and Mercury Morris through the middle on four plays before finally sending Morris wide around the left side on a three-yard scoring run.
All season long, when Jones needed yardage for the Colts, he generally directed Lydell Mitchell to the right side of the Baltimore line, particularly behind All-Pro Tackle George Kunz—and now, trailing 7-0, it was time to go that way again. "We had to run straight at the Dolphins," Kunz said, "because they have too much speed on the outside." All-Pro or not, Kunz is as unpublicized as the rest of the offensive-line breed. "We're the last ones to get recognition," he said. "They mention us only when we're caught for holding or go offsides. When I walk into a restaurant in town, people just say, 'Geez, that guy's big, and he sure must eat a lot.' Bert Jones spends all his time signing autographs. Me? I go home and talk with my wife."
Talk aside, Jones and the Colts were 86 yards from the tying touchdown when they got the ball with 12:11 to play. Jones had moved them within scoring range in the second quarter, but Linhart had missed a field goal of 29 yards. (Miami's Garo Yepremian missed 45- and 35-yarders.) This time Jones manipulated his offense perfectly, hitting Raymond Chester and Glenn Doughty with passes and sending Mitchell, who gained 87 tough yards on 30 carries all told, through the line. Faced with third-and-10 at his own 49, he connected with Mitchell for 13 yards. Slowly but confidently, Jones worked the Colts to the Miami six, then Mitchell swept around the right side and crashed into the end zone as Kunz eliminated two Dolphin defenders.
Linhart kicked the game-tying extra point through the fog, and suddenly 59,398 Baltimore fanatics were blowing their kazoos and chanting "dee-fense, dee-fense." Both defenses responded, as time ran out.
Miami won the toss before the overtime and naturally chose to receive. But Strock missed with a third-down pass at the Baltimore 47, and the Dolphins had to punt. Seiple angled his kick out of bounds at the Baltimore four—and Jones began the long last march.
"What I was thinking about down there," Jones said later, "was my best game, which is to throw the ball when I have to. We had to get the ball upfield. If they held us and we had to kick, we would have lost the game somehow." Jones sent Mitchell and Don McCauley for short yardage through the middle—"breathing room," he called it—then on third-and-one Bill Olds burst over left tackle for 11. Dropping back to pass on first down at his 24, Jones was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, but on third and 15 he threw a deep sideline pass that Chester caught as he stepped out of bounds at the 36. First down.
"Two years ago I wouldn't have completed that pass because I wouldn't have thrown it," said Jones, who completed 23 of 39 for 232 yards. "The coverage dictated the pass. Lydell was covered over the middle, so I went wide and Raymond was there."
Two more passes, both to Roger Carr, who may have better hands than Brooks Robinson, brought the Colts into Miami territory, and then Jones returned to his ground attack, Mitchell carrying on five of six plays as the Colts moved to the Miami 16. Jones protected the ball on a busted play at the Miami 14, and then Linhart came in.
No shank. The day of the Dolphins was over.
"Miami was on top for a long time," Mitchell said in the Baltimore dressing room. "Really, there's no love lost between these teams. Don't get me wrong. We're not a great team yet. We're not there. We've got to keep our heads screwed On and keep together."
Nevertheless, the Colts now have won eight straight games to tie the Dolphins for the division lead and, if they beat New England on Sunday, they go to the playoffs because they defeated the Dolphins in both their meetings. "If we beat New England," Mitchell said and laughed. "No ifs about it. They beat us earlier this year at their place. What they really did was taunt us. We were down, and they kept yelling things like, 'C'mon, you donkeys, get out here so we can whip up on you again.' There's going to be some whippin' done here next week. By us."
There were no alibis from the Dolphins, who have struggled through a season during which key players such as Bob Griese, Nick Buoniconti, Manny Fernandez and Dick Anderson lived on the injured list. "They beat us," said Langer. "The Colts right now are like the young Dolphins of about 1970. They're nothing to laugh at."
Exultant after scoring, Lydell Mitchell brought on sudden death with his jarring six-yard run.
Colt hero was Bert Jones, who ran Mitchell through the line, hit Chester and Carr with his passes and did a bit of running of his own.
As Toni Linhart's kick sailed high above the crossbar, Baltimore's playoff hopes soared.